A Goal and a Challenge: Putting 10,000 Nurses on Governing Boards by 2020

    • December 17, 2014

As several hundred nurse leaders and champions from around the country gathered in Phoenix last month for the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action 2014 Summit, a powerful coalition of national nursing organizations launched an unprecedented effort to increase the presence of nurses on corporate and non-profit health-related boards of directors. The Nurses on Boards Coalition* will implement a national strategy aimed at bringing the perspectives of nurses to governing boards and to national and state commissions that are working to improve health. The goal is to put 10,000 nurses on boards by the year 2020.

The effort is a direct response to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, which recommended that more nurses play pivotal roles on boards and commissions of health and health-related institutions. It is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and AARP as part of their collaborative effort to implement recommendations from the IOM report through the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action.

Participants at the summit embraced the nurse leadership goal, and most pledged to advance it in their states and communities. Attendees included leaders from Partners Investing in Nursing’s Future, a program of the Northwest Health Foundation and RWJF that has been working for a decade to encourage innovative collaborative responses to challenges facing the nursing workforce in local communities around the country, as well as Action Coalition leaders. Action Coalitions are the driving force behind the Campaign for Action and are working in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to implement IOM recommendations on nurse leadership, academic progression, diversity, interprofessional collaboration, scope of practice, and more.

Advice from Experts

The effort to appoint more nurses to boards got a powerful boost from a panel featuring Sam Meckey, MBA, senior vice president, Shared Clinical Services, Optum, UnitedHealth Group, who oversees some 4,000 nurses in the UnitedHealth system; Alexis Stiles, MBA, MHSA, practice lead, health care services, Spencer Stuart Search Firm; and Terrie P. Sterling, MBA, MSN, chief operating officer of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Louisiana. Sterling serves on the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, New Orleans Branch.

“Nurses have the opportunity to do just about any role you can imagine within health care in our company... nurses are literally across our entire enterprise,” Meckey said. “When I hire nurses who are going to be in leadership roles ... [I look for] a very strong grounding in political acumen and knowledge, but we’re also looking for nurses who are very strong in the area of business acumen, how to read financials ... nurses who understand strategic thinking and what’s going on within the health care system.” He advised: “Don’t be afraid of numbers. If you can understand complex procedures in an ER,” you can understand a budget.

“It’s relationships, it’s being able to negotiate,” Sterling said when asked the key to success as a nurse leader. She urged prospective nurse leaders to study and work hard, noting that it helps to have “humility about how hard you have to work to show up prepared.”

“Learning to ask for money—that was not in my nursing curriculum,” Sterling admitted, but she learned to do it. “I was the first woman, nurse, and person of color in the job of chief operating officer. It is about making sure you come to the table prepared. In my organization, we say we hire for attitude and train for skill.” She urged nurses in the room to “find the things you are passionate about—those are the things you will shine at.”

Stiles said the nurses she places in C-suite, board and leadership positions have the ability to work in a clinical setting and a senior-level setting, and to function in teams with those who have different skills. “Clinical skills are what you expect,” she noted, but nurses on boards need to come to table prepared to use their skills to solve the problems facing an organization. She said nurses need to be able to explain their successes—not just what they did, but how they did it. She also looks for credibility, confidence, humility, humor, and knowledge.


Breakthrough Leaders in Nursing

Ten emerging nurse leaders were named winners of the new Breakthrough Leaders in Nursing Award at the summit. Each of these nurses has made extraordinary efforts to improve the health and lives of people in their communities. The award was created by the Campaign for Action.

“It’s amazing to see the difference that these 10 people are making in their communities and the health care system,” said Susan Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, RWJF’s senior adviser for nursing and director of the Campaign for Action. “The lives of the people they care for are better because they fearlessly tackled—or are tackling—daunting health care challenges.”  

The Campaign created the Breakthrough Leaders in Nursing award to celebrate nurse leadership and efforts by nurses to improve health and health care. Recipients have worked to help medically fragile children, neurologically impaired individuals, and low-income women in rural areas, among others. Their work is helping to improve the quality of medical care in Vermont, protect health care workers from exposure to carcinogens in North Carolina, prevent bedsores and reduce Medicaid costs in Texas, and recruit and encourage minority nursing students in Wisconsin, to name a few. They are:

  • AnnMarie Walton, MPH, BSN, PhD candidate, who is an oncology nurse in North Carolina.
  • Dan Lose, BSN, DNP candidate, who works at UnityPoint Health–St. Luke’s Hospital and is on the board of directors of the Iowa Nurses Association.  
  • Danielle Howa Pendergrass, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, who opened Eastern Utah Women’s Health, an independent practice that serves more than 20,000 women, from teens to seniors.
  • Diana Ruiz, DNP, BSN, RN, who is director of population health at Medical Center Health System in Odessa, Texas, where she leads programs to improve patient care and community health.
  • Dorene Hersh, MSN, RN, who oversees 250 public health nurses in Seattle-King County, Washington. These nurses work in ambulatory care, correctional facilities, and in advanced practice roles.
  • Frances (Fran) Keeler, MSN, RN, who was a nurse administrator in Massachusetts for 18 years before moving to Vermont, where she works as a health system regulator.
  • Jake Creviston, MN, RN, PMHNP, DNP student, who is working to promote interprofessionalism and quality improvement. 
  • Jessica Gonzalez Contreras, MPH, BSN, RN, who provides in-home care to first-time, low-income mothers through the Nurse Family Partnership of Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana.
  • Josie L. Veal, PhD, RN, APRN, who is working to raise standards and improve diversity as a member of the Wisconsin Action Coalition.
  • Maria Torchia LoGrippo, PhD, MSN, BSN, who teaches nursing at Rutgers and Seton Hall University and is pursuing a post doctorate degree.

“These outstanding leaders truly represent the future of nursing,” said Susan Reinhard, PhD, RN, FAAN, senior vice president of the AARP Public Policy Institute and chief strategist at the Center to Champion Nursing in America (CCNA), an initiative of AARP, the AARP Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "We look forward to working with them as they lead change to advance health.”

*The new Nurses on Board Coalition includes: AARP; American Academy of Nursing; American Assembly For Men in Nursing; American Association of Colleges of Nursing; American Association of Nurse Anesthetists; American Association of Nurse Practitioners; American Nurses Association; American Nurses Foundation; American Organization of Nurse Executives; Asian American/Pacific Islander Nurses Association; Association of Public Health Nurses; National Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers; Jonas Center for Nursing and Veterans Healthcare; National Alaska Native American Indian Nurses Association, Inc.; National Association of Hispanic Nurses; National Black Nurses Association; National League For Nursing; National Organization for Associate Degree Nursing; National Student Nurses Association; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; and Sigma Theta Tau International.