Last month, Susan Mace Weeks, DNP, RN, CNS, FNAP, FAAN, assumed the role of chair of the board of directors of Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Southwest Fort Worth, a full-service medical center.
It is an auspicious sign at a time when nurses occupy few positions of power in the health care system and in society at large. The Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, a joint effort of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and AARP, is working to change that in order to improve health and health care. The Campaign’s work is grounded in a report released in 2010 by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that calls for more nurses in leadership positions. “Strong leadership on the part of nurses, physicians, and others will be required to devise and implement the changes necessary to increase quality, access, and value and deliver patient-centered care,” the report states.
Weeks, dean of the Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences and director of the Center for Evidence Based Practice & Research: A Collaborating Center of the Joanna Briggs Institute at Texas Christian University, is living out the IOM report’s call. “I was intrigued by the opportunity to make a meaningful difference through a role in hospital governance,” she says.
Weeks also serves on the board of a regional chapter of the American Red Cross. And she is an active member of the Texas Team Action Coalition, which is working in the state to implement the IOM report recommendations. Action Coalitions, in place in all 50 states and in the District of Columbia, are the driving force behind the Campaign for Action.
Weeks began her two-year term as board chair in January and plans to focus on improving the quality of care and achieving “Magnet” status from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), which recognizes hospitals that have strong nursing environments, promote excellence in nursing practice, and provide high-quality patient care. She served as board secretary at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital from 2011 to 2012 and as vice chair from 2013-2014. She will continue to serve on the board as past president from 2017 to 2018.
Background in Nursing is Valuable
Weeks says her background in nursing will prove valuable in the position. “As a nurse, I have a system perspective of the interprofessional health care team and the elements needed to attain patient safety and high quality care,” she says. Nursing, she adds, is the largest segment of the health care workforce and the most trusted profession, according to recent polls. “The voice of nurses is essential for a health care organization to make sound decisions,” she says.
Campaign officials agree; they are supporting a national coalition that is working to place 10,000 nurses on corporate and nonprofit health-related boards and national and state commissions by 2020. The Texas Team Action Coalition has also made nurse leadership a priority. Last year, it partnered with Texas Healthcare Trustees to launch Nurses on Board, an initiative that is preparing roughly 400 nurses in the state to serve on boards of directors.
“Nurses have been underrepresented in health care leadership for too long—to the detriment of the health care system and the patients it serves,” said Cole Edmonson, DNP, RN, FACHE, NEA-BC, an RWJF Executive Nurse Fellow (2012-2015) and chief nursing officer at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. “We need more nurses like Dr. Weeks in positions of leadership so we can improve health and health care in America.”
Nurses are often overlooked in discussions and debates about health and health care and rarely serve on health-related governing boards. A 2011 survey by the American Hospital Association found that just 6 percent of the nation’s hospital board members were nurses while 20 percent were physicians.
The reasons for that, Weeks says, are “complex and multifactorial.” Nurses, she says, have not always stepped forward to take on leadership roles, and other professionals have not consistently sought out nurses to serve in leadership positions. “It is incumbent upon nurses to make the need for nurse leaders in health care organizations known and, at the same time, other leaders of these organizations must be diligent in seeking out and listening to the voice of nurses.”
Weeks prepared for the position by participating in leadership training and development opportunities and tracking local, state, and national issues facing health care organizations. She urges aspiring nurse leaders to do the same and to assess their own leadership skills and experiences: “If you have been successful in leading strategic initiatives in other settings, you will have a valuable voice on the board of a health care organization.”
That said, she adds that nurse leaders need to be supported at all levels. “An individual nurse who assesses a system problem impacting the care she delivers and then takes steps to resolve that issue can have a significant impact,” she says. “As important as board leadership can be, we must not forget the role of frontline leadership at the point of care and develop ways to support those leaders.”