The director of the Nurses on Boards Coalition urges nurse leaders to elevate their presence on corporate, health-related, and other boards and offers tips on how to get there.
"Until there's a nurse serving on every board where it makes strategic sense to do so, our work is not done," says Laurie Benson, BSN.
She'd like to get to a point "where very naturally nurses are sought out to serve on boards and policy-setting and strategy-setting bodies because of the valuable perspective they provide."
Benson has been executive director of the Nurses on Boards Coalition for two short months, but her decades of experience as a corporate executive, founder, CEO, C-suite advisor, and multi-sector board member have left her well-versed on issues such as board governance, innovation, strategy, and high-performance teams.
Her experience and knowledge align with the NOBC's mission to build healthier communities across the nation by increasing nurses' presence on corporate, health-related, and other boards, panels and commissions with a goal of at least 10,000 nurses on boards by 2020.
More than 2,000 nurses who are on boards have registered with the NOBC's database. Benson encourages all nurses who are already working on boards to register with the coalition so they can be counted towards the 10,000-nurse goal.
Benson has some practical advice for nurses who aspire to serving in board positions:
1.Find an organization you're interested in.
Nurses need not limit their participation to boards that are obviously health-related. A local food pantry could benefit from the input of a nurse on its board because of the role it plays in community health, Benson says.
"There's an element of health in almost everything," she points out.
2.Know your strengths.
"Have a talk with yourself about how can you contribute," Benson advises.
Then create a one-page bio and supporting resume that will show a nominating committee how you stand out from the rest of the candidates and how you'll be able to contribute to their mission.
"Make it easy for them to see how your light can shine in their environment," she says.
3.Express your interest.
Benson encourages nurses to pick an organization that has a mission they feel passionate about and to connect with the organization's executive director or chairman of the board.
"Tell people you want to serve on a board because they're not going to assume that," she says.
"On some of the non-profit boards I've served on over the years, they need more board candidates, and there's no waiting list… so get your name on the list."
4.Don't let your calendar talk you out of getting involved.
Benson acknowledges that different boards will take different amounts of time commitments, but in general, she says board work does not take an overwhelming amount of time.
"Remember that boards are strategic," she points out. Many boards meet for about four to five times a year for a few hours. "You're not doing the work every day."
"But don't opt out of being considered because you wonder about your ability to have the time," she says.
"Nurses manage much more in their schedules that is more difficult than finding the time to serve on a board. And the rewards are so meaningful."
The NOBC grew out of an Institute of Medicine's (now the National Academy of Medicine) 2010 report which calls for nurses to play larger decision making roles on boards in order to improve the health of all Americans.
Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.