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Why Nurses Need to Lead


The Nurses on Boards Coalition (NOBC) was founded to encourage U.S. nurses to assume leadership roles, for the greater purpose of building healthier communities.

How does board service translate into a healthier America? NOBC founding member Sue Hassmiller addressed the question in a 2012 article in American Nurse Today. An edited excerpt appears below.

Nurses have a singular perspective on patient care and community health. With our training and experience, we can inform and improve healthcare decisions in ways that complement those of other professionals but are uniquely our own.

Some of the most important decisions shaping health care take place in the boardrooms of hospitals, health systems, and nonprofit organizations. Boards of directors and trustees set the goals, direction, and policies for their organizations, and their leadership is critical to their missions.

Nurses Are Needed and Wanted, But Very Few Serve.

Nurses are chronically underrepresented on boards. In many cases, they’re not perceived as playing a substantial leadership role in health care. A 2010 survey of more than 1,000 hospitals found that nurses made up only 6% of board members, while physicians held 20% of board seats.

A 2010 Gallup poll asked 1,500 thought leaders which professions and groups will have the greatest influence in healthcare reform over the next 5 to 10 years; nurses ranked lowest. However, the same thought leaders overwhelmingly said nurses should have more influence in healthcare planning, policy, and management.

The 2011 landmark report from Institute of Medicine (IOM), The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, recommended nurses be represented on boards, in executive management teams, and in other key leadership positions as public, private, and governmental healthcare decision makers at every level.

What Nurses Bring to Board Service

Nurses are involved in almost every aspect of care delivery, and many also provide care in the community. Their connection between care and community and their understanding of healthcare organizations’ impact on the broader communities is particularly valuable to boards.

Nurses have firsthand insight into the views and concerns of patients, families, and communities, as well as expert knowledge of how best to achieve high-quality care. They can offer innovative solutions to improve safety and quality, and they understand the need for collaboration across health professions and care settings.

What’s more, the personal characteristics of the best nurses are important for boards. These nurses are good at listening to others and asking questions to help them understand problems. They understand and respect the wide range of professional roles and skills required for patient care and can work as effective team members. They understand the need for honesty, transparency, and integrity. And they’re effective, articulate patient advocates.

What Board Service Brings to Nurses

Board service can be rewarding to nurses both personally and professionally. It not only requires them to exercise leadership; it expands those skills and advances their capabilities and knowledge. It gives nurses the chance to meet people and enhance their professional networks. And it can be inspirational and empowering.

“Being a nurse leader on a board connects you to the world,” states Catherine Dodd, director of the San Francisco Health Service System. Dr. Dodd has served on nonprofit boards, including her current position on the Glide Foundation board of trustees. “It gives you a new perspective and makes you really proud to be a nurse. It makes you realize how perfectly prepared you are to change the world.”

This is an edited excerpt from “Taking the first steps to serving on a board,” by Susan Hassmiller, originally published in American Nurse Today 7, no. 11 (2012): 18-20. You can read the original article here.


This article is part of our ongoing partnership with the Nurses on Boards Coalition (NOBC), formed to improve the nation’s health through the service of nurses on boards, commissions, and other decision-making entities. NOBC wants to see nurses occupy at least 10,000 board seats in 2020. Scrubs Magazine is committed to helping NOBC reach this goal by informing, educating, and inspiring nurses and nursing students to take on leadership roles at all levels. Find out more at

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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