More Nurses Needed in Leadership Positions

Nurse leaders can provide valuable perspectives on delivery of care, cost effectiveness and patient safety. They are equipped with the knowledge to shape healthcare policies and implement innovative procedures. Historically, physicians and hospital administrators have held positions on the boards of healthcare organizations, but things are changing. In a 2010 report titled “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine as of 2015) called for nurses to seek leadership positions. In response, the healthcare industry is putting more nurses in leadership positions.

Preparing Nurses for Leadership Roles

To prepare for leadership roles, new nurses need a well-rounded education with a foundation in academics and evidence-based scientific research. In a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, nurses participate in classes that emphasize professional development by teaching them leadership, communication and critical thinking skills.

RNs who want to pursue a BS in nursing can enroll in an online RN to BSN program. Online programs allow nurses to continue working while earning their BSN. Many prospective nurse leaders begin their path to leadership roles within the healthcare facility where they practice. These positions may include case manager or nurse manager. A BS in nursing is a prerequisite for pursuing a graduate degree, which prepares nurses for leadership roles on committees and boards.

Boards and Committees That Need Nurses

Nurses should consider becoming members of boards and committees related to healthcare at the local and national levels. They should also lend their expertise to corporations and community-run programs like food banks and clinics. They can become board members of nonprofits, advocacy groups, hospital systems, disease-specific organizations and professional associations.

Qualities that Make Nurses Good Board Members

An essential part of a nurse’s job is to connect with patients and work as part of a team to plan and execute positive patient outcomes. The same listening, communicating and networking skills that nurses use at the bedside also make them ideal candidates for boardrooms.

Why Nurses Should Take a Seat in the Boardroom

Nurses know how to save money for healthcare facilities. Fran Roberts, RN, PhD, who is a former executive director of the Arizona State Board of Nursing, relates a story about a nurse working in a neonatal unit. When the nurse found out that the hospital wanted to order a different type of IV needle for infants, she pointed out that by switching IV needles there would be more waste because nurses would have to learn how to use them. If the nurses were not trained properly for the new needles, the hospital would be at risk for higher infection rates due to bad needle sticks.

Nurses are on the front line of patient care. They see what patients and their families need during a hospital stay. In addition, nurses understand the challenges in the healthcare system such as the prevalence of chronic health conditions, diversity of patients and confusing health insurance guidelines.

Delivery of care is also an important issue. Susan Reinhard, RN, PhD, FAAN, is senior vice president at AARP and directs its Public Policy Institute. She is also the chief strategist for the Center to Champion Nursing in America. While serving on a health system board that oversees nursing homes, Reinhard introduced the concept of person-centered care to steer organizations toward focusing on the needs of individual patients instead of an institution’s preferences.

The standard preparation that nurses receive translates to proficiencies required in boardrooms. Nurses’ daily responsibilities consist of strategic planning, reviewing financial reports, problem solving and acting as advocates for patients and the community.

The Push for More Nurses on Boards

Executive director Laurie Benson spearheads the Nurses on Boards Coalition. The mission of the NOBC is to increase the number of nurses on corporate, health, government and community boards as well as panels and commissions across the United States to form healthier communities. The goal of the NOBC is to have at least 10,000 nurses on boards by 2020. Benson urges nurses to become involved by doing the following:

  • Finding an organization they are passionate about.
  • Knowing what skills they can contribute.
  • Expressing their interest in becoming a member.
  • Making a commitment.

Help for Nurse Leaders

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) offers a three-year Executive Nurse Fellows program to assist nurses with gaining the competencies they need to discover leadership opportunities and navigate the challenges of becoming a leader.

The RWJF supports programs like Leaders in the Boardroom, Nurse Faculty Scholars and Investing in Nursing’s Future. Leaders in the Boardroom focuses on placing more nurses on boards, and the Nurse Faculty Scholars program targets the next generation of nurse leaders in academic nursing. Investing in Nursing’s Future promotes the nursing profession through community foundations.

At three million, nurses represent the largest portion of the U.S. healthcare workforce. By serving on committees and boards, nurse leaders can protect patient safety and quality of care. Nurses need to seize opportunities to move into leadership positions so they can influence policy and provide their expert experience in healthcare, government, business and other sectors.

Learn more about the URI online RN to BS in Nursing program.


Campaign for Action: The Importance of Nurse Leadership: Increasing Nurses in the Boardroom The RN to BSN and Career Advancement


RWJF: Memo to Aspiring Nurse Executives and Leaders: “This Is Your Time!”

HealthLeaders Media: 4 Strategies for Nurses Who Want to Enter the Boardroom

AMN Healthcare: Time for Nurses to Claim Greater Leadership Roles, Experts Say

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