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Service to Our Communities

Updated on December 25, 2015

People Discussing

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People engaged in a discussion | Source

Getting Started by Volunteering Your Time to a Non-For-Profit Organization Board of Directors

Nurses are great leaders. As leaders, nurses can assist other nurses to serve their communities. Nurses bring many positive attributes to a board of directors. Of course those organizations related to healthcare may benefit the most from having a nurse on their board, however, other organizations will also benefit. Nurses have education and experience to analyze all sides of an issue, as well as prioritizing interventions and outcomes. Nurses also bring different perspectives to the table when addressing the needs of patients and the community compared to other healthcare professionals, especially physicians.

Unfortunately nurses are greatly underrepresented on boards. Often nurses are not perceived as playing a substantial leadership role in healthcare. In fact, a 2010 survey of more than 1,000 hospitals by the American Hospital Association found that those boards consisted of 20% physicians and only 6% nurses. The strengths of nurses in healthcare planning, policy, management, and practice should not be overlooked. Nurses are the largest population of health workers in the U.S. and must be represented at these leadership tables.1

What role would a nurse play on a board of directors?

The role of a nurse on a board of directors will be one of stewardship (i.e., which means you must place the organization’s best interest above your own). Boards act in relation to their mission, vision, and values. Boards advocate for its stakeholders and population of interest. Boards are crucial in securing the organization’s future and maintaining their present status. In addition, boards use a process of governance to provide the organization with strategic planning and direction. They make policy, advocate for their population of interest, and are responsible for the financial health of the organization.1-2

Man Speaking at Meeting

Man Speaking at Meeting (public domain photo
Man Speaking at Meeting (public domain photo | Source

Resources to Use Before Getting Started

While nurses bring much to the board, board service can also be rewarding to nurses. Service on a board allows nurses to practice and exercise leadership, expands their networking circles, and improves their communities. One way to help your colleagues interested in board leadership is to provide some recommended resources and local organizations to begin their service in. Some suggestions to help prepare a nurse for board service include:

  • BoardSource offers resources on nonprofit governance and is “dedicated to building the effectiveness of nonprofit boards.”
  • Non-Profit Board Governance for Health Care Leaders, an online education program of Sigma Theta Tau, is “designed to prepare health care leaders to be knowledgeable, contributing leaders on national and international not-for-profit boards.”
  • Book: Governance for Healthcare Providers: The Call to Leadership, by David B. Nash, William J. Oetgen, and Valerie P. Pracillo. Productivity Press; 2008.

How do you get started?

Start with some local organizations from hospital or school of nursing organizations, to women’s healthcare organizations, to daycare organizations, or more well-known organizations with both a local and international presence such as the Lion’s Club or Rotary. Committee work is the first step, so join a group and volunteer to serve on a committee. Then begin to learn the rules and guidelines of the organization.

Board membership provides knowledge and skills in governance, financial management, organizational operations, strategic planning, and fundraising. In addition, your networking circles will expand. The benefits of board service are not only to you, the nurse, but also to your community. So help a nurse you know to take that first step, and SERVE!


1 Hassmiller, S. (2012). Taking the first steps to serving on a board. American Nurse Today, 7(11), 18-20.

2 Wood, D. (2013). Time for nurses to claim greater leadership roles, experts say. Healthcare News. AMN Healthcare.

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© 2014 Kari Lane

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