By Stefanie Dell’Aringa
Advocating for the patient, improving healthcare and honing leadership skills are just some of the ways nurses benefit from serving on boards of directors, according to Mary Anne Marra, DNP, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, vice president and CNO at East Orange (N.J.) General Hospital.
Marra should know. She has served on three boards and supports the national Nurses on Boards Coalition’s effort to place 10,000 nurses on boards by 2020. The coalition was founded in November by 21 nursing and healthcare organizations, including the American Nurses Association, American Organization of Nurse Executives, National League for Nursing and Sigma Theta Tau International, with the aim of increasing the presence of nursing on corporate and nonprofit health-related boards.
Marra has served on the Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey; Organization of Nurse Executives of New Jersey; and Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital boards.
“Becoming active and eventually seeking a position on a board of a professional organization helps you to facilitate professional growth, and you could be viewed as a leader or expert,” Marra said.
The coalition’s effort is based on a 2011 IOM report recommendation to have nurses play more pivotal roles on boards and commissions in improving the health of Americans. State nursing coalitions, such as the New Jersey Action Coalition, of which Marra is a member, are working toward that goal to transform healthcare.
“We’ve collected resumes from nurses across the state,” said Edna Cadmus, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, clinical professor, director DNP program-leadership track, Rutgers University School of Nursing, and co-leader of the NJAC. “We probably have 150 to 200 resumes we have catalogued through the New Jersey Hospital Association, which is housing our database. Whenever there’s a request for someone to be on a board, we go through that list and try to match one of the nurses.”
Marra’s appointment to the Greystone board, a government-appointed position, stemmed from a New Jersey Hospital Association recommendation. “It was pretty exciting to be appointed by the governor,” said Marra, who has full support from her employer.
Being on boards allows her to share ideas with healthcare professionals outside of nursing. “You’re taking on the responsibility, accountability and goals of that entity that you’ve chosen to serve,” she said. “I think you really hone skills in negotiation and teamwork.”
The voice of nursing
Bringing the voice of nursing to a board is important, Marra said. With nurses ranking first in a Gallup poll of most trusted professions every year but one since 1999, the contributions she makes to boards outside of nursing are well respected, Marra said.
“I’m the only nurse on the board,” Marra said of Greystone. “It allows me to bring the perspective of nursing to the discussion, and that board’s primary focus is on protecting the rights of the patient.”
Professional boards, like ONE NJ, build camaraderie and achieve nursing objectives.
“The Organization of Nurse Executives of New Jersey not only has a strict nursing focus, but it’s focused on leadership,” Marra said. “The focus of the work is around supporting the organization and supporting the growth of future nurse leaders in the state of New Jersey.”
Nurses interested in applying for board membership should gain relevant experience on a committee first and also seek positions related to a specialty and/or passion. For example, Marra served as co-chairwoman of the regional education committee for the Partnership for Maternal and Child Health and later was appointed as a board member. At the time, she was serving as director of a children’s hospital and brought 30 years of experience in maternal child health.
“If you’re talking about a professional organization, they’ll want to see your involvement,” Marra said.
Cadmus recommends nurses start at the local level.
“There are a lot of opportunities in your community for people to be on boards,” Cadmus said. “Whatever your passion is, there’s a committee for you, and from that, you can build your skill set to help in terms of getting you on bigger board positions.”
Stefanie Dell’Aringa is a freelance writer.