Nurses Need a Long Drive to the Boardroom

Chelsea Rice, for HealthLeaders Media , April 15, 2013

Powerful leadership, under-represented
Nurses are the largest group of employees, nurses are the largest budget item, and most nurses are women. They regularly run hospitals at nights, weekends, and holidays when no other executives and rarely any physicians are around. This adaptive workforce can produce powerful leadership at the top. Why aren't nurses in higher leadership positions?

"There are issues, I think, of enormous prejudice in the system at large. When CEOs say there should be more in leadership with clinical backgrounds, they don't mean nursing, they mean medicine," says Connie Curran, EdD, RN, FAAN, a healthcare executive strategies consultant.

Despite the ratio on the front lines of patient care, only 2% of nonprofit hospital board members are nurses while there are more than four times as many nurses as physicians in the United States. While 4% of hospital CEOs in the United States are physicians, according to the American Hospital Association, even fewer are nurses, approximately 10 out of every 1,000 hospitals.

Multiple barriers prevent nurses from achieving this leadership status, but the problem, at its root, is the hierarchical structure of medicine and prehistoric gender issues that persist in healthcare.

Curran has worked in the corporate world as well as in hospitals. "I saw lots of nurses holding the place together, and many nurses in the executive branches saying 'how many CEOs do I have to teach their jobs to?' Most of these guys had a business degree and had never been above the first floor of a hospital, and they had no clue what went on upstairs."

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2 comments on "Nurses Need a Long Drive to the Boardroom"

Jason Uppal (4/21/2013 at 9:45 PM)
I am not a nurse and not married to one either ... i do agree .. here are my thoughts Silent Leaders of Change Twenty five years ago when I was asked to improve health and safety performance of a car manufacturing plant, the change leaders were not the CEO, or Plant Managers. The true leaders were the people on the shop floor. They were the unsung heroes to implement and drive real change. Not because somebody asked them, because change had positive impact in their work life and leadership freed them to realize change. Similarly, if we want to improve quality and safety of patient care in hospitals, we need to tap our silent leaders – Nurses and lets free them to do their job.

Phyllis Kritek (4/16/2013 at 2:39 PM)
Thank you for an excellent report on an important issue! It is encouraging to see Health Leaders Media addressing issues that are not only important to nurse leaders but to all who hope that health care organizations will seek the best possible leaders to grapple with the complexities of todays's health care world. If health care organizations are serious about hiring clinical leaders for CEO and COO positions, it is difficult to imagine any potential leadership pool is better equipped than experienced CNOs.




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