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Board members who are passionate about the mission bring energy and urgency to the board. In addition to that passion, strong communication skills are very important to truly hearing what other board members are saying, as well as effectively contributing your own point of view and knowledge.

A certain level of financial literacy is a must. Nurses do not need to be accountants to succeed in a board role, but they do need to have an understanding of where the money comes from, where it goes, and what that means to the organization. Whether a nonprofit board or a corporate board, money is very important. No money, no mission.


Passion and communication skills are necessary for board membership, but successful board service is built on a foundation of other strong competencies, including finance, strategy, and risk-taking.

Most nurses will not be seeking to serve on a public corporate board, at least not as their first foray into the boardroom. Nurses are quite likely, though, to seek—and attain—a spot on a healthcare organization's board. In 2009, the American Hospital Association Center for Healthcare Governance convened a Blue Ribbon Panel on Trustee Core Competencies. The panel identified two sets of core competencies for trustees of hospitals and health systems.

The first set includes knowledge and skill competencies in three areas: healthcare delivery and performance, business and finance, and human resources. The panel suggested that all boards, regardless of the kind of hospital or system they govern, should have some members with these competencies.

The second set of competencies includes personal capabilities that the panel recommended should be sought in all board members. These competencies describe the kinds of behaviors board members should be able to demonstrate. See Figure 4.1.

Figure 4.1

Individual Trustee Core Competencies

The panel's recommendations were based on interviews of board members, executives, research, and literature. The insights of the board members interviewed for this book support these competencies. What does it take to succeed as a board member? Take a look at the key skills through the eyes of these leaders.


Because of the fiduciary responsibility of the board, having financial expertise is essential. Most boards have members with backgrounds as a chief financial officer (CFO), certified public accountant (CPA), and so on, and these experts lead the Audit and Finance committees. Still, all board members need some understanding of finance.

The nurse experts that I interviewed varied in their views regarding the importance of financial expertise for nurses. An understanding of finance is important today, says Therese Fitzpatrick, an executive and principal clinical strategist. “Not just finance related to operations, but understanding pretty complex finance in terms of partnerships and risk. ...

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