Getting a Seat at the Healthcare Table

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC - 01/17/18

Nurses are intrinsic to the smooth operation of any medical institution, not to mention the healthcare system as a whole.  However, nurses’ individual and collective voices are not always heard as loudly and clearly as they could be.

For the overall healthcare system, nurses have much value to contribute. And for nurse’s individual careers, having a voice in decision-making can be an empowering experience and a powerful way to build professional standing and career opportunities.

And after all, in terms of getting a seat at the table, it’s been said that if you don't have a seat at the table, you’ll end up on the menu.

A Seat at The Table 

Nurses need a seat at the proverbial table, as well as at the actual conference tables where significant conversations take place and decisions are made.

As the most trusted American professionals in every annual Gallup poll, nurses are seen by the public as symbols of the best side of healthcare. Nurses carry a great deal of institutional knowledge, clinical acumen, academic achievement, research experience, and savvy regarding the delivery of high-quality, evidence-based healthcare.

In order for nurses to duly influence policy and the broader healthcare debate, they must seek and create opportunities to speak their minds, share expertise, and demonstrate the keen insight that a successful nursing career affords.  

Since nurses may or may not be invited to the table, they must choose to get themselves invited, volunteer, or simply force their way into the places where influential conversations occur.

Which Tables Should Nurses Choose? 

There are any number of tables at which nurses should be seated. For individual nurses, such volunteerism and membership strengthens a resume and shows potential employers that the nurse in question cares enough to get involved and speak her mind on salient and relevant issues.

Hospital and workplace committees:

When nurses get involved in workplace committees, they demonstrate their knowledge that such bodies matter. Healthcare workplace committees draft clinical protocols, set research goals, interface with community groups, and forge interdisciplinary alliances. In workplace committees, nurses can have a hand in shaping the future of their workplaces by representing their nurse colleagues and giving voice to nursing priorities.

Non-profit boards: 

Non-profit organizations need boards of directors to advance their mission. Since nurses are highly valued in our society, having a nurse on the board of a homeless shelter, medical charity, or other organization can be important for the quality, breadth, and depth of any board.  

Nursing association boards: 

Many state, regional, and national nursing associations have boards of directors that steer the organization. Serving as a member of a nursing association board gives a nurse experience in collaboration, mentorship, and organization development. Whether a state nursing association or a specialty practice organization, much can be learned from involvement in behind-the-scenes negotiation and management.

The media:

When timely healthcare-related stories are being researched by news organizations, they are much more likely to contact a physician for comment rather than a nurse. Although the public trusts nurses more than doctors, one rarely encounters a nurse being interviewed on the hot-button issues of the day. Nurses can change this calculus by creating relationships with member of the media, making themselves available for comment, and becoming valued for their opinions and insights.

Flexing the Muscle of Influence 

Nurses can influence the national or international conversation by actively taking part as professionals with expert opinions.

Serving on committees, volunteering for boards of directors, speaking with the media, and other strategies get nurses a seat at the table and make nursing’s collective voice heard.

Simultaneously, individual nurses can build their own personal brand and strengthen their resume and career through such professional activities.

Having a seat at the table is critical for nurses, individually and collectively. In order for that to occur, nurses must believe in their worth, value their own authority, and seek out opportunities to share their wisdom and gain relevance in crucial and influential conversations.