The Road to Nurse Leadership
Childhood friends of Mary Anne Marra, DNP, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, Chief Nursing Officer at East Orange General Hospital in northern New Jersey, would not be surprised to learn that she is among an an elite group of nurses in the nation who serve on healthcare governing boards. A 2013 study by the Journal of Urban Health, Representation of Health Professionals on Governing Boards of Health Care Organizations in New York City, indicated that physicians comprise more than 20% of the governing board members of hospitals while less than 5% are nurses. The study affirms one of the key recommendations of the 2010 Institute of Medicine’s landmark report on the Future of Nursing. The report established the need to ensure that leadership positions are available to and filled by nurses as an important part of transforming health care delivery and improved patient care.
As the oldest of eight children, Marra accepted responsibility early on by helping to care for her younger siblings. From an early age she knew she wanted to be a nurse and in high school was a member of the Future Nurses of America Club. During high school and college she worked as a shift supervisor at a neighborhood restaurant. Throughout her nursing career she has been confronted by new opportunities to lead; opportunities that even today, continue to excite and energize her.
Marra started her career as a pediatric staff nurse in Intensive Care at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. She quickly moved up the ranks in a variety of positions including nurse manager of pediatrics and pediatric intensive care, case manager for high risk OB, and director of women and children’s services at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital. Because of her expertise in pediatrics, she was asked to co-chair an education committee for the Northern New Jersey Maternal Child Health Consortium. The position led to the committee chairmanship, and in 2005 she had her first appointment as a member of the Consortium’s governing board. “I didn’t envision myself as a trustee, but I felt very committed to the group and was happy to serve. Looking back, I see how much it allowed me to grow.”
And grow she did. Marra is currently the Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer in a 210 bed community hospital providing services to underserved communities. She serves on three health-related organization boards. Each of these opportunities has enabled her to bring a unique perspective to enhance patient delivery. In 2011 she was appointed to her second term on the governing board of the Organization of Nurse Executives, New Jersey. With this appointment, Marra joins with nurses at different levels and specialties to represent nursing administration and management in all practice settings. In November 2011, she received a gubernatorial appointment to the Board of Directors at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital. In this role, Marra serves with a diverse group of colleagues, including a lawyer, a professor and a licensed social worker. Their responsibilities include the management and oversight of the administration effects of the resident’s patient welfare fund. Each board member brings a vital, appropriate and varied perspective aimed at enhancing the residents’ quality of life.
Marra believes that each of these opportunities have allowed her to grow professionally while doing important work that needs to be done. “Having a clinically-oriented person as a member of the Board brings a keener understanding of the quality metrics for patient delivery,” says Marra. “In addition, working with professionals from outside organizations enables nurses to learn and understand the various perspectives and views from others.”
“One of the key recommendations for the landmark IOM report Future of Nursing Leading Change Advancing Health is to prepare and enable nurses to lead change to advance health,” says Edna Cadmus, Director DNP Program-Leadership, Clinical Professor, Rutgers University, School of Nursing and co-chair of the New Jersey Action Coalition. “This includes preparing nurses to assume leadership positions across all settings and industries. Marra is an example of someone who is living this recommendation.”
As a result of Marra’s experiences, she has this advice for nurses striving to grow professionally and considering roles on governing boards:
- Appreciate the science of nursing and the nurses’ role in the delivery of care. Nurses bring a unique perspective to governing boards to enhance patient care delivery.
- Strive to grow professionally and be confident in what your role brings to the total delivery model.
- Look for opportunities that allow you to seek out and step into other roles.
- Reach out to senior nurses for mentorship in that role. As an adjunct professor, Marra often takes students who express an interest to Board meetings.
If you believe you may be qualified and are interested in board governance, please contact Bill Pierce, the chair of the New Jersey Action Coalition Nurse Leadership Pillar at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your C-V/resume. If you are currently on a Board, please let us know.