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Millennials Having Fun and Making a Difference as Public Members

By Becky LeBuhn

Ben Klein_public member.pngICE does a lot to support the public members serving in its own leadership and on the boards of directors of many of ICE’s member organizations. Indeed, ICE CEO Denise Roosendaal was awarded the Benjamin Shimberg Public Service Award in October 2018 by the Citizen Advocacy Center “for recognizing the important roles public members play in accomplishing the goals of occupational and professional credentialing, and for committing ICE resources to help public members achieve peak effectiveness.”

ICE promotes public member attendKevin Harris_public member.pngance at the annual educational conference by waiving their registration fee when they are accompanied by their organization’s CEO or Board Chair. In 2018, more than a dozen public members took advantage of this incentive and attended the ICE Exchange. Two of them are bright energetic millennials who conveyed their enthusiasm about being public members during a joint interview in Austin.

Becoming a Public Member

Kevin Harris views his public member position on the Nephrology Nursing Certification Corporation board of directors as an opportunity for professional growth while performing a public service. Helping others is a big motivator in Kevin’s world, as evidenced by his numerous volunteer activities with a young leaders’ organization, the United Way, the Boy Scouts, and other groups.

Ben Klein wasn’t aware that there was such a thing as a public member until he attended a diabetes conference and struck up a conversation with Sheryl Traficano, CEO of the National Certification Board for Diabetic Educators (NCBDE). This chance encounter led to Ben becoming NCBDE’s public member. Like Kevin, Ben views this as a good professional development opportunity where he is able to sit in a boardroom, have strategic conversations with seasoned people, and develop his own strong voice.

What Millennials Bring

Asked why their boards sought out millennials to be their public members, Kevin said it simply makes sense. Certification, he observed, targets young people who want to better themselves as most millennials do. Further, millennials bring a fresh perspective and they are comfortable with technology and marketing. These are good qualities for boards that want to be nimble and adaptive.

Ben concurs. Millennials are associated with innovation and growth and are conversant with technology. His board colleagues look to him to help them modernize the way they do things. To illustrate, he recalled being surprised to find after his first meeting that board members completed pen and paper meeting evaluations. He helped them to convert to an electronic system. Something of a mantra has been adopted by the board: when something innovative is under consideration, they say “Ben will like that!”    

Preparation for the Job

Both Kevin and Ben appreciate how their boards prepared them to assume the public member position. Ben was mentored by the previous board chair who explained what was expected from the public member and, importantly, imparted insight into organizational politics. This orientation, Ben said, “set me up for success.”

Kevin is grateful to have spent a good deal of time being oriented by his predecessor in the public member seat. He has high praise for his board’s tradition of inviting prospective board members to observe the meeting before they formally take over and “shadow” the board member they are about to replace. He feels that helped him hit the ground running. Acknowledging that effective orientation is essential for success, Kevin pointed out that ongoing support, such as opportunities for public members to network at events like the ICE Exchange, is equally important. “When you are new,” he observed, “You don’t yet know what you don’t know.”

Challenges of the Job

Kevin had no prior experience with nephrology nursing so, like many public members, he finds it challenging to absorb unfamiliar terminology and acronyms. Fortunately, he said, he’s not shy about “asking the dumb questions.” He believes the board needs a public member who is willing to do that. He described his fellow board members as “fantastic, patient, and helpful.”

Ben does have experience with diabetes since his day job is at Optum, the healthcare services wing of United Health. The challenge he grapples with is how to affect a cultural shift.  Others on the board are used to doing things in established ways. His instincts are to adapt to industry trends. He knows he has to establish credibility so that the seasoned people on the board take him seriously when he points out opportunities for new ways of thinking and conducting business.

How Does the Board Help You Be Effective?

Kevin appreciates receiving materials well in advance of meetings. He gets a courtesy call to make sure he has received them and see if he has any questions. During meetings, the board chairperson asks Kevin’s opinion, especially when technical and marketing topics are being discussed.

Ben agrees that his board distributes meeting materials with adequate lead time so it is easy to be well-prepared. He is effusive about how helpful his board chair has been. She is good about including everyone at board meetings and prompts him to speak up if he has been quiet. It is very helpful to have the board chair as my advocate, said Ben, “She champions my role.”

Making a Difference

Both Ben and Kevin talked about contributions they have made to their organizations. Ben pointed out that there are more people retiring from diabetes educator jobs than there are young people entering the field. Thirty percent of diabetes educators are over the age of 60 while less than 4% are under the age of 30. To encourage young people to enter the profession and become certified, Ben is helping NCBDE institute initiatives to defray some of the cost of taking the certification exam. Kevin chimed in that he helped NNCC expand the number of scholarships it offers and revamp the process and criteria for selecting recipients.

Public members often amplify the discussion by introducing ideas members of the profession may not think of. In Ben’s case, he encouraged his board to broaden the scope of a marketing initiative to promote the value of the credential. He pointed out the need to target consumers and educators as well as the profession. Kevin took an interest in questions posed by certification applicants; as a result, he is developing an online mini-blog where applicants and certificants can converse.

Reflecting the Views Public

Kevin and Ben were asked what they do to find out how consumers and patients think so that what they bring to their board reflects public opinion and expectations. Both men were intrigued by the question and committed to thinking more about how they might do this. Kevin pointed out that people don’t as a rule choose their nurses so he views his overall job to be making sure certification truly means something. Ben has managed a diabetes patient support program, so he has real-world awareness of questions patients ask and assistance they need.

Takeaways from the ICE Exchange

First timers at the Exchange, both Kevin and Ben learned a great deal from the plenary and concurrent sessions and appreciated interacting with other public members at several intervals during the conference. They want to learn more about the role of public members and like the idea of an online conversation during which they can “pick the brains” of more experienced public members and discuss issues facing their own and other boards. Access to a public member network would enable one-on-one brainstorming, as well.

Both Ben and Kevin said their friends and acquaintances are impressed when they learn that it is possible for young people to serve on boards of directors and enjoy the satisfaction of making a positive contribution to their organizations and society as a whole.

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