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Governance and the Path to Growth
By Kristen L. Straka, 2016-2018 President, Society of Pediatric Nurses

Many association leaders are looking for ways to help their organizations grow or move to the next level of success. Oftentimes this path is less about implementing a single idea and more about developing a thoughtful approach and sticking to it. The Society of Pediatric Nurses (SPN) is an example of how this path led to a new and exciting chapter in the society’s history.

Formed in 1990, SPN is the premier pediatric society representing more than 3,300 pediatric nurses and 28 specializations. Today, the society supports nurses in their practice by providing educational resources, news on pediatric trends and opportunities to network with nurses around the country. For many years, SPN had been largely focused on clinical research and grants to support the pediatric nursing profession. But in the past 10-15 years, nursing practices have changed, and many aspects of clinical research have been integrated into what’s known more broadly as evidence-based practice to improve patient outcomes and drive a preferred standard of care.

Laying the Groundwork

There was a growing realization in recent years that SPN needed to evolve to more accurately reflect what was happening in the profession and position itself to better serve pediatric nurses. In 2014, the organization embarked on a strategic planning process. The early stages of the transformation were challenging, and included redefining the SPN mission to reflect a new strategic direction. That required an in-depth evaluation of SPN’s governance structure in an effort to realign and refocus SPN resources on the most vital needs of members.

At the time, SPN had nine committees, each with as many as 20 members. For many years at annual meetings, the society put out a “willingness to serve” call. Interested members completed a form and were appointed to a committee. But from a functional standpoint, only a small handful of individuals regularly took part in committee meetings and remained engaged through the course of their terms.

Leaders and staff worked diligently to make positive changes to the committee structure to bring it into alignment with the new SPN mission and offer the best possible long-term benefits. This took place over many months, and involved four distinct phases:

1. Observation
2. Recommendation
3. Implementation
4. Evaluation

During this time, it was critical to maintain a high level of communication with the membership-at-large through town halls and email communications that explained the rationale and opened channels for comments and feedback. Board members were provided with talking points on the changes in order to ensure a unified voice, and SPN demonstrated a culture of transparency throughout the process.

Under the guidance of our executive director, Kim Eskew, we arrived at a total of four committees, each with eight members. I give a lot of credit to my board predecessors, Shirley Wiggins and Myra Huth, in particular, for paving the way for change while keeping many of SPN’s founding principles intact.

From there, leaders and staff dove into the board structure and looked at ways to streamline it. SPN had both a president-elect as well as a vice-president, and it was decided to eliminate the VP role. In total, no board seats were lost, but we looked closely at board leadership progression and determined what ultimately made the most sense.

The governance restructuring and resulting bylaws changes were announced in the fall of 2016. Once the membership understood that we were trying to achieve better and more efficient governance and set the stage for other organizational improvements, we met very little resistance.

Putting Members First

At the same time SPN addressed its governance structure, there was a concerted effort to assess or reassess member needs to find out what our members really wanted, both now and for the future. How had the professional needs of pediatric nurses changed? And, if we wanted to support nurses who support pediatrics, how can we do that most effectively?

In the pediatric nursing practice, our patients have become much more complex. We are caring for children who were born prematurely or with congenital issues who in the past may not have even survived infancy. Now they are growing up, and we are treating them in our pediatric and acute care facilities. In addition to hospital-based pediatrics, our research opened our eyes to the vast number of pediatric nurses in outpatient clinics and the wide range of specializations in those settings — gastroenterology, pulmonology, neurology and orthopedics, to name just a few.

By looking at the entire spectrum of pediatric nursing, it became evident that there was so much untapped opportunity for SPN to serve a broader array of specializations. That eventually led to the formation of special interest groups (SIGs). In the past, SPN might have regarded all 3,000+ members as pretty much the same, but upon creating SIGs, SPN can offer a much greater value proposition for those working in specialty areas. I believe our SIGs will grow as we evolve further, and will play a significant role in shaping where we go in the future.

We also recognized that such complexity allows for collaboration on many fronts, and as a result we opened lines of communication with the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, Nursing Organizations Alliance, the American Nurses Association, American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and large nursing school programs. In doing so, we are now beginning to identify ways to advance the interests of pediatric nurses within those groups by creating a greater degree of connectivity across the profession.

The new generation of pediatric nurses brings a real passion to caring for children, but also realizes they are still learning. Through the changes SPN has made, our leadership has also focused on developing and fostering comradery between more experienced members and younger ones. In our new committees, for example, there is an experienced chair and a co-chair who is in a position to learn. That’s another benefit of the work that went into restructuring. Our level of engagement at the board and committee level is now much higher, and we are in a much stronger position to see where we want to go based on the needs of our membership.

That, of course, includes growth and expansion. SPN celebrated its 25th anniversary last year at our annual meeting, and attendance at that event doubled from the previous year. Member retention rates have increased by nearly 30 percent, which we view as a significant victory and a sign of future growth.

The one thing I would tell leaders of any professional organization is to listen carefully to your members. Hold focus groups, conduct surveys and keep an open heart and mind. Many times during this process I’ve even picked up the phone and called members. And don’t be afraid to take a hard look at your leadership structure and make improvements. Today, everything SPN does can be linked back to our members and to what’s in the best interest of our profession.


  Kristen Straka, DNP, RN, CPN, NEA-BC, is senior director of the ambulatory unit, Heart Institute and Rehabilitation Services, at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

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