Distinguished Alumni Profile: Connie Curran

Connie Curran, BS'69, EdD, RN, FAANWhy should nurses rise to the executive level of governing boards? Connie Curran, BS’69, EdD, RN, FAAN, a UW–Madison School of Nursing alumna and NAO’s 2000 Distinguished Achievement Award recipient, offers a pragmatic answer: “If nurses are not in the hospital boardrooms, there are no good patient outcomes,” she says. “Nurses understand the business of quantity and quality of life.”

Curran, who currently sits on five governing boards, including the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the UW Foundation Board, is founder and CEO of Best on Board. This Chicago-based national organization focuses on educating and certifying health care trustees and assisting hospitals and health systems with board and governance issues. Providing these services through online programming, Curran and company have begun concentrating their efforts on nurses, whom she believes, can change old ways of doing business in health care.

“A well-informed board can make the right decisions about things for the patient, the community, and the employee,” Curran says. “As nurses, we represent the voice of the consumer at these strategic tables. Nurses speak for the patient. We are the discipline with the expertise in coordinating care, managing clinical outcomes, running complex organizations, and serving as patient navigators through turbulent waters of contemporary health care.”

Best on Board educates trustees and hospital systems in two areas: essentials of governance and quality of care. “Most boards have a banker, a lawyer, a physician. But when you think about it, who’s closest to the customer?” asks Curran. “It’s the nurse who’s there 2/47.” Trustees must recognize, Curran adds, that “if hospitals have a lot of re-admissions, its’ a sign of poor-quality care; Medicare could cut funding. Nurses on boards could help change this metric.”

Curran and colleague Therese Fitzpatrick, PhD, RN, wrote a book entitled Claiming the Corner Office: Executive Leadership Lessons for Nurses (2013). The book, Curran says, is dedicated to the game-changers—the next generation of nurse entrepreneurs, inventors, and corner office leaders. “Nurses’ call to action is one of articulating our IC, or intellectual capital. Nursing IC is important in the larger dialogue of health care—that is, the influence of nurses’ knowledge, skills, and experience on clinical and organizational outcomes.”

Curran exemplifies corner office leadership. After getting her bachelor’s degree from the UW in 1969, she practiced nursing in the Chicago area while completing a master’s degree in medical-surgical nursing. While earning an EdD in educational psychology at Northern Illinois University, she decided academia was a good fit. She enjoyed grant writing and was very good at getting funded.

“Eventually, I realized that I was an entrepreneur,” she says. Curran started CurranCare, a national management and consulting services organization in non-acute care. After selling this company, she started C-Change in Washington, D.C., a national organization focused on the eradication of cancer. This executive directorship led to her current CEO position.

“Nursing,” Curran says, “gave me great assessment skills to go into a situation, to look around and listen, and to come up with a pretty good assessment of what the situation is. I worked in the ER at University Hospital and Clinics all four years of nursing school. I learned a lot of triaging skills and good communication skills. To this day, I use them: Figure out what the situation is; prioritize where you’re going to put your time, money, and people; and communicate clearly to your people and customers. I learned all this at Wisconsin.”

Curran offers this advice to nursing students and alumni who can see themselves taking a seat at the governing table. “English athlete Roger Bannister was the first to run the mile in under four minutes—a feat everyone thought couldn’t be done. Within three years of Bannister’s record, two other athletes broke it. So, challenge self-limiting beliefs about what you can accomplish. Nurses have unlimited potential.”

–Kathleen Corbett Freimuth

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Wisconsin native Connie Curran has generously supported the development of Signe Skott Cooper Hall, which will open in the fall of 2014. Curran Commons, named for its benefactor, will serve as a first-floor gathering place for nursing students to share experiences and build friendships.

Connie Curran passed away on November 10, 2014. See story.

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