View from the Board Chair: Journal Club

A Successful Strategy for Trustee Education

By John P. Smith, DO    //    Volume 26,  Number 1   //    January/February 2018

Finding creative, effective means for keeping board members up to speed on your organization’s key business issues and related industry trends can be challenging. Most board members start with little education and training about the organization or business they commit to serve. Most did not receive training for this role prior to their election or appointment.

To address this need, Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences (KCU) recently piloted a Trusteeship Journal Club. Based on a technique physicians frequently use involving group discussion and critique around a relevant journal article or topic in the current literature, the club has experienced great success.

Certainly, our trustees represent a variety of key backgrounds, offering important insights to inform our work and bring expertise that is beneficial to advancing the strategic goals of the university. For KCU, this includes experts in medicine, finance, healthcare, business, and education. But we often struggle to keep up with the latest research and trends in our respective fields, let alone the field our board represents. And if we’re on more than one board, that challenge is compounded.

As board chair for KCU and a trustee with several years of experience, I quickly discovered how a lack of education and training limits our service in the early years. I personally was able to become well versed in most matters by “putting my time in.” However, in today’s fast-paced world of higher education, that model doesn’t always work. As a result, finding ways to improve board education frequently came up in discussions with leadership and trustees.

KCU had already implemented a new, extensive board orientation, which provides new members with cultural information on the university, exposure to current governance documents, discussions of job descriptions, and expectations. We also support mentorship to develop trustees’ knowledge and awareness of the activities and workings of the board. And we encourage participation in AGB meetings and webinars. Still, I was looking for a way to provide additional group engagement and learning that targets issues critical to our institution’s continued success.

At our most recent board meeting, we decided to introduce a Journal Club to gauge trustees’ interest and evaluate the tool’s effectiveness. Trusteeship magazine, which is available to all our board members, was an ideal source of pertinent material for initiating the club. As chair, I selected a discussion topic based on a recent article. About two weeks prior to the board meeting, I sent links to the article along with three additional articles from past issues to each board member and explained that we would discuss the topic during the upcoming meeting. I prepared slides as background for the topic and related articles, and to help guide the discussion. We set a time limit of one hour using a “working lunch” on the first day. This timeframe was a natural fit, as we try to be respectful of the commitment of our board members and make every effort to ensure our time is productive.

The specific goals of the Journal Club are to improve knowledge of current issues in higher education, encourage discussion to heighten awareness of the group, and create a forum for interaction with the leadership team. We had a fruitful and robust discussion that was both educational and enlightening for our trustees.

While this certainly isn’t the only means of educating board members, KCU has decided to continue this agenda item during future meetings. I highly recommend a Journal Club to keep board members up to date and engaged with the trends and current events in higher education. Leveraging content from Trusteeship to further the value of its timely and relevant subject matter is a great way to get started.

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