Advisory Groups: An Often-Untapped Resource for Clinical Simulation Programs
Given the breadth and depth of responsibilities associated with administering a high-quality healthcare simulation program, directors or managers understand the importance of utilizing every available resource. However, too many program administrators are leaving an asset that has the potential to yield huge benefits untapped. An advisory group can provide the strategic advice and essential skills needed to take a clinical simulation program to the next level. By supplementing specific areas where the program lacks knowledge or expertise, advisory groups help leadership make better decisions and get more done.
Advisory groups are formed to provide specialized information, experience and skills, so that the organization or program is able to achieve things that it otherwise could not. An advisory group can be a tremendous adjunct to the cadre of skills possessed by the program administrators. An advisory group does not have formal authority and cannot issue directives that must be followed. Rather, the advisory group serves to make recommendations and/or provide key information to the administrators of the healthcare simulation program.
Forming an advisory group can help the clinical simulation program leverage resources, while strengthening current relationships with community partners and key stakeholders. This article will attempt to demystify the process of implementing an advisory group for healthcare simulation programs. Some basic questions will be answered and the potential benefits of having an advisory group will be highlighted.
What is an Advisory Group and What Does It Do?
An advisory group is a body that provides non-binding strategic advice to the management of an organization, corporation, foundation or program. The informal nature of an advisory group provides flexibility in structure and management.
Unlike a board of directors, an advisory group does not have authority to vote on organizational matters or bear legal fiduciary responsibilities. For this reason, it is probably best to avoid referring to the group as an “advisory board”; other monikers to consider include advisory group, committee, council, panel or task force.
Regardless of the name, be very sure of the purpose of the group. If the aim of the advisory group cannot be clearly stated, establishing the group should be put on hold. Forming an advisory group just to say one exists is a recipe for confusion and burnout. The duties of an advisory group are purely as a support position. The roles and responsibilities of an advisory group may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- To develop an understanding of the current status of the healthcare simulation program and industry trends.
- To provide “wise counsel” on issues raised by directors or management of the program.
- To provide unbiased insights and ideas from a third point of view.
- To encourage and support the exploration of new ideas.
- To act as a resource for program staff.
- To monitor program performance.
- To set directors and management challenges that could improve the program.
Why Should a Healthcare Simulation Program Form an Advisory Group?
Identifying the purpose of the advisory group will help determine the structure of the group. An advisory group can be standing (ongoing) or ad hoc (one-time) in nature. For major endeavors, a standing advisory group should be established. An ad hoc advisory group can be formed for specific, short-term projects.
Instances when an advisory group may prove to be a valuable resource for healthcare simulation programs include the following:
- A program experiencing rapid growth.
- A program needing to raise funds.
- A program aiming to build strategic partnerships.
- A program facing major decisions and/or changes in direction.
- A program dealing with succession issues.
- A program facing challenges with other shareholders.
- A program with specific technical or functional issues.
Who Can Be a Member of the Advisory Group?
Advisory groups are composed of accomplished experts offering innovative advice and dynamic perspectives. They can provide strategic direction, guide quality improvement, and assess program effectiveness. The main reason for creating an advisory group is to seek expertise from outside the healthcare simulation program. New and existing clinical simulation programs choose to form advisory groups to benefit from the knowledge and experience of others.
Advisory group members should provide the knowledge, understanding and strategic thinking that will complement the skills of the healthcare simulation program management team. The group’s purpose should determine its credentials for membership. Seek out the skill sets, expertise and insights that are needed to meet the goals.
Selecting advisory group members is a very important task. Key questions to consider include the following:
- Why is this advisory group being formed?
- What input or expertise is needed?
- How will a particular person supplement the existing skill set of the program team?
- What skill gaps require filling, such as strategy, human resources, marketing, legal, technology, operations and finance?
- Where can the best advice be sourced from someone that understands the healthcare simulation program and the environment it operates in?
- Does this person have a shared commitment to the development of the program?
Advisory group members should be people respected as much for their personal qualities as for any technical competence they may offer. Advisory group members need to “say it as it is” and feel comfortable in the event that the program rejects their advice. Look for influential community members who would be able to provide valuable insights regarding the specific purpose of the group. It might be helpful to find someone who has a history with the program or larger organization and can provide perspective to the discussions.
The size of an advisory group can influence the efficiency and effectiveness of the group. A large advisory group may result in managerial issues. Therefore, it is recommended that an advisory group grow from a fairly small size to its ultimate number. As a rule of thumb, limit the size of an advisory group to five to nine people. Larger medical simulation programs that serve several healthcare disciplines might include a few more members to ensure the interests of each discipline are being considered.
When Should an Advisory Group Be Formed and How Often Do They Meet?
Some decisions are easy to make, but others can be quite onerous. A number of different barriers can be in place that prevent healthcare simulation program directors from making good decisions. It could be a lack of experience, a lack of time or a lack of resources. In these instances, directors might benefit from an advisory group that can address the gaps in knowledge, skills, abilities or resources being experienced by the clinical simulation program.
The functioning of an advisory group is affected significantly by how effectively the group’s activities are organized and directed. Having a fixed meeting schedule should be considered, whether these meetings are held monthly, quarterly, annually or at some other regular interval. Advisory group members should be provided an agenda and informed of the purpose of the meeting. Providing some background information on the topic of the meeting will help group members come prepared to offer valuable advice.
Advisory groups should have bylaws and clearly defined roles before people are invited to join. Writing a specific job description for group members will be helpful in defining roles. Be sure to spell out who, how and when the recommendations will be sent to the larger organization.
Are There Any Potential Challenges or Other Considerations?
Participation in an advisory group requires members to invest time, resources or both into the success of another’s program, and these are usually volunteer positions offering unpaid obligations. This can make it difficult to find and retain members. Participants choose to serve an organization for a range of reasons, from personal loyalty to a commitment to quality education and/or improved safety in healthcare.
Some advisory groups remain in place for the long term, helping the program manage specific tasks. Other advisory groups are temporary: they are formed at the beginning of a project and then dissolved when the task is completed. When and how the advisory group disbands should be decided when the group is created.
Advisory groups can provide bad advice disguised as good advice. Any suggestions, offers of assistance or resources should always be scrutinized to determine their value and/or potential for success. Remember, if something does not go well, it is not the advisory group that will be held accountable.
Any Final Thoughts on Advisory Groups?
Well-conceived and well-executed advisory groups can be very beneficial to healthcare simulation programs. Creating and maintaining such a group requires careful consideration of several key items: the purpose or goal of the group, selection and orientation of members, and periodic evaluations of the group’s progress.
- Advisory Board Centre. (2021, August 5). Leading professional body for advisory boards. https://www.advisoryboardcentre.com/
- Advisory Board Centre PTY LTD. (2020). ABF-101: 2020 Advisory Board Best Practice Framework. Brisbane, Queensland Australia.
- BoardSource. (2020, June 11). Advisory councils: Nine keys to success. https://boardsource.org/advisory-councils-nine-keys-to-success/
- Dass, S., Muir, K., & Rangan, V. K. (2020). Nonprofit boards: It is time to lift your gaze and see the system. SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3737045
- Price, N. (2019, March 5). What is an Advisory Council? BoardEffect. https://www.boardeffect.com/blog/what-is-an-advisory-council/
Jeanne Carey is the Director of Simulation at Baylor University Louise Herrington School of Nursing in Dallas, Texas. She holds advanced certification as a simulation educator and has 10 years of experience in all aspects of simulation, including the development and implementation of new simulation-based learning activities, training of simulation facilitators, and recruitment and management of standardized patients. Carey and the LHSON Simulation Team created the Two-Heads-Are-Better-Than-One (2HeadsR>1) strategy for role assignment in simulation. She is active in several simulation organizations and currently serves as an INACSL Nurse Planner.