We Belong Together
Strength in numbers. United we stand. Membership has its privileges. These are just a few of the phrases that come to mind when one considers the benefits of belonging to a professional nursing association. Whether it’s the American Nurses Association, a state or local nursing association or one devoted to a particular clinical specialty, association membership provides nurses with invaluable opportunities to discuss issues of common interest, cultivate and share ideas, expand knowledge and learn from others’ successes.
But when you’re a racial or ethnic minority nurse in a profession that is still approximately 88% Caucasian, being a member of a nursing association can sometimes feel like being alone in a crowd. That’s why so many nurses of color also belong to minority nursing associations. While there are a number of professional associations that serve the nation’s community of racial and ethnic minority nurses, as well as other groups that are underrepresented in the profession, the five primary ones are:
• National Black Nurses Association (NBNA)
• National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN)
• Philippine Nurses Association of America (PNAA)
• Asian American/Pacific Islander Nurses Association (AAPINA)
• National Alaska Native American Indian Nurses Association (NANAINA).
While many of the nation’s nurses of color are members of minority nursing associations, not all of them have chosen to join these organizations. Why don’t more minority nurses get involved in these associations? Why do so many minority nursing leaders believe it’s so important to belong to one of these groups? What benefits do minority nursing associations offer that majority associations don’t? How can they help you advance your career and enhance your nursing skills?
One of the biggest benefits is the opportunity to network with other minority nurses on a national level. Norma Martinez-Rogers, PhD, RN, FAAN, president-elect of NAHN and associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio School of Nursing, points out that being involved with a minority association allows nurses of color from all over the country to discuss unique issues that may not be at the top of the agenda at majority associations, such as cultural competency, racial/ethnic health disparities and discrimination in the nursing workplace. “We find that we are not alone when facing issues and together we can do problem-solving,” she says.
Belonging to a minority association also provides a “home to the familiar” says Rosario-May Mayor, RN, MA, the current president of PNAA. It’s an opportunity to come together with other nurses who share the same culture, values and traditions.
For example, NANAINA’s annual national summit is more than just a nursing conference: It’s also a celebration of American Indian/Alaska Native culture, incorporating traditional prayers, music, dancing, talking circles and a banquet where many of the attendees dress in tribal regalia.
PNAA was originally formed to provide assistance to immigrant nurses from the Philippines who were having difficulty transitioning into nursing careers in the United States. In addition to the challenges of adjusting to a new culture and health care system, many of these nurses also faced problems with passing U.S. licensure exams and being taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers. Established in 1979, after a group of Filipino American nursing leaders developed a steering committee to form PNAA from five independent PNA state chapters, today the association has grown to nearly 5,000 members.
“We can compare notes on how to deal with situations, learn from each other and help each other out,” says Mayor, who is director of performance improvement and quality management at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y.
While the various minority nursing associations differ in size, age and composition, their objectives are similar. “We are many faces, different voices, but the aspirations and hopes are the same,” explains Mayor. “We all want what is best for each other in terms of our nursing careers and [leading a] fulfilling life.”
Another key benefit of belonging to a minority nursing association is the exclusive members-only educational opportunities they offer. Compared to specialty nursing associations, such as the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses or the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, minority associations don’t always specifically address ways to enhance one’s clinical skills. What they do offer, says Martinez-Rogers, are conferences, publications and other resources that address excellence in practice, research and education. “We present more of the theory and evidence-based practice, as well as research findings that address Hispanic health disparities.”
This holds true for the other minority nursing associations as well. For instance, one of the highlights of the NBNA’s annual national conference is a series of intensive half-day institutes focusing on critical African American health issues, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and mental health. Recent AAPINA conferences have featured education sessions on topics like aging and end-of-life issues in the Asian American community. And both NBNA and NAHN publish professional journals that provide members with access to scholarly articles, research reports and other cutting-edge information about topics relating to minority nurses and minority health.
Educational programming offered by minority associations also emphasizes issues like career advancement, leadership development and increasing diversity in the nursing profession.
For all of these reasons, nursing students can also benefit greatly from joining a minority nursing association even before they graduate and launch their careers. In addition to educational opportunities, one of the biggest advantages to being a student member is the exposure to experienced nurses, many of whom are leaders in the profession. These potential mentors and role models, who have already hurdled many of the obstacles that young minority nurses will encounter–can help guide students towards achieving their educational and career goals.
“We can mentor them and help them achieve [success],” says Martinez-Rogers. “NAHN also provides scholarships for the nursing students and gives them advice on how to further their education.” NBNA, NANAINA and PNAA also offer scholarship programs for their student members.
All five of the main minority nursing associations are members of the National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations (NCEMNA). This “association of associations” was founded ten years ago to provide a strong, unified voice for the concerns of all nurses of color. While individual nurses cannot become members of NCEMNA, belonging to one of the coalition’s five member associations does enable nurses and students to benefit indirectly–and sometimes even directly–from their respective association’s involvement in this umbrella organization.
“Alliance with NCEMNA leads to a more powerful voice and our unity is a leveraging factor in obtaining grants to further the cause of research addressing minority health disparities,” says Mayor.
Developing a cadre of minority nurse scientists who can research solutions for eliminating health disparities is an important part of NCEMNA’s mission. To accomplish this goal, the coalition has established initiatives like the annual NCEMNA/Aetna Scholars Program, which provides financial assistance, mentoring and leadership development to nurses and students interested in pursuing research careers. Scholars are nominated for the program by their respective NCEMNA member associations. Nurses who belong to one of the five associations can also apply for NCEMNA’s Research Training and Mentoring Program, which includes an annual conference that focuses on developing research careers.
Opportunities for Local Leadership
Some of the larger minority nursing associations–specifically, NBNA, NAHN and PNAA–have a network of local chapters across the country that offer programs and activities in addition to the ones available at the national level. For instance, the Houston chapter of NAHN–one of the association’s largest and most active–conducts health fairs, for the city’s Hispanic community, mentors local students, provides scholarships, helps foreign-educated Hispanic nurses become licensed to practice in the U.S. and holds an annual conference.
Attending the monthly meetings gives members a sense of camaraderie that comes with living and working in the same geographic area, says the chapter’s president, Jacqueline Crespo Perry, BSN, RN. “We can share our experiences, our ups and downs, and compare it with others.”
Local chapters, says Mayor, give members the opportunity to directly serve the communities they live in. Nurses involved with PNAA’s chapters, for instance, can volunteer at neighborhood clinics and senior housing centers, help feed the hungry and take part in cancer walks.
Belonging to a minority nursing association at the chapter level can also sharpen nurses’ leadership skills, adds Mary Joy Garcia-Dia, RN, MA, president of the Philippine Nurses Association of New York (PNA-NY). The chapter encourages members to join such committees as Membership, Education, Budget/Finance and Legislative/Bylaws.
“Being involved with a project such as fundraising or a health fair increases collaborative skills and improves interpersonal communication,” she maintains. “By developing a sense of responsibility, members are given an opportunity to increase their leadership skills under the guidance and mentorship of [established] leaders. There is nothing like real on-the-job leadership training.”
Promoting involvement in the chapter is a responsibility Garcia-Dia takes seriously and she hopes others will follow her lead. “All in all we are volunteers, whether as an officer or a member,” she says. “Time commitment and visible participation are essential if we want to value our membership and experience what PNA-NY is all about.”
To Join or Not to Join
Why do some nurses of color choose to join minority nursing associations while others do not? It’s a question the leaders of these associations constantly grapple with as they work to increase the size and strength of their organizations and recruit the next generation of nursing professionals into their ranks.
Mayor says she hears nurses give a variety of objections when they’re asked to consider joining PNAA: They don’t have the time to get involved. Their work and family obligations come first. The dues are too expensive. They’d rather spend their money on other items.
Her rejoinder is that it’s fine to buy nice things for themselves, but they should also have it in their hearts to support PNAA. “We are asking a small amount–nothing exorbitant that they cannot afford,” she points out. “I also give the argument that we [Philippine nurses] belong to a profession that has enabled us to enjoy a good life here in the USA and now we need to give back to those [immigrant nurses] following us and to the next generation.”
Martinez-Rogers speculates that some Hispanic nurses don’t join NAHN because they are solely looking to enhance their clinical skills and fail to fully understand the importance of networking. “I usually remind them of the health disparities we face and of how few of us Hispanic nurses there are to address these issues,” she says. “I believe that we have an obligation to ourselves and our community to become leaders in our profession.”
One of the primary objectives of NAHN, which was founded in 1975, is to “work toward recruitment and retention of Hispanic students in nursing education programs, in order to increase the number of bilingual and bicultural nurses who may provide culturally sensitive nursing care to Hispanic [health care] consumers.”
Martinez-Rogers initially joined NAHN because she felt an obligation to be involved with a Hispanic professional organization in a field where there are so few Hispanics. “There are over 2.9 million RNs in the U.S. and [less than 2% of them] are Hispanics,” she says. “We need to be active in order to have a voice and be recognized. There is power in numbers.”
Mayor agrees. Because PNAA, like most other associations, largely relies on volunteers, she says the organization is looking for “all the help we can get.” As she puts it, “We need their involvement and passion so we can further the goal of fostering a positive image of the Philippine American nurse.”
Garcia-Dia is a good example of a PNAA member who has developed a passion for the association. She became actively involved with PNA-NY in 2002 when a chapter officer nominated her for a board member position. Garcia-Dia, who was close to completing her master’s degree in nursing informatics, agreed to serve knowing she could help the chapter by volunteering her technology skills.
One of her projects was helping to launch the PNA-NY Web site. As she worked on developing content for the site, she gained knowledge about the organization’s history, the commitment of its leaders and the association’s contributions to the nursing profession. She also learned the importance of representation.
“The majority of us [Philippine nurses] came to the United States with different purposes and goals in life,” Garcia-Dia explains. “Some of us either grew up or were born here. Either way, we have adapted and adjusted to a new culture, but deep inside, we cling to our values and ideals as Filipinos. No one can represent us as a people other than ourselves.”
Making the Most of Your Membership
All of the association leaders interviewed for this article emphasize that it’s important to not just join a minority nursing association but to participate actively in its programs and activities. After all, since you’ll be required to pay dues, it makes sense to get the most for your money by taking full advantage of your membership experience.
Mayor suggests getting started by attending your association’s educational and conference offerings. These events are also a good way to learn about association projects that you could get involved with.
PNAA members, for instance, have recently participated in initiatives such as working with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing to establish a NCLEX® testing site in Manila, partnering with the National Institutes of Health to develop a nursing faculty toolkit for teaching genetics and genomics, developing ethical guidelines for the recruitment of foreign-educated nurses and working with Filipino American community leaders towards common goals of empowerment.
Nurses who belong to the NBNA can participate in programs like the annual National Black Nurses Day on Capitol Hill. Held each February, this event gives members the opportunity to come to Washington, D.C. to learn about federal health care initiatives, meet with members of Congress and educate health care policymakers about critical issues affecting the nursing profession and minority health.
Perry agrees that the way to get the most out of your association membership is to be actively involved, whether at the national or chapter level. “Volunteer at the health fairs, mentor a student, run for an office. If you are elected you’ll be able to help form the agenda for [moving the organization forward]. It’s easy, it’s fun and it’s rewarding,” she says.
Perry initially became involved with NAHN for two reasons. First, she felt alone and isolated as a Hispanic nurse in a predominately white profession and wanted feedback from other nurses who shared her cultural background. Secondly, she wanted to give back to the community.
“I’ve been blessed to have an education, to have a profession. I had help along the way and I want to give back some of that and more,” she explains. “We nurses can work more hours and make more money, but none of that is as fulfilling as watching a student you mentored succeed. Or to see a patient at a health fair who didn’t know they had high blood pressure because they couldn’t afford a doctor visit or find a way to receive treatment. We’re only here [on this earth] a short time. We won’t be remembered for what we’ve got, but for what we give.”
Exploring Associations Online
For more information about the minority nursing associations mentioned in this article, visit the following Web sites.
National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN)
Philippine Nurses Association of America (PNAA)
National Black Nurses Association (NBNA)
Asian American/Pacific Islander Nurses Association (AAPINA)
National Alaska Native American Indian Nurses Association (NANAINA)
National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations (NCEMNA)
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