The nursing industry has dozens of professional associations devoted to the art and science of nursing care and nursing specialties. And while many nurses know they exist, they may need to realize the depth of what associations do and how the skills and connections developed through membership can advance a career in ways they never expected.
American Nurses Association (ANA) president Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, PhD, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, says joining an association is an excellent professional move, and membership carries personal benefits that are just as critical. “Many people don’t consider that when they join the ANA or an association of another specialty, that they are advocating for the profession,” she says. “We are protecting our profession or specialty.”
Adrianna Nava, PhD, MPA, MSN, RN, and National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN) president, agrees. “Membership is important in the world of advocacy because it makes our footprint within the policy world bigger,” she says. “We grow in the ability to influence. So even if you feel like being a member isn’t an active form of involvement, it is; you are being counted when association leaders are advocating for change. We represent you, and you count.”
Be an Active Member
If you want to get the most from any professional association membership, active participation helps you and the organization. Even if your busy schedule leaves little time to devote, you can find something that will fit your schedule. Sign up for any newsletters and read them. Attend webinars, seminars, and conferences as you are able. “NAHN doesn’t have a chapter in every state yet, so if you don’t have a local chapter, I would encourage you to reach out to the national organization and connect with other members who live in your area,” says Nava. “Our national organization also has national committees, and volunteering for a committee is another way to become engaged.”
With so many nursing professional associations out there, it’s not hard to find the most appealing one. “Review the organization’s mission, vision, values, and goals to determine which organization may best fit your professional needs,” says Nava.” Do these align with your values and goals? If so, this organization may be a good fit, and you will find other nurses to collaborate with to meet those goals and stay engaged.”
There are many opportunities to get involved, but not all involve nursing skills. Associations need you to reach out to legislators or members of Congress, help produce newsletters, or advance fundraising efforts. “When you’re in an organization, it’s about the organization as a whole, and it’s not nursing specific,” says Kennedy.
All Nurses Are Welcome and Needed
Associations don’t require years of nursing experience for membership. Nurses across the entire career spectrum can learn from each other. “I often hear from students that they are too busy to join an association,” says Ann Kriebel-Gasparro, DrNP, FNP, GNP, FAANP, and president-elect of the Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association (GAPNA). “And yet, this is the best time to join. Membership fees are often lower, there are opportunities for growth, and later on in your career trajectory, you may want to run for a state or national office in that organization. The opportunities are many–most associations/organizations offer scholarships, travel, and speaking opportunities, and networking connections are especially important.”
“A misconception is that novice nurses have nothing to contribute, which is a myth,” Kim Regis, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, CPNP-PC, BCC, and a member of the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AAACN). “The voices of all generations must be at the table so that policies, practices, and standards reflect everyone working in the profession and the communities we serve.”
Regardless of where you are in your career, Kennedy says that mentoring plays a big role in many nursing associations. Whether you are a new nurse looking for guidance from a mentor or a more experienced nurse who can share your expertise and mentor someone else, a nursing association offers excellent opportunities to do both.
All the skills you acquire, and your work in an organization will also help advance your career. You may have yet to gain formal management experience, but if you have led an education campaign, board member, or committee in your organization, that gives you hands-on experience.
Nurses can also add to their knowledge and grow into leadership roles within an association. “Joining a nursing organization is a great way to expand your skill set within leadership, advocacy, research, and clinical practice,” says Nava.
The personal connections you’ll form in an association membership are also professionally valuable. “This is how you learn of job opportunities, fellowships, and academic opportunities,” says Nava. “Also, members and leaders within organizations, through your engaged involvement, will end up being the people who mentor you, or sponsor you, or write letters of recommendation for you, to advance your career.”
Nurses also know the opportunities they find through an association membership are often the kind they would not have found any other way. “As a new member [of AAACN], I had many doors opened to get involved in various committees and task forces,” says Andrea Petrovanie-Green CAPT(Ret), NC, USN, RN, MSN, AMB-BC, and a member of the leadership team supporting AAACN. “These experiences helped hone my leadership, management, and clinical acumen. As a result, I authored a white paper that established the first Specialty Leader in Ambulatory Care Nursing for the Navy Nurse Corps. Another unique opportunity I am grateful for was co-chairing the Tri-Service Military annual symposium. During networking events, I was introduced to several influential and inspiring leaders who mentored me to pursue additional opportunities. I subsequently served as a member of the nominating committee and currently as a director.”
Both Nava and Kennedy credit their association memberships with advancing their careers.
“I joined my first association because my aunt encouraged me to join with her our local Illinois Chapter of NAHN when I was a first-year nurse,” says Nava, noting the small chapter gave her opportunities to take on leadership roles including, eventually, president. “My ability to work with others and build a team, something I learned early on, has helped me grow and become the leader I am today as the national president of NAHN.”
Kennedy says she was starting her PhD when she first heard of the ANA. One of her classmates was the executive director of the Arizona ANA and asked Kennedy if she was a member. “I joined that day,” she says with a laugh, eventually becoming president of the Arizona ANA. As needs arose, she helped out and got involved, learning new skills along the way and developing close personal connections. “That’s what helped me most in my career,” she says, joining an association. “We need new individuals to carry on the profession. They must be involved to keep our profession and specialties strong.”
Kriebel-Gasparro says membership in an organization gives nurses leverage on areas they care deeply about. “This is why I belong to the Nurses of PA organization and offer my time to advocate for safe staffing and other issues,” she says.
Associations know policymakers without nursing experience are making critical, industry-impacting decisions. It takes nurses with lived experience and a passion for excellent nursing practice to move into roles where they can make those decisions.
“With over four million nurses in the United States and greater than 80 percent of those employed in the field, it is imperative that a unified voice, with a unified message, is brought forth on many of the issues that impact practice and the health of our communities in which we work,” says Regis. “The bottom line: there is a professional organization for everyone to find a home where they belong. If a nurse has not found a good fit where they are, it is almost guaranteed that there is one out there somewhere that will pour into them with mentorship and development. Don’t miss your opportunity to take your career to the highest level.”
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