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 ofthe 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.”
Have you discovered that you have leadership potential, and are now interested in developing your leadership skills? A significant part of becoming a great leader is to motivate yourself to strengthen the skills that are needed to become an effective leader. An abundance of opportunities exists all around you, and it is up to you to reach out and explore what your options are. Listed below are a few recommendations on how you can begin to build your leadership skills and tap into your capabilities while you are in nursing school. These options are some of my personal favorites, because they were beneficial to me as I progressed during my undergraduate nursing program. The skills that I acquired from those experiences helped to shape my goals and overall career aspirations that I have set for my nursing career.
The National Student Nurses’ Association (NSNA)
One of the earliest commitments you can make to the nursing profession is during your undergraduate experience by joining the National Student Nurses’ Association (NSNA). This association is committed to the development of nursing students as they work towards their undergraduate nursing degree. A great way to develop as a leader using this platform is to become an active member. One way to do this is to become an engaged member in your school’s chapter of the NSNA. Develop the leader within you by serving in a specific role or becoming involved on a special projects committee. There is a range of leadership opportunities, such as serving as chapter president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary, or projects chairperson. There is also an opportunity to serve as a delegate or spokesperson at the annual NSNA convention.
Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)
Sigma is committed to scholarship, leadership, and service efforts. High achieving nursing students are invited to become members based on their academic performance while in an undergraduate or graduate nursing program. Licensed nurses can join the society based on their demonstrated leadership efforts as a professional nurse.
It is imperative for nurse leaders to speak effectively. Nursing students and professional nurses oftentimes find themselves in a position where they need to present information. At some point during your education experience or while on the job, you will be expected to stand in front of a group of people to give a presentation. Just the thought of presenting in a classroom in front of peers, a boardroom in front of a group of nurse leaders, or to a large audience at a conference, is sometimes enough to spark a feeling of anxiety or even fear for some. It is during nursing school that you should begin to practice the art of speaking. Improving your communication skills will help to alleviate the anxiety and fear as you advance in your education and career. Toastmasters International is a reliable source that many successful people have deemed to be very effective. First, I recommend that you explore the national website to read about the features and benefits of the program. Next, find a local group close to you and make a guest visit. Third, commit to the program and take advantage of the special leadership development activities that they offer.
Omicron Delta Kappa
Do not be afraid to venture outside of nursing as you seek leadership opportunities. To give you an example, the National Leadership Honor Society (ODK) is an organization that is designed to support the leadership development of students. A national convention is held annually to expose members to further leadership and development opportunities. Check to see if your university is affiliated with this national leadership platform.
Campus-Wide Leadership Opportunities
Do not limit yourself. Another way to tap into your leadership potential is to explore campus-wide opportunities. Many universities have a campus life center that offers leadership and volunteer programs that will get you engaged on campus and within your surrounding community. Some creative examples include taking part in the student government association, or even committing to the Greek life by joining a sorority or fraternity. Participating in volunteer activities is a strategic way to build leadership skills. The great news is, if you cannot find anything that suits your talents and interests, many schools and universities will allow students to create a special interest group of their own.
So, there you have it. I have shared with you some of my best ideas that I believe will help you develop into the nurse leader that you aspire to be.
Nurse entrepreneurship is a growing segment of the health care industry right now. If starting your own business or expanding your nursing talents into an innovative new product is something you’re interested in, now is a good time to start.
As a previous post mentioned, there are many courses, seminars, and certificate programs for nurses who are serious about entrepreneurship. But if you aren’t sure if now’s the time to leave your current nursing job to go it on your own, what can you do to get the process started?
Get a Thick Skin
Learn to accept criticism. If you’re going to try your hand at an entrepreneurial venture, you need to know people are going to poke holes in your foundation. Learn from what your critics say because they may be pointing out some valuable and potentially career-saving vulnerabilities. Do not react to negativity—learn from it.
Before you spend any time or money on a new product or new idea, start reading everything you can about nurses who run their own companies and what it’s like to start your own business. Learn about the education or training they received, the financial investment they made, the return on investment they received, and the time commitment it all took.
Assess Your Strengths
As you gather information, start to turn a critical eye toward your own skill set. What do you think would make you succeed at this kind of venture? Are you especially passionate about fixing a problem you have identified? Do you have the time in your own life to devote the sometimes extraordinary hours to start a business? What are you especially good at? Whether your specialty is patient care, financial work, organization, or a specific health issue, this is a good avenue to explore.
If, after gathering information and assessing if you can take on this kind of work, go out and talk with people who know how to do it. Just as you wouldn’t buy a car without some investigating, you should never start your own business without some outside perspective. Associations like the National Nurses in Business Association is an excellent resource for nurses interested in business as well. Experts here can help guide you in everything from legal to presentation perspectives.
Once you have made the commitment toward innovation, you need to get some kind of training. Take seminars and classes and find a nearby certificate program on innovation and entrepreneurship. If you can find one specifically for nurses, it will be that much more relevant, but if you can’t, see what else is out that that most closely matches what you’re seeking.
Investigate the Market
A formal course or seminar will teach you how to investigate the market for what you have in mind. You might have a great idea, but if it is not something the market will support, you won’t have much of a chance at success.
A lot of factors come together to make a nurse entrepreneur successful. You won’t ever know until you try, so don’t be dissuaded by naysayers. But don’t tackle entrepreneurship completely without information either. There are lots of resources to help get you started—use them.
Nurses know their jobs are essential, but they also know their jobs aren’t typical in any way. They don’t have 9 to 5 hours and don’t always have a set schedule. And their duties can vary greatly.
Even the standard scrubs often associated with a nursing career don’t apply to everyone. Nurses might wear a suit to work or they might wear scrubs every day. Some might work with patients while others testify in front of Congress. Often, recruiters say they hear nurses comment that they are “just a nurse” and because of that they don’t always raise the game of a professional image.
Being a professional nurse and having an image to go with that means more than having a great resume or even an impressive title. What can you do to strengthen your professional image as a nurse?
Here are a few ideas.
Get on LinkedIn
Professionals use LinkedIn to network, find jobs if they are looking, reach out to candidates if they are hiring, and present their qualifications to the business world. But LinkedIn also has something even more essential—lots of online groups that you can contribute to and learn from.
Commenting, posting, and adding your well-thought-out ideas to LinkedIn groups and forums is an ideal way to begin making connections you might not have had an opportunity to make otherwise.
Have a Business Card
Does it seem silly to order business cards when your organization doesn’t offer them? Shouldn’t you just get what your company gives you? The short answer is loud and clear – no. According to Donna Cardillo, RN, known as the Inspiration Nurse, a business card puts you on equal footing when you network professionally or even socially.
You never know when you’ll meet someone who could help you in your career at some point in the future and having the ability to give someone your card with your information is convenient and shows you are a prepared professional. Order inexpensive cards online and keep them basic. Don’t make your business card cutesy.
Join an Association
Join the local chapter of the American Nurses Association or whatever association matches your specialty or particular interest. Become an active member who attends meetings or volunteers to help with events. You’ll learn about educational opportunities, professional advancement, career tips, and meet other nurses. Attend the meetings with an enthusiasm for your field and a handy “elevator pitch” that explains to people quickly and accurately what your job is.
You might find that an association gives you a feeling of connection as well. That alone might help you get through any career bumps or detours.
If you don’t have time to become president of the local nursing association or to volunteer to help with a petition drive, do something you can manage. But make sure you do something. Name recognition is important to any career, but it’s harder for nurses to get their names out in front of the public.
Write a letter to the editor about a cause that is particularly relevant to your own nursing interests and to the general public (vaccines, strikes, gun control, heart disease). Send it to several papers. Your opinion as a professional nurse carries a lot of weight, so back up your points with solid facts. Have someone proofread your letter to make sure it sounds good.
There are lots of things you can do as a nurse to bring your professionalism up a notch. And as each nurse does takes steps to do so, their efforts raise the professionalism of the field as a whole.
Have you thought about joining a professional nursing association or are you already a member of one? Nursing associations offer a variety of member benefits including opportunities to network and grow your career through continuing education and conferences. It can be a worthwhile investment – if you make the most of your membership. It will impress your boss a lot more if you can say that you are active in your association versus just listing it on your resume.
Here are a few ways to make the most of your nursing association membership:
Take Continuing Education Courses
As a nurse, you should also be a lifelong learner. Some nursing associations like the American Nurses Association (nursingworld.org) offer continuing education courses at a discounted price for members. Classes offered include Bullying in the Workplace: Reversing a Culture and Why Does Conflict Competence Matter?, among many others.
These continuing education courses offer education in areas probably not covered while in nursing school and can give you guidance and confidence in working in healthcare settings.
Network, Network, Network
This is a given, but you should be networking with other RNs and joining an association is a great way to meet other nurses outside of your current place of employment. Share best-practices and gain a supportive network of other nurses passionate about the field.
If your association offers monthly meetings or other gatherings, be sure to attend. You will broaden your perspective and your network.
Does your association have local chapters, committees or events that need volunteers? Rolling your sleeves up is a great way to get to know other nurses, network and make a difference.
Connect with Other Minority Nurses
As a minority nurse, there are nursing associations targeted to specific ethnicities such as the National Black Nurses Association (nbna.org), the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (nahnnet.org) and the Asian American/Pacific Islander Nurses Association (aapina.org).
Joining a nursing association dedicated to minority nurses offers a gathering place for minority nurses to work together toward providing better patient care and outcomes for diverse patient populations.
For instance, the National Black Nurses Association’s mission is “to represent and provide a forum for Black nurses to advocate and implement strategies to ensure access to the highest quality of healthcare for persons of color.”
If you’re a brand new nurse or a veteran nurse, nursing associations have a lot to offer. Consider joining one and getting involved today.
Denene Brox is a Kansas City-based freelance writer.
Image credit: Stuart Miles / freedigitalimages.net