Professional nursing organizations empower nurses with similar objectives to join forces for the betterment of their individual careers and healthcare as a whole. Despite the countless opportunities these associations provide, experts say many caregivers are unaware of the career-affirming benefits of membership. Devoted to the professional and personal development of their members and to the general advancement of nursing, such organizations foster peer-to-peer connections, advance education, and help prepare caregivers to manage the ever-changing medical landscape.
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The American Nurses Association (ANA) defines professional development as “a vital phase of lifelong learning in which nurses engage to develop and maintain competence, enhance nursing practice, and support the achievement of career goals.” Indeed groups that foster professional development can be a true lifeline for nurses at virtually any stage of their career, explains Heather DiCioccio, DNP, RNC-MNN, C-ONQS, nursing manager for the Low-Risk Birthing Unit and the High-Risk Obstetrics/Antepartum Unit at Cleveland Clinic Fairview Hospital.
“During the early years of my career, being part of a professional organization helped me form invaluable connections,” she says. “Later on, those same relationships helped sustain me during a period when I was questioning the future of my practice.”
Eventually DiCioccio’s involvement in the Association of Women’s Health Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) led to her participation in a project on the effect of skin-to-skin contact in healthy newborns. “That experience made all the difference; it reinvigorated my career and resulted in a national practice brief,” she explains.
AWHONN is one of more than 150 national organizations that advocate for and support nurses in the United States. The first, the National League for Nursing, was established in 1893 to promote nursing education in healthcare organizations and institutions of higher learning.
Many professional nursing groups are geared toward nurses in certain practice settings, ethnic or cultural backgrounds, or education level. Others, including the ANA, cover a broader scope of practice offer participation in state and/or local affiliate chapters.
DiCioccio says the prospect of exploring and joining a professional organization can be daunting for some caregivers, who may be overwhelmed by the countless events and opportunities they provide, but she encourages nurses to “wade in” while considering several important factors. “Nurses should ask themselves what they hope to gain from membership and which organization most closely aligns with their current practice role and professional goals,” she says.
Among the many benefits professional memberships provide are:
Career growth – Professional organizations provide their members with ample opportunities to socialize through conferences, local events, webinars and online forums. Importantly, these experiences can provide nurses with a meaningful sense of community, says DiCioccio. Networking events not only help members connect with their peers, she adds, they can also introduce newer nurses to more-experienced nurse leaders.
“These interactions can play a powerful role in a nurse’s professional life,” she explains. “There simply is no substitute for the guidance and support of a strong mentor, but those connections can be difficult to make and nurture. Fortunately, professional organizations can help make this process much easier by exposing members to more-seasoned colleagues who share their interests and priorities.”
Membership in a professional organization also shows employers that you’re invested in the “big picture” of healthcare, she says. Conveniently, many nursing organizations host job boards and publish newsletters that feature early access to open positions. Others provide career development resources that help members upgrade their resumes, prepare for interviews and negotiate salaries.
Opportunities to become an “influencer” – Professional organizations provide a powerful platform for influencing local and national laws that affect nursing. Advocacy work can infuse your career with greater meaning, says DiCioccio, noting that many nursing associations have well-established relationships with lawmakers and healthcare leaders that help amplify the collective voice of their members.
In addition, these organizations frequently monitor and respond to policies about pertinent healthcare issues, giving their members early access to the most significant developments in nursing.
Educational resources – Nursing groups frequently provide convenient paths toward – and discounts on – specialty certifications. These opportunities, says DiCioccio, can open doors to jobs in a variety of nursing fields, including research, administration, and education. Many organizations provide a variety of educational programs to their members for free.
In some cases, membership fees cover free subscriptions to leading peer-reviewed journals that feature research articles and nursing news. Many nursing associations also produce practice-related newsletters, evidence-based position papers and practice statements, which can help their members stay abreast of important developments that affect clinical practice.
When considering which organization(s) to join, DiCioccio recommends nurses “stick with their specialties and follow their hearts.” She also suggests carefully reviewing each group’s membership benefits and policy initiatives. “Your chosen organization should align with what matters most to you – whether it’s a cause like improving workforce diversity or a particular nursing specialty,” she adds. DiCioccio says it may also be enlightening to talk with a group’s existing members and attend a local chapter meeting to get a feel for what a specific organization has to offer.
Regardless of which organization(s) a nurse decides to explore, DiCioccio urges haste. “I suggest looking into professional organizations right after graduation from nursing school,” she says. “Most associations offer reduced membership rates for students, which is helpful. But more importantly, there is no time like the present when it comes to growing your career – and professional organizations are an ideal tool for that.”