If you’re a nurse and haven’t yet joined a professional association, you’re likely missing out on important career-building opportunities.
Because nursing is a rapidly changing field, belonging to an association can be more of an imperative than an option. Three nursing leaders weigh in on the value and necessity of nursing association membership.
1. Unparalleled Networking Opportunities
“The opportunities associations provide for networking are many,” says Kristie Lowry, core faculty at the School of Nursing & Health Sciences at Capella University. “It’s the possibility of connecting with people at conferences and meetings, and these days, online. Association membership provides access to online chats and forums that give members the ability to ask questions and explore different topics. Besides the opportunities on the association websites, many associations have LinkedIn pages where members can interact as well.”
Beth Houlahan, DNP, RN, CENP, Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, and a Capella advisory board member, feels this is the biggest advantage. “You connect the work you’re doing with others across the country,” she says. “You can attend conferences and meetings, learn about evidence-based practices, and join an e-community where you can get answers to your questions.”
Building that national—or even international—network can help you solve problems in your local health care setting, discover new best practices, and even connect to job opportunities you may not otherwise have known about.
2. Vital Component of Lifelong Learning
Through professional associations, you’ll have access to continuing education, specialty journals, and conferences. These are critical to continuing competency, which in turn can lead to better patient, systems, and personal career outcomes. “Associations can provide opportunities for online certification, which can make achieving those certifications less complicated for working nurses,” says Lowry.
3. Source of Mentors
Associations are where you can find experts who can help advance your knowledge and skills. The range of expertise and experience can provide a wealth of resources to members who are active. Lowry recommends reaching out to the relevant associations, whether it’s the American Nursing Association (ANA) or nursing specialty associations, to find and begin developing those mentor relationships. “A good place to start is a chat or forum page, if the association has one, or the association’s LinkedIn page,” she advises.
4. Influence Health Policy
Most associations have comprehensive advocacy efforts at the local, regional, and national levels, especially organizations like the ANA. Getting involved on a local or national level not only offers the opportunity to make a positive impact on health policy, but it’s also another way to meet people with similar interests in the field.
5. Define and Promote Excellence in Practice
Associations are the source of professional standards and often are connected to certifying bodies. “Associations provide best access and guidelines to the specific area of interest for different nursing careers,” says Marylee Bressie, core faculty at Capella. “The American Nursing Association covers a wide variety of nursing topics and specialties, but there are also associations for numerous specialty practices, whether it’s the American Association of Critical Care Nurses or the National League for Nursing. You can trust these groups. They have a responsibility that they take very seriously to promote best practices and educate nurses as to what’s new and changing in the field.”
6. Career and Leadership Development
Any time you can connect with people in your field, you have the opportunity to advance your career. Becoming actively involved with your association not only opens up educational and networking opportunities, but it can also help you hone valuable leadership skills. Many professional organizations are dedicated to leadership (i.e. the American Organization for Nursing Leadership) or offer leadership education opportunities.
You may also be eligible for tuition discounts and/or educational scholarships offered by the association as a value to their members.
7. Creating the Next Generation of Nurses
Bressie notes that associations are not only educating the next generation, but they’re creating a national network that can provide nurses with unparalleled learning opportunities. “Nurses can problem-solve across the country, research different aspects of nursing and nursing careers, potentially work on projects that they might not have access to otherwise,” she says. “There are even opportunities to purchase professional books and conference tickets at a discount.” Rather than pursuing nursing in a small local bubble, associations open up a wider range of knowledge and experience to nurses everywhere.
Types of Professional Associations and Benefits of Each
There are numerous types of professional associations, each with different benefits.
- American Nurses Association. This is the leading nursing association in the country, offering multitudes of education opportunities, networking tools, and strong advocacy at the state and national levels.
- Clinical specialty associations. There are more than 100 of these associations where you’ll find the most up-to-date evidence as well as best practices in your specialization. For example, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses supports, educates, and advocates for nurses in the field of critical care, and Emergency Nurses Association advocates for safe practice and care for nurses in emergency care.
- Cultural/ethnic associations. These provide support, education, and development for various cultural and ethnic groups, and often also promote better health care for patients of those groups. For example, the National Association of Hispanic Nurses and National Black Nurses Association support, educate, and advocate for the health-related needs of particular ethnic groups.
- Honorific or invitational. These are organizations that bestow honors or announce fellowships, or are associations such as the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, which invites high-potential nursing students and existing nursing leaders to become members. They provide education and networking opportunities, as well as recognition of nursing excellence.
Which Association to Join First
How can a nurse or nursing student decide which association(s) would be most valuable to them? “Every nurse should start by considering joining the ANA. Its broad scope provides a comprehensive way to stay on top of changes and trends impacting practice,” says Bressie.
But you may also find that becoming a member of more than one association can be beneficial, too. Take a look at the websites of associations you think might be worthwhile, specifically the information found on membership benefits pages. There you can find out what the focus of that particular group is—is it education? Professional development? Advocacy? Networking? You can decide which of those is most important to you, and choose the organization that best fits your needs.