If you’re a nurse and haven’t yet joined a professional association, you’re likely missing out on important career-building opportunities. Three nursing leaders weigh in on the value and necessity of nursing association membership.

7 Reasons for Joining a Nursing Association

All the experts agree the benefits of belonging to an association are nearly innumerable. “Things change at such a fast pace, whether it’s technology or techniques or nursing practice, that belonging to an association is more of an imperative than an option,” says Jim D’Alfonso MSN, RN, NEA-BC, Executive Director of Kaiser Permanente Nurse Scholars Academy, and a member of Capella University’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences Advisory Board.

Here are the most important factors of membership:

1. Unparalleled networking opportunities.

“Associations are where you encounter the movers and shakers, open career opportunities, and meet professional and scholarly collaborators,” says F. Patrick Robinson, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean of Capella’s School of Nursing & Health Sciences.

Beth Houlahan, DNP, RN, CENP,  Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, and a Capella University 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. Also, “It’s where you develop lifelong, close friendships based on shared purpose,” says Robinson.

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.

3. Source of mentors.

Associations are where you can find experts who can help advance your knowledge and skills. “I found mentors who helped launch my research program and people who opened doors for me in all stages of my career,” says Robinson.

4. Influence health policy.

Most associations have comprehensive advocacy efforts, especially organizations like the American Nurses Association (ANA). “There’s a collective power in the members of an association,” explains Robinson. “Belonging is a benefit to the profession, as membership helps influence policy at the  state and federal levels.”

5. Define and promote excellence in practice.

Associations are the source of professional standards and often are associated with certifying bodies. “The standards of practice are defined by associations nationally and locally,” says D’Alfonso. “Practices and standards change, and something you’ve done for 20 years is suddenly no longer the best practice. The associations are the ones who will inform you of those changes first.”

6. Career and leadership development.

Anytime 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.

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.

“Associations raise funds for nursing scholarships,” says D’Alfonso. “These groups understand how important life-long learning is and the importance of attracting new nurses into the field and ensuring they remain current and properly educated.”

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. “It’s all of our obligation to belong to the ANA,” says Robinson. “It’s the one association focused on all our needs and on policy that affects us all.”
  • 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 Associationadvocates 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 both for Hispanic nurses, Hispanic patients, African American nurses, and African American patients.
  • 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 joining the ANA. Its broad scope provides a comprehensive way to stay on top of changes and trends impacting practice,” says Robinson. “If all nurses contributed their voice to ANA through membership,” Robinson adds, “the collective power to promote patient safety and quality care along with the safety of our practice environments and the quality of our work life would be enormous.”

But you may also find that becoming a member of more than one association can be beneficial too. D’Alfonso recommends taking a look at the websites of associations you think might be worthwhile, and 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.

Capella University has extended its partnership with the American Nurses Association through 2018.

View a comprehensive list of nursing associations, and learn more about Capella’s online nursing programs.

See graduation rates, median student debt, and other information at Capella Results.