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.
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:
“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.
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 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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
There are numerous types of professional associations, each with different benefits.
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.
See graduation rates, median student debt, and other information at Capella Results.