DESPITE THE ONGOING EFFORTS of professional nursing organizations to recruit new members, some nurses continue to challenge the return on investment. Both seasoned and new-to-practice nurses question the benefits of membership and wonder which professional organizations to join. This article reviews the what and why of belonging to a professional organization, demonstrating membership benefits as they align with the American Nurses Association (ANA) Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice.1
The what: Defining organizations
A professional organization, also called a professional association or body, seeks to further a particular profession and the interest of its members and the public it serves. Many professional nursing organizations exist, and the cost of membership can vary greatly.2
Nurses who work in different specialties may belong to multiple organizations. The cost of multiorganization membership can pose financial challenges, leading nurses to assess which memberships are most valuable. Nurses should consider the following factors when deciding between professional organizations:
- what they seek to gain from membership
- which organization is best aligned with their current practice role
- whether the professional organization demonstrates nursing advocacy.
Benefits of membership
Nurses should seek membership in organizations that will best fulfill their professional and personal goals. They should review the member benefits on an organization's webpage and consider speaking with current members to assess their experience. Some organizations offer opportunities that others do not; nurses should become familiar with these and weigh the benefits. For example, if the goal is to enhance professional development, a nurse can factor in whether an organization offers educational resources. If the goal is to network and meet people, a nurse can consider an organization that offers ample networking opportunities.
The best fit
Professional organizations typically establish a mission statement that outlines why they exist and where they are headed. The best way for nurses to determine if an organization is a good fit is to become familiar with its mission and consider if it aligns with their current role.
Nurses can also ask how an organization might foster their career growth. For example, will membership improve elements of their clinical practice, teaching approach, or leadership skills? Joining a professional organization that is aligned with a nurse's professional interests can provide exposure and knowledge related to his or her goals.
Demonstrating efforts in advocacy
The main reason professional organizations exist is to further the profession, so investigate the organization's track record in this area. Has it influenced the nursing profession, its members, and society in a favorable way? Are its initiatives congruent with its overall purpose? Does it demonstrate nursing advocacy?
An organization involved in nursing advocacy is typically involved in the local, regional, national, and/or global issues currently affecting nursing and healthcare. Advocacy is fundamental to nursing and occurs at the individual, interpersonal, organizational, community, and policy levels.3,4 In professional nursing organizations, this is reflected throughout the ANA Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements.3 Specifically, provision 9 states, “the profession of nursing collectively through its professional organizations, must articulate nursing values, maintain the integrity of the profession, and integrate principles of social justice into nursing and health policy.”3,5
Professional nursing organizations play a key role in all levels of advocacy and in each setting in which a nurse practices.1,5 Those that establish standards of nursing practice, advance health policy, and promote the rights of both nurses and healthcare consumers are good examples. Information about how an organization has advocated for the nursing specialty can usually be found on its website or social media page.
The why: Membership values
Six values of membership in a professional organization align with the ANA Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice:
- professional development
- career growth
- service to the profession
The standards of practice and professional performance are described as, “authoritative statements of duties that all registered nurses, regardless of role, population, or specialty, are expected to perform competently.”1
The standards of practice describe a competent level of care demonstrated by nurses, whereas the standards of professional performance describe behaviors appropriate to education and position demonstrated through engagement.1 Ultimately, professional behaviors have a major influence on nursing practice.
Nurses who take advantage of continuing-education opportunities gain professional breadth, broadening their knowledge regarding local and national nursing issues and going beyond the walls of their facilities.
The ANA Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice recommends nurses seek knowledge and competence that reflect current practices and promote foresight.1 Members of professional nursing organizations are exposed to many educational opportunities, ranging from synchronous and asynchronous webinars, self-study programs, and journal access, to face-to-face seminars and conference opportunities. These activities often offer continuing-education contact hours toward licensure and specialty certification requirements.
Similarly, it is recommended that nurses achieve specialty certifications and continuing-education opportunities whenever available to develop and maintain their knowledge base and skill set.1 Professional nursing organizations provide a great starting point in obtaining and maintaining specialty certifications, especially since these are usually offered through the organization directly.
Conferences offered through organizations typically call for poster or podium abstracts and presentations as well, promoting opportunities to share best practices or research findings at the regional and national level. This also aligns with the ANA Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice, which states that nurses should share peer-reviewed research, integrating those findings into practice.1
The ANA Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice specifies two competencies for learning and professional growth:1
- a demonstrated commitment to lifelong learning through inquiry
- the maintenance of a professional portfolio to provide evidence of education and individual competence.
Membership in a professional organization helps to make nurses more marketable and improve their résumés and curricula vitae (CVs). Those who take advantage of these professional development, leadership, and volunteering opportunities can include them on their CVs or résumés to demonstrate a commitment to lifelong learning, growth, and service to the profession.
Recruiters seek nurses who demonstrate engagement in their work and discipline and frequently advertise positions on professional organization career sites. Some organizations provide additional career development tools that are available only to members, including résumé writing and mock interviews, as well as the option to post a CV or résumé to job boards.
One of the most rewarding benefits of membership in a professional nursing organization is the ability to meet other nurses and broaden an individual's professional circle. Networking facilitates the exchange of ideas and best practices and supports the application of knowledge and education. It is aligned with three competencies under the ANA Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice:1
- seeking experiences to maintain and advance knowledge
- participating in formal or informal discussions to address issues in nursing practice
- sharing educational experiences and ideas with peers.
A strong professional network allows nurses to share solutions to common problems. It presents an opportunity to learn how an organization or a peer group may have resolved a similar problem. In many circumstances, members can network with individuals on a national and international level, offering members the opportunity to travel, explore other organizations, and meet individuals with whom they may not have otherwise come across.
The ANA Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice states that RNs lead within both the practice setting and the profession as a whole, including the process of mentoring colleagues.1 Many professional nursing organizations are structured to support mentoring opportunities, with members serving in roles as both mentors or mentees.
Mentorship is beneficial to nurses who are aspiring to or entering into new practice areas, and the relationship is rewarding for both parties. Mentees gain support, knowledge, and insight; mentors have reported that the experience added meaning to their work and a sense of fulfillment.6
Service to the profession
The ANA Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice also recommends that nurses contribute to the evolution of nursing through participation in professional organizations.1 This offers nurses a chance to give back. Volunteer opportunities include participating on committees and task forces, holding board positions, and helping with sponsored conferences and community events. These activities may also support volunteer hours for nurses seeking fellowships, certifications, or positions that require volunteerism.
Nurses can work on regional and national projects, including item-writing or reviewing certification exams, working on legislative issues, serving as a regional director, or working on an education committee. These opportunities can be added to a member's professional profile and offer additional professional development, networking, and exposure.
As professional nursing organizations play a key role in nursing and patient advocacy, their members are exposed to different causes. Members can become directly involved on committees, task forces, and work groups and may have the opportunity to advocate at the local, regional, or national level (see Getting involved).
With unique backgrounds and skill-sets, nurses account for the largest segment of the frontline healthcare workforce, making them ideal candidates to influence healthcare communities positively through direct involvement on boards. The Nurses on Boards Coalition (NOBC) represents a nationwide effort to establish 10,000 nurses as members of boards of directors within the healthcare industry by 2020.7 The NOBC is supported by several national organizations with missions and visions that align with its efforts.
The nursing profession is in a unique position to influence teaching, practice environments, and the quality of healthcare delivery through direct patient care and/or involvement in health policy. Professional organizations can serve as a venue for nurses to become engaged in the transformation of healthcare delivery. Ultimately, the transformation starts with the nurse and his or her individual actions.
In the end, nurses are expected to join professional organizations. Being knowledgeable about how membership benefits align with their scope of practice may help them make an informed decision regarding membership.
Involvement in advocacy is directly aligned to key competencies in the ANA Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice:1
- advocating for healthcare consumers' rights, health, and safety
- influencing healthcare delivery by participating in, promoting, and using evidence-based knowledge and research findings to guide practice and decision-making
- promoting the ethical principles of research
- working to identify barriers and opportunities to improve healthcare safety, equitability, and efficiency
- performing a critical review of policies, procedures, and guidelines to improve quality
- influencing organizational policies and procedures to guide practice and promote interprofessional, evidence-based practices
- advocating for resources that promote and support nursing practice and assisting patients as they factor healthcare costs into their decisions.