No matter your field of study, joining a professional organization can be a win-win. Humans are social creatures (yes, even you Mr. Introvert). People thrive on acceptance and being part of a group. We naturally seek the approval and companionship of others to improve our well-being. Take it from me, literally, the girl who was always picked last for kickball in elementary school. But besides the benefits to our self-esteem and our sense of morale, professional organizations provide so much more.
At the request of a mentor, I signed up to become a monitor at the 2008 North Alabama Nurse Practitioner (NANPA) Symposium. She asked me dress up as a cowboy in keeping with that year’s theme. As a baby nurse practitioner student, I was mortified to go around fellow students and future colleagues in such a ridiculous outfit. But the entire event was inspiring. I was in awe of our local organization and the amount of comradery, laughter, and information that was circulated. I volunteered again at the next year’s symposium and by graduation of 2010, not only did I have a job, I had a seat on the Board. To this day, I find myself dressing up each year to suit our theme.
Regional, state, and national professional organizations are a great venue to acquire knowledge about your field. Monthly meetings and yearly symposiums provide valuable information on industry standards, codes of ethics, and what’s being done on a legislative level to improve your profession (as well as your life). Professional organizations provide avenues for advocacy on the things you feel are important in your field. Nurse practitioners have fought their way from the ground up to be able to see and treat patients. Their scope of practice has filled giant gaps and provided thousands of patients with competent healthcare.
For many careers, public relations are crucial. I would have never considered myself a “networker”. Yet it is amazing the connections I have acquired over the years. As a nurse practitioner, it is beneficial to my patients to have so many colleagues available for their diverse and complex conditions. It’s like being in a really safe, really polite mafia! Not to mention, if you are on the market for a new job, local organizations are a great place to hear through the “grape-vine” about positions that are available as well as places you would love (or not love) to work.
For those that don’t work, consider joining a charity. The rewards of helping others are huge. Volunteerism forces virtues out of us that might otherwise remain locked away. Kindness is contagious. It creates a ripple effect that improves humanity. Always pay it forward. Charity doesn’t have to mean opening your checkbook. It can come in the form of physically moving sand bags as flood waters approach or through guiding a loved one through a difficult situation. Charity isn’t an involuntary action. It’s a conscious decision made to help others. The psychological ramifications to both the giver and the recipient create a feeling of belonging desperately sought after by our species.
Our local nurse practitioner organization provides monthly meetings hosted at nice restaurants with up-to-date talks on pertinent medical information. Wait. Let me get this straight…. You’re going to feed me steak and lobster while I learn about something pertaining to my field of study and I get to drink a glass of wine and hang out with my friends? Sign me up! Our yearly symposium provides nurse practitioners and medical professionals from all over the southeast an opportunity to sharpen their skill set with up-to-date lectures provided by knowledgeable presenters, all while gaining continuing education credits and eating gourmet cuisine (yeah, food is kind of a big deal for me).
But a few words of caution before you go plunging headlong into 10 different professional development organizations. Do it right. Start small. Don’t run for office until you’ve dipped your toes in the pool. Don’t over commit in an effort to become part of the gang. Remember why you are joining. The goal is symbiosis: you get from the group what the group gets from you. Anytime the balance shifts, readjust. Whether that means establishing boundaries and saying no, or pulling your share of the rope. And remember to be accepting of others. Although humans are social creatures, we wouldn’t live in a house with of our 50 closest relatives. Personality types differ. Everyone marches to their own drum. Remember to listen to others in the hopes they will listen to you.
My professional organization has provided me with more confidence as a nurse practitioner. I have acquired many lifelong friends and learned more about the field of medicine. I blame them for a gradual 10-pound weight gain over the years, but it’s been totally worth it. 😊