As a nursing student, responsibilities and demands pull at your time and energy constantly. You have classes to attend, homework to complete, clinicals to work, clubs to join, and organizations to check out. There are family responsibilities and friends to keep up with, and a little personal time to squeeze in there as well.
But nursing school forces you to keep your eyes firmly focused on the future – your career in nursing and all the choices it offers you and all the opportunities you will have to excel in your field.
Confusing? Yes, definitely! But there's one way to get the guidance you need as a student while also offering opportunities to learn how to lead successfully before you even earn your degree. Joining a student nursing association can help you bring all of those choices, conflicts, exciting developments, and career plans into focus.
Sure, it's one more thing to do, and as a nursing student, you're swamped. You might prefer to join a national nursing organization and skip those directed at students altogether. But an organization that's focused primarily on students' needs and unique challenges will save you time in the long run because it will help guide you on your career path, introduce you to leaders in your field, and help you clarify what kind of nurse you want to be.
“Joining a student nursing association has helped me understand what kind of leader I am,” says Yvonne Shih, president of the Massachusetts Student Nurses' Association and student at the Boston College William F. Connell School of Nursing. “I'm not limited to one leadership skill.”
Shih says before joining the organization, she wasn't exactly the type of person who was comfortable taking or keeping command of a room. “Before, I just couldn't see myself in the forefront,” she says. “I didn't have the confidence.” Uneasy with delegating roles to people or completely taking charge, Shih says joining a student nursing association showed her how things work in an organization and in healthcare and gave her needed confidence. She had a chance to try out those roles with her peers before taking them on in a larger professional setting. “There's no hierarchy and that encouraged me to lead others in a different way,” says Shih.
Student nursing associations are often through a state, so they take more time, energy, and commitment than something closer to your school. But the benefits, both in the knowledge and the networking contacts gained, are clear. Student organizations tend to offer career advice geared to nurses who haven’t yet earned their degrees or those who just recently graduated. One of the biggest benefits is being in a peer organization where most of the other members are in a similar stage of life, education, and career.
Yes, in general, it's a little tougher to join an organization that's often state-, not school-, based. “It's time consuming,” says Shih. “You have to travel a little more, but you'll meet with others in other schools.” When you graduate from nursing school, your contacts remain and are much broader than any you might gain through your school alone.
Joining a student nursing associaton gives you a chance to take on positions of influence or leadership that will train you for larger roles with increasing responsibility on increasingly larger stages. Because the organization is geared specifically toward students, you'll have opportunities and access to experiences that larger, national nursing associations might not permit for students.
“Leadership roles are all very different,” says Shih, and she notes this is a great time to find your own style and what works best for you.