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Leading by example: joining our associations early and always ... an aspiring professional nurse's perspective.

As we consider the importance of nursing and the growing need for exceptional nurse leaders in our world, it is impossible not think of our Professional Associations. The Code of Ethics for Nurses is clear in Provision 7.1. It is the ethical responsibility of the nurse to "advance their profession by contributing in some way to the leadership, activities, and the viability of their professional organizations." (ANA 2001) We are stewards of our profession. This begins as nursing students and extends into and throughout our careers. I believe our code of ethics is our promise to the world; it is our contract with humanity that this is who we are and can be expected to be as nurses. It defines what it means when we say we are nurses. If we are to remain the most trusted of professions we must maintain and further inspire the honor and wholeness of our social contract to our patients and the world. We join our professional associations to make true on our promise that we are indeed nurses.

So when does it start and where does it end? I believe membership should begin as soon as the aspiring student nurse or individual exploring nursing chooses to accept the challenge to be a professional nurse. So often student nurses believe that being a member of their professional associations is a part of what they might do after they become licensed. Our learning institutions should clearly and irrevocably champion the need for membership in national and state associations, especially as students. What we do not learn while becoming a nurse, what we do not reinforce when helping to mold future professional nurses will most likely not be a foundational attribute of the emerging professional(s). Statistics have shown that the percentage of students involved in their National and State Associations as student nurses bears a direct correlation to their likelihood to join their professional associations as matriculated and licensed professionals. The National League for Nursing (NLN), a national association for nursing educators and nursing education, states in their core values that they are committed to Excellence:

Excellence: A culture of excellence reflects a commitment to continuous growth, improvement, and understanding. It is a culture where transformation is embraced, and the status quo and mediocrity are not tolerated. ("National League for Nursing--About the NLN," 2013 core values)

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing states that its current vision for nursing by the year 2020 is, "highly educated and diverse nursing professionals will lead the delivery of quality health care and the generation of new knowledge to improve health and the delivery of care services." ("National League for Nursing--About the NLN," 2013 Mission-Values)

If we seek excellence within the profession, shouldn't we also vigorously and eagerly seek excellence within our associations which represent and shape us as a collective? Our associations are not just collections of professionals. They are collections of the most trusted of professionals.

While we work toward better and better futures we must take stock of and evaluate today. I believe each and every nurse should be at least a member of the American Nurses Association, the State Association in which they practice, and the specialty in which they practice or aspire to practice. Some nurses bemoan that they are not political or that it costs too much. Membership does not require that you be political. The absence of a collective unified voice from nursing isn't a matter of cost savings. It's a matter of patient safety, access to health care, the autonomy of nursing, professional empowerment and scope of practice (and yes even compensation). These issues require all of us and our support. Membership alone, at the very least, provides the profession added unity and enhanced resources. Even if you never engage in a convention or hold an office your membership supports important activities that at their ultimate end advocate for a better healthcare environment and improved patient outcomes. We must not view our participation as members in our associations as unimportant. While, yes it's true. Officers and committees work hard and sacrifice of themselves to make great things happen for us. The most important person of all in the association is you. It is important for your patients, for your coworkers, and for yourself that you be a member of your associations. Since we are nurses we hold our ethical standards and our personal integrity to the highest levels. It is an undeniable truth that each of us must maintain our own personal integrity and professional growth. We do this so that we approach the care and health promotion of our patients unfettered by even the smallest distractions or thoughts of what we should be doing to be the best professional we can be. We do this because our patients come first.

My first national convention was with the National Student Nurse's Association's Annual Convention. It was awe inspiring. I'm attending again this November. We have a gnosis, a knowingness that nursing is a wide and lofty profession filled with caring, compassionate, fun-loving professionals who in our hearts carry a humility so perfectly woven into the gravity of what we are called to do. It's an inherent feeling for the aspiring. But a national convention is an exercise in experiencing that knowledge. I encourage you to grab a friend and get to your next professional nursing convention.

Conventions are fantastic and fun. Spending time with other nurses can be such a relief, knowing that no one will be reviled or experience an impaired energy field from exposure to our uniquely informed dinner conversation. While knowing that our resumes are a little juicier because we can list active membership in our professional associations comforts us before that big interview. Being eligible for special scholarship funds might tantalize us. Holding offices and titles of austerity might carry allure to others. But the real core truth of why we should join our Professional Nursing Associations is because our patients need it, and deserve for us to be the very best sparkling and shining version of that which our Code of Ethics says we are. We are professional nurses only in as far as we are willing to protract ourselves across the chasm of mediocrity to bridge the gap between who we promise we are and who we are willing prove ourselves to be. We are professional nurses who as a collective work to advocate for all patients everywhere. And as long as even one of us is not keeping that promise all of us should work to improve its wholeness and create associations and environments that make them so attractive that no one should ever consider not being a member. Do join; join your nursing association today. You can guarantee that Nursing can keep its promises.

National League for Nursing--About the NLN. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2013, from aboutnln/corevalues.htm

National League for Nursing--About the NLN. (2013, October). Retrieved October 2013, from http://www.nln. org/aboutnln/corevalues.htm

By: Robert Binford, PUNS, President of The National Student Nursing Association Purdue University Calumet, on behalf of the Indiana Association of Nursing Students
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Author:Binford, Robert
Publication:ISNA Bulletin
Date:Feb 1, 2014
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