Right connections worth the price of membership

But not all organizations are created equal

Joining the right organizations will enhance future career opportunities, says Carol Maller, RN, MS, CHES, patient education coordinator at the New Mexico Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care System in Albuquerque.

Membership can provide networking connections, create opportunities to publish, support current continuing education programs, stimulate interest in new innovations, and offer leadership opportunities at a national level, she says.

Many patient education managers agree. "My work is not just a job. I am a professional with specialized skills and a need to maintain and improve those skills over time. I cannot do this in a vacuum, and I cannot do this by reading alone," says Fran London, MS, RN, a health education specialist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

Contact with colleagues provides opportunities for growth and helps you do a better job by sharing frustrations, resources, and what works and what doesn’t. "E-mail listservs, group bulletin boards, member lists, and conferences all let us link up and grow together," she says.

Feeding professional growth

Professional organizations steadily can feed your professional growth by delivering journals to your desk, providing new program and/or materials development that may be of interest, and providing opportunities to learn and strive for self and program improvement, says Cezanne Garcia, MPH, CHES, manager of patient and family education services at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.

"Professional organizations bring a community connection to my everyday and strategic work in my health care setting," says Garcia. When first hired, Garcia was the only health educator on staff at a health care institution with 4,000 employees. Professional organizations provided involvement with individuals that served in similar capacities and still do. This allows for shared problem solving and shared celebration of each other’s achievements, she says.

Mary Paeth, MBA, RD, patient/community education coordinator at Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, sought professional organizations when she discovered she lacked vital skills for her job. "Like many in patient education positions, I was hired because I had good clinical skills. Upon taking this job, I realized I needed expertise in adult education and patient education systems," she says. Membership in professional organizations helped her get her hands around her job.

Membership in a professional organization not only allows you to have contact with people like you, but it opens opportunities for learning in areas outside your expertise so you can build your knowledge base, says Sandra Cornett, RN, PhD, director, OSU/AHEC Health Literacy Program, Office of Health Sciences, The Ohio State University in Columbus. "Professional organizations also provide a place where I can take a leadership role in furthering the profession," she says.

To reap the benefits of professional organizations, select them carefully, says Magdalyn Patyk, MS, RN, advanced practice nurse, patient education, Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "Time is a luxury in this fast-paced world. It is important to focus your energies and activities not only to contribute to the organizations but to benefit from membership," she explains.

Another factor in the selection process can be cost of membership, says Patyk. If a patient education manager must pay the dues it can be cost prohibitive to join a large number of organizations.

Define selection criteria

The best method for determining which professional organizations to join is to set criteria for membership. Before selecting an organization, Garcia wants to know if the resources offered match her goals for personal growth and provide the opportunities for growth. Member services that would be of benefit include:

  • collegial networking opportunities;
  • journal subscriptions;
  • monthly or quarterly newsletters;
  • a job bank;
  • continuing education programs, conferences and workshops;
  • social events: annual meetings, social gatherings;
  • leadership development training;
  • leadership opportunities.

Patyk determines whether an organization’s mission aligns with her professional and career interests as well as her current work position before paying the membership fee. She selects organizations that provide networking opportunities with professionals with similar interests and work positions.

Patyk also checks to see if they provide opportunities to enhance skills through educational conferences and benchmarking and if they increase work related performance and expertise. Opportunities for speaking engagements or poster presentations in a professional arena also are important, she says.

The types of members in the organization are important to Cornett. "I would not join an organization that is made up of a lot of consultants as their focus is very different than mine as a medical center-based employee," she says.

One way to glean knowledge from others more knowledgeable in the field is to join professional organizations, says Paeth. "Also, when a hospital is in another region, they are more likely to share information than those that you work with locally."


For more information about criteria for joining professional organizations, contact:

  • Sandra Cornett, RN, PhD, Director, OSU/AHEC Health Literacy Program, Office of Health Sciences, The Ohio State University, 218 Meiling Hall, 370 W. Ninth Ave. Columbus, OH 43210-1238. Telephone: (614) 292-0716. E-mail: cornett3@osu.edu.
  • Cezanne Garcia, MPH, CHES, Manager, Patient and Family Education Services, University of Washington Medical Center, 1959 Pacific St. N.E., Box 358126, Seattle, WA 98195. Telephone: (206) 598-8424. E-mail: ccgarcia@u.washington.edu.
  • Fran London, MS, RN, Health Education Specialist, The Emily Center, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, 1919 E. Thomas Road, Phoenix, AZ 85016. E-mail: flondon@phonixchildrens.com.
  • Carol Maller, RN, MS, CHES, Patient Education Coordinator, New Mexico VA Health Care System, 1501 San Pedro Drive S.E., Albuquerque, NM 87108. Telephone: (505) 265-1711, ext. 4656. E-mail: carol.maller@med.va.gov.
  • Mary Paeth, MBA, RD, Patient/Community Education Coordinator, Education Department, Southwest Washington Medical Center, P.O. Box 1600, 400 N.E. Mother Joseph Place, Vancouver, WA 98668. Telephone: (360) 514-2230. E-mail: mpaeth@swmedctr.com.
  • Magdalyn Patyk, MS, RN, Advanced Practice Nurse, Patient Education, Nursing Development, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, 251 E. Huron, Suite 4-708, Chicago, IL 60611-2908. Telephone: (312) 926-2173. E-mail: mpatyk@nmh.org.