Professional networking is a concept typically associated with shmoozer business types like salesmen and insurance agents. These professions typically require persuasiveness aimed at gaining favor or business which are common objectives of professional networking. Why then should nurses take professional networking seriously? After all, nurses are not salesmen or insurance agents. In this blog post, we’ll address that question by offering our top 5 reasons that nurses should take professional networking seriously.
What is professional networking?
A social network can be defined as a network of social interactions and personal relationships. By contrast, a professional network is a network of professional interactions and professional relationships. Many nurses tend to be more comfortable with the concept of a social network. Social networking is perceived as natural and authentic while professional networking can easily be perceived as contrived and based on ulterior motives.
However, if you think of networks as groups of people with some common interest who share knowledge and assist each other in some way, then it becomes clear that professional networks can be as authentic and natural as we perceive social networks to be. After all, the relationships you build with classmates, workplace colleagues, and professional association members are certainly authentic. In fact, social networks and professional networks often intersect.
Discomfort with professional networking is probably related to the idea of “active networking.” Active networking is the process of seeking out individuals to connect with. However, if we approach active networking with the mindset that we are seeking to establish relationships that are mutually beneficial, then it becomes more palatable.
In other words, a connection maybe able to offer direct help or put you in contact with someone who can directly help you, but you maybe able to return the favor at some point. Moreover, every professional connection should be based on interactions that involve knowledge sharing and mutual professional development.
Dr. Lynn Parsons, Department Chair Nursing at Morehead State University, asserts that, “In general, nurses still have a lot to learn about the importance of establishing “connections” through professional networking.” In fact, she believes that it’s such an important concept that it should be taught in nursing schools and be a topic for papers and presentations at nursing conferences. So, why is professional networking so important for nurses?
Professional networking is the best way for nurses to find jobs
We’ll start with the obvious. Both Yale University and Cornell University cite the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) when claiming that 70% of all jobs are found through networking. We can’t find the specific report from the BLS, but we’ll take the Ivy League Schools’ word for it. Moreover, the UCLA career guide claims that 80% of all jobs are obtained through networking.
We can debate whether the real number is 70% or 80%, but the bottom line is that the vast majority of jobs are obtained through networking. There’s no reason to believe that networking plays any less of a role in landing nursing jobs. In fact, networking may play an even larger role when it comes to nursing jobs.
The recruitment departments at hospitals and healthcare organizations thrive on employee referrals. Their employee referral programs are among the most aggressive in the country. They typically offer generous employee referral bonuses which incentivize their employees to make more referrals. And hospital recruitment departments routinely beat the referral drum in an effort to instill a referral culture.
Moreover, if your nursing career goal is to work in an acute care hospital, then there are limited options in any given geographical area. For example, in our home city of Sacramento, CA, there are 10 acute care hospitals that are administered by 4 healthcare organizations, Kaiser, Dignity Health, Sutter, and UC Davis. So there are essentially four potential employers in Sacramento, CA if your goal is to work in an acute care hospital. This scenario is the same throughout the country.
Given all these variables, professional networking is probably the single best approach for nurses to land the jobs they want.
Professional networking is imperative to nursing career advancement
Once you’ve found a job, chances are that you’ll be interested in advancing your career on some level. You may want to eventually attain a leadership role. Or you may want to move from a Medical/Surgical unit to a more specialized unit like ICU. Or you may want to move from a Long Term Care setting to an acute care setting.
It’s true that each of these scenarios involves landing a new job. So what’s the difference between finding jobs as described above and career advancement?
For starters, career advancement typically requires a move up in addition to some level of knowledge about the job you’re advancing into. In other words, it’s not an entry level position for which the employer is willing to provide comprehensive training. Instead, the employer is looking for experience that will make the transition seamless at best and smooth at worst.
Professional networking can help nurses achieve the fundamental knowledge required to take the next step. For example, nurses can develop relationships with individuals who work in their desired fields or roles with the intent of gaining knowledge. In other words, this professional contact may never lead to an actual job, but instead serve as an invaluable resource for knowledge that can be instrumental in advancing the nurse’s career.
To find such connections, nurses may attended conferences or join a professional association. Nurses may also network with people outside their current scope of practice. For example, an ICU RN may establish connections in the CVICU if they wished to advance to this more specialized unit.
Additionally, career advancement can sometimes require knowledge of the roles and processes of units outside a nurse’s scope of practice. For example, the Operating Room Unit Manager may need intimate knowledge of PACU and Physical Therapy roles and processes in order to be successful. Therefore, an OR Staff Nurse who wishes to advance as an OR Unit Manager would benefit from networking within these departments to establish the fundamental knowledge required as well as connections. This way, when the time comes for an interview, the nurse will be prepared.
Of course, career advancement also involves reference checks. References are a major issue in the healthcare industry where employers need to be able to prove due diligence to maintain JCAHO certification and avoid potential lawsuits. Our own experience as recruiters indicates that a strong percentage of candidates are denied due to lack of professional references.
Maintaining solid references is a professional networking issue. Nurses must develop strong relationships with peers and managers at both their current and former jobs. This means maintaining some level of contact with former coworkers to ensure relationships stay fresh and relevant. It also means developing relationships that are strong enough to be able to ask for and receive a glowing professional reference when needed.
A nurse may also develop interests in other career fields. You never know where your professional passions may turn. Therefore, developing a professional network with a broad scope will help you move in a new direction if desired.
Professional networking for nursing trends and advancements
Nursing is a highly dynamic field. Patient care protocols are constantly evolving. New technology and medical advancements are developing at an ever increasing pace. And the scope of the nursing practice continues to expand. Given the nurse’s central role in patient care, maintaining current knowledge of trends and advancements is imperative.
Again, professional networking can be a big help in this endeavor. Developing professional relationships, attending professional conferences and utilizing professional networking websites all serve to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information that are vital to keeping a nurse’s knowledge fresh and relevant.
Professional networks provide nurses with professional support
Nursing is a highly demanding career both physically and mentally. Understandably, burnout is a real problem for nurses. Studies indicate that job dissatisfaction among hospital nurses is 4 times higher than the national average. And job dissatisfaction is a leading indicator of nurse burnout.
Experts agree that having a support group of fellow nurses helps relieve the stress that leads to nurse burnout. Younger nurses should defer to their veteran counterparts for tips on managing the rigors of nursing. Communicating with those who share similar experiences can ultimately lead to productive discourse resulting in actionable ideas to improve the system.
Professional networking can help nurses influence healthcare systems
Nurses have a central and expanding role in patient care. They are involved in almost every aspect of a healthcare organization’s operations. As a result, they have much to offer in the development and implementation of an organization’s processes and procedures. Their success in this regard will have a positive impact on their work environment and the organization as whole.
In the nursing text book “Professional Practice of Nursing Administration“, the authors assert that nurses are brought into discussions regarding important health issues far less than Physicians and other healthcare professionals because nurses lack networking abilities. While nurses have no doubt made strides since the publication of this text, they are undoubtedly playing a lesser role than their central position warrants.
A nurse’s ability to meaningfully influence an organization’s processes and procedures can be greatly enhanced by a professional network that includes connections throughout the organization. Again, this means that nurses can benefit from building bonds with professionals of all types and this requires an active networking approach. Physical Therapists, Physicians, Administrators, Technicians, and others should all be considered allies in the effort to improve patient outcomes and employee satisfaction.
By taking a more active approach to professional networking, nurses can greatly enhance their own careers, assist their cherished colleagues, and make major contributions towards improving healthcare systems.