Professional Association involvement: It’s not just for “newbies”

Students and early careerists often ask about the most important contributor to career success.  The answer never lends itself to just one factor, but usually to a list of the top three, which includes professional organization involvement.  In addition, this involvement can be generalized to an individual of any professional level and at any career stage.  One’s definition of success hardly matters either, as professional organizations can be instrumental to a host of “success markers,” such as income, influence, and personal enrichment.

Selecting the right professional association is a key step; I am partial to the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) for its strength and breadth within the healthcare realm.  In addition to that, involvement in organizations that focus on specific niches within the profession is a good idea; among the most well-known are the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA), Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) and the Health Information Management and Systems Society (HIMSS).  These are national in scope but local chapters serve as community hubs for membership development.

The first benefit of professional organizations is the vital link to relevant continuing education, something we all need to excel in our careers and ensure we can lead our organizations successfully into the future.  The rapidly changing nature of our profession, coupled with its prominence in the national spotlight, makes current information about trends paramount to serving the needs of all constituents.  Journal reading can certainly keep us current but if you’re like me, a few publications sit on your desk, still wrapped in plastic.

Aside from the obvious educational advantages are the personal ones, and here is where the right mindset is crucial to professional organization involvement.  Over the years, I’ve observed a few common types of professionals:

  • Those who are only visible when they need something (e.g., a job, or specific contact in order to get a job): these professionals seek only to use their contacts when it suits them, a fact that isn’t lost on their network.  Once they’ve obtained what they need, they vanish.
  • People who are “too busy” to become involved, or believe they’re “all set,” career-wise, and thus don’t need the professional involvement: they rob themselves of being known by others and of the gratification of benefiting an early careerist or a professional in transition.  It’s safe to say that none of us arrived at success without encouragement or assistance from others.  “Paying it forward” is one way we honor those who helped along the way and extend their influence to others.
  • Individuals who realize the immense benefit of cultivating contacts for the value of the relationships themselves: they get to know others in the profession for the enjoyment of it.  Often these relationships are beneficial to our careers, but that’s a bonus to connections that are intrinsically satisfying.  When faced with an individual who is in professional limbo, these people don’t feel pressured to “find someone a job;” they can encourage, advise, and/or offer other assistance which may include introductions to people in their own networks.

The pace of business these days seduces us to restrict our circles.  Work, after-hours meetings, children’s soccer games, friends, neighbors and aging parents can form an endless list of demands that seems to preclude professional involvement.  My suggestion is to pick one organization and start with quarterly attendance at professional events.  Consider inviting a colleague to attend with you.  Schedule events ahead of time and block the time in your calendar so that only a true emergency forces you to cancel.

If the prospect of speaking to “strangers” gives you pause, re-frame the thought and dub them “friends in waiting.”  Look for someone to encourage.  Before you know it,  you’ll have enjoyed learning about a current topic, and begun planting a network of seeds you can water in the coming months.

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