We have heard it said that “no man is an island,” and that is true for all of us. An effective support system is necessary for us to excel in our life nursing career goals. These support systems may include friends, family, loved ones and co-workers. I had the opportunity to hear a wonderful speaker who grew up with parents who were FBI agents. He changed his identity and moved several times as he was growing up, and he spoke of one of the most important lessons he learned from his parents: your network keeps you safe. He then went on to do an insightful presentation about the value of networking.
Some of the most important networks which we find ourselves a part of are our social networks, family networks and professional networks. Social networks include our friends, those we meet in classroom settings, people we like to spend time with and those we engage in social media. Our family network includes all of our family members and extended family. Lastly, our professional network includes colleagues at work. Even more valuable though, is the professional nursing network you build beyond your work experience. Especially with the volatility in healthcare, the professional network can be vital to your career success. Your nursing community can serve you in three important ways: support, promotion and saving your life.
Support may be evident throughout the course of your work day. This may include help from your nursing colleagues, a shoulder to cry on, or professional training or advice. Support can also be garnished from mentors and those outside of your work environment. Your network can also provide a vehicle for you to promote into roles you aspire to by helping to publicize your value to others and provide references for you.
Lastly, your network can save you. It was my experience this past fall, after 35 years of healthcare administration, that I unexpectedly lost my job as Vice President, Chief Nursing Officer of a very large hospital due to a downsizing exercise. Devastated and lost, it was my network that saved me by providing strong emotional support system but also helping to advertise my availability and provide the references to help me land my next career move.
It is never too early to begin to develop your network. Here are some tips to get you started and to build your list of credible people in your network.
- If you are a student, begin to save all of the contact information including name, phone numbers, email addresses and personal information for all of your teachers and students that you feel you want to keep in contact with.
- Reach out to mentors by asking those people you admire to support you and help you learn. Keep all of their vital information in a list and do not be afraid to contact them periodically to help them remember you.
- Go to nursing conferences and meet people. Even if you are not a manager, create your own personal business cards and exchange them with as many people as you can. Keep those business cards and add them to your list. It is very important that you email all the people you meet when you get home and tell them that you appreciated meeting them.
- Take a moment to speak to the presenters if you can, even if it is to introduce yourself and tell them what a great job they did. Give them a card and then put them in your network. You can always refer to the day you heard them speak if you need to contact them. I have never been turned away from support or advice when calling someone of this stature. Most people want to help and mentor others.
- Develop a formal contact book and list. I like to use a three ring binder. I tape all of the cards on separate sheets of paper with a little information about the person on the card.
- Add reputable people to your LinkedIn account and make sure that your profile is comprehensive and up to date. As LinkedIn becomes more widely used, many contacts are being made in this fashion.
- Invite people to your Facebook page. The only problem with social media is that it is a relaxed atmosphere. You need to make sure that your Facebook friends will not embarrass you. My motto is this: if someone says something I feel is inappropriate on my Facebook page, they get deleted as a friend.
- Reach beyond your nursing environment and attempt to vary the type of contacts you have in your network. This will provide a well rounded group of people that will help you move in a new direction if desired.
- Most importantly, make people remember you by being sincere and showing that you care about them. You do this by saying “If there is anything I can do to help you, please let me know.” This will open the door for a great two way exchange of support and also make them feel special that you care about them.
In regards to your network, every person you meet can be a valuable contact and asset to your nursing career. So get started and get connected! Your network keeps you safe.