EDITOR'S NOTE: Heather Stringer is a freelance writer.
In 2016, leaders of the American Association for Men in Nursing made a bold decision that millennials should start running the organization at the highest levels — if the association planned to remain sustainable in the 21st century.
Learning to be a leader
Develop your leadership potential
Under the association’s new leadership development structure, nursing students or recent graduates can apply for chapter president positions, and regional liaisons mentor the 46 chapter presidents to help them learn skills, such as strategic planning and how to develop agendas and facilitate meetings. Regional liaisons interested in more responsibility can become regional chairs, who collaborate with multiple chapters to develop larger campaigns and initiatives. National committee chairs mentor regional chairs for two to four years and teach their mentees how to run for positions on the board of directors, lead national meetings and implement new programs throughout the organization. The board implemented the new system of training young leaders less than a year ago, and already student membership has increased 35% and RN membership has increased 25%. “There has been tremendous interest in leadership mentoring,” Smith said. “I think many of the new, young members are eager to have mentors who are interested in helping them figure out what they want to do as leaders and take steps toward those goals.”
Like Smith, leaders at the National Student Nurses’ Association believe that it’s critical to engage nurses in associations while they are students. “Many nurses are less interested in becoming members once they start working because they are so busy,” said Wesley Osler, president of the National Student Nurses’ Association and a student at The Christ College of Nursing and Health Sciences in Cincinnati, Ohio. “If we can get them involved as students, then they are more likely to consider leadership positions in the future.” Osler was a sophomore when he was elected secretary of the National Student Nurses’ Association chapter at The Christ College of Nursing and Health Sciences. Then he served on the state board of directors as chair of the nominations and elections committee, and later the national board of directors as chair of the health policy and advocacy committee. “Getting involved in leadership was the best thing I ever did,” said Osler, 24, who will graduate in 2019 with his BSN. “The experience opened up so many doors, and you have an opportunity to meet a lot of leaders in the profession.” To support nursing students who are interested in leadership, the National Student Nurses’ Association offers informational sessions at annual meetings, including a nominations and elections committee session about running for the association’s national office.
Students learn about the application process, hiring campaign managers and campaign regulations. Students also can attend a forum led by school chapter presidents who share about how to recruit and retain members, raise money and overcome leadership challenges.
In recent years, leaders at the American Organization of Nurse Executives also have focused on increasing representation from younger nurses on the board.
In 2014, AONE added several appointed member positions to its board of directors, and typically one of the positions is filled by an “early careerist” — defined as someone with less than 10 years of experience in a leadership capacity.
Megan Seston, MSN, RN, CCRN-CMC, CEN, a nursing house supervisor at University of North Carolina Hospitals Chapel Hill, is currently filling one of these positions on the AONE board.
She had previously served as secretary-treasurer on the National Student Nurses’ Association board of directors, and during nursing school a mentor suggested that she join AONE.
She listened to the advice and participated in an early career professionals task force, which gave her an opportunity to help advocate for the position she now holds on the AONE board.
Seston acknowledged that being a young nurse in leadership also can be challenging.
“Young leaders may deal with impostor syndrome, or the feeling like ‘I don’t belong here,’” she said. “It can be difficult to speak up when you are the youngest and least experienced person in the room.”
Finding young peers with similar leadership aspirations is also difficult, which can be an isolating experience.
But Robyn Begley, DNP, RN, chief executive officer of AONE and senior vice president and chief nursing officer of the American Hospital Association, is optimistic that young leaders like Seston will become increasingly common in the future.
“I’ve noticed younger and younger people attending our conferences,” she said. “I think new nurses are looking to move up into leadership more rapidly than in the past, and many current leaders are actively thinking about the importance of including younger leaders in their succession plans.”
At the time, there was no formal structure for preparing nurses to become leaders in the organization, and current president Blake Smith, MSN, RN, made it his mission to develop a system that would help new nurses rise through the ranks.
Smith is not alone is his passion to increase age diversity in professional nursing organizations. As organizations throughout the country confront the ramifications of an aging nursing workforce, seasoned leaders in professional associations are making it a priority to increase both membership and leadership among younger nurses.
These leaders are aware of workforce statistics from organizations like the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, which conducted a survey of more than 260,000 registered and licensed practical/vocational nurses in 2015. Half of the registered nurse respondents were 50 or older and less than 30% were younger than 40.
Although nurses under 40 are a minority in the workforce, many are showing interest in learning how to leverage their skills to become leaders, said Smith, 32, the American Association for Men in Nursing’s youngest president since the organization was founded 42 years ago.
“In my experience, millennials aren’t interested in simply being members,” said Smith, who works as a clinical documentation senior analyst at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha. “They want to help make decisions and accomplish something and, when supported and believed in, it’s surprising how much they can do.”
How to overcome impostor syndrome
Megan Seston, RN
Robyn Begley, RN

Associations groom nurses for leadership roles

Professional organizations draw in younger nurses with succession planning
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By Heather Stringer
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