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Lead a Professional Healthcare Association

Lead a Professional Healthcare Association

Do you have what it takes to help shape the future of healthcare? If you're a problem solver with strong leadership skills who is bold enough to stand up for your beliefs, and if you're willing to work hard and sacrifice your time, then you could be the next elected official of an influential healthcare organization.

A Different Breed

Most elected leaders will say that a feeling of professional responsibility led them to run for office. These are the association members who aren't satisfied with paying dues and watching things happen. They are vocal about their strategies and aren't afraid to try to fix what's broken.

"I had a vision for social work and social workers who can make a difference in society," says Terry Mizrahi, former president of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and a professor at Hunter College School of Social Work in New York City. "Social workers are an integral part of healthcare, yet I didn't think we were getting the recognition and powerful voice that other professionals have in our society."

It takes more than definite views to be a successful leader, according to Dr. Bettye Davis-Lewis, past president of the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) and CEO of Diversified Healthcare Systems in Houston.

"You have to be politically savvy, educationally prepared and able to influence other people," she says. "You have to know your elected officials and community leaders, have good people skills, honesty and integrity and know the issues that affect the profession. If you don't know the issues, how can you help anyone?"

Overcoming Challenges

Just because you have what it takes doesn't mean there won't be challenges during your tenure. Heading up a professional association can be a major time commitment that involves paperwork, travel and cooperating with opinion-seeking journalists.

"The only major drawback is the time commitment," says Linda A. Lewandowski, PhD, RN, past president of the Society of Pediatric Nurses (SPN) and professor of pediatric nursing at Wayne State University's College of Nursing. "My frustration is wishing I could do more, but there are real-world work commitments, too."

For those at the top of most healthcare organizations, leadership in a professional healthcare organization isn't what pays the bills. They typically work full-time in addition to assuming these extracurricular commitments.

"If you have young children, you have to decide just how much of your individual time is going to be taken away from them, and whether it's going to damage your relationships," says Marrise Phillips, RN, past president of the Dermatology Nurses' Association (DNA). "You need your family's cooperation, because you have to parse some time each day and assign that to the volunteer position that you have assumed."

Association Advantages

Despite the challenges, most association leaders feel the rewards they reap are worth the time investment.

Davis-Lewis says leading the NBNA has broadened her network of relationships and professional resources. Phillips credits taking charge of the DNA with making her more visible as well as keeping her abreast of legislative issues that affect the industry.

For Lewandowski, assuming the presidency of the SPN brought her the recognition that spurred a positive career change. "I moved from Johns Hopkins into an endowed professorship at Wayne State University," she says. "The fact that I [was] a national leader in my field didn't hurt my chances."

Mizrahi says her presidency at NASW gave her far more than she gave the organization. "My two years as president reconfirmed the value of my profession," she says. "I recommitted to the work and improving the image of the profession."

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