Professional Nursing Organizations

Introduction: Nursing Organizations

One of the characteristics of a profession is the existence of a professional culture that fosters the values and ethos of the profession among its members. This professional culture is commonly nurtured and maintained through the actions of the profession’s organizations.

Professional organizations are developed to collectively advocate on behalf of their members and other constituents, publicly representing the core values of the nursing profession to others. Nursing’s first professional organization was founded in 1893 as the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools for Nurses; today this organization is known as the National League for Nursing.

Three years later, in 1896, a second nursing organization was founded, the Associated Alumnae of Trained Nurses of the United States and Canada, which evolved into the American Nurses Association (ANA). In 1899 these two nursing organizations were joined by a third organization, the International Council of Nurses, the first international professional nursing organization.

Today, these historic and venerable nursing organizations remain vibrant and influential in nursing and health care and are now joined by more than100 national professional nursing organizations, as well as growing numbers of international nursing organizations. Together, these professional organizations constitute the “voice of nursing” in a variety of professional, political, regulatory, clinical, and educational matters.

Professional nursing organization: A collective entity of nurse members that has as its purpose enhancement of some element of patient care or the nursing profession.

This guide provides an overview of professional nursing organizations, describing the various types of nursing organizations and the purposes they serve in advancing the nursing profession. This chapter also provides information about the many types of professional nursing organizations that exist and describes the benefits of membership for individual nurses, the profession, and the public.

Specific information about a select number of professional nursing organizations is provided. How professional nursing organizations can serve as a vehicle for the career development of the individual nurse, beginning in nursing school, is also presented. Motivating factors for joining nursing organizations are addressed.

Membership: The state of being a member or person in a group, in this case, a professional nursing organization.

The Nature of Professional Nursing Organizations

Professional nursing organizations are an effective means by which the nursing profession can influence healthcare policy, represent and protect the interests of nurses, provide continuing education opportunities for nurses, and advocate for the highest quality care possible to the public.

The many professional nursing organizations provide a variety of foci to match the interests of nurse members. For example, the ANA is the largest of all the U.S. professional nursing organizations, representing the nursing profession and interests of 3.4 million nurses. The ANA’s stated mission is “nurses advancing our profession to improve the health of all”.

In contrast, there are many specialty nursing organizations that support the interests of nurses who practice in specific clinical environments. Examples of such specialty organizations include the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS), the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA), and the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). There are also professional nursing organizations that are focused on specific roles of nurses.

Examples of these include the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM), the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the National League for Nursing (NLN), the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NACNS), and the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE). The Nursing Organization Alliance ( is a coalition of 64 nursing organizations that collaboratively address issues of interest to nursing.

Although it is not a comprehensive listing of all nursing organizations, a review of their membership list can provide the reader with an understanding of the many different types of professional nursing organizations and the diversity of their missions.

The Mission and Impact of Professional Nursing Organizations

Professional nursing organizations provide the opportunity for nursing as a profession to influence nursing practice, nursing education, health policy, and healthcare standards. There are multiple facets to these membership organizations that contribute to changes in the profession and provide a collective means by which nurses can be involved in shaping healthcare policy.

Individual membership in nursing organizations also helps nurses stay current about issues that affect their specific practice area and nursing role. Participating in professional organizations can facilitate leadership development, develop skill in collaboration, provide networking opportunities for each member, and potentially result in career advancement.

 Standards of practice: The criteria against which professional practice is measured.

To fulfill their mission, nursing organizations further the development of nursing standards of practice, expand the body of knowledge through research and evidence-based practice, and promote nurses’ general welfare in the workplace. Nursing organizations also provide continuing nursing education, foster the continued development of nursing as a profession, and serve as legislative and political advocates for nurses and those served by nurses.

The organizations may be local, regional, national, or international in scope. Many national and international nursing organizations have local or regional affiliates or chapters, making it possible for members to participate in and attend organization-sponsored events in their community. Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Honor Society (STTI) is an example of an international nursing organization with a presence in over 85 countries with approximately 500 chapters worldwide.

Continuing nursing education: Ongoing education that nurses take part in after they have achieved basic preparation and licensure.


  • Nursing as a profession
  • Clinical specialties role function (e.g., nurse educator, administrator, researcher)
  • Collective bargaining
  • Political advocacy and lobbying
  • Healthcare policy

The organization’s mission statement provides insight into the purpose and objectives of the organization. For individual nurses who are seeking a professional organization that corresponds with their interests, examining the organization’s mission statement is a first step in determining if the organization is a potential match.

Mission Statements

Each professional organization has a mission statement, which indicates the organization’s primary purpose(s) and drives the development of the organization’s strategic plan and priority goals for that specific organization. For example, the AACN has as part of its mission statement, “Acute and critical care nurses rely on AACN for expert knowledge and the influence to fulfill their promise to patients and their families.

AACN drives excellence because nothing less is acceptable”. It follows that one of AACN’s high-priority activities is meeting the continuing education needs of its members who practice in acute and critical care environments. The National Student Nurses Association (NSNA) has as its mission “to mentor students preparing for initial licensure as registered nurses, and to convey the standards, ethics, and skills that students will need as responsible and accountable leaders and members of the profession”.

This statement makes it clear what the NSNA’s priority goals are so that members understand that they can expect to gain information to help them take the first steps toward professional practice and leadership. Contemporary Practice Highlight 5-1 provides additional information about NSNA. When deciding which professional organization(s) to join, each nurse must determine whether his or her reasons for professional membership match the stated mission of the organization.

If there is not a similarity in objectives, the member can be disappointed and not perceive any value in belonging to the organization. It can be helpful to have conversations with other nurses in the workplace to determine which professional organizations they belong to and for what reasons.

Most of the professional nursing organization websites have abundant information about not only the mission of the organization but also strategic direction, recent activities, and member benefits. This information is very useful in finding the best match to support the nurse’s own career objectives.

NATIONAL STUDENT NURSES ASSOCIATION The National Student Nurses Association (NSNA) was founded in 1952 as a nonprofit organization with a purpose of promoting the professional development of nursing students in diploma, associate, baccalaureate, and generic graduate nursing student programs.

Today the NSNA has grown to have over 60,000 members in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The NSNA is led by a national board of directors consisting of nursing students elected from member schools who have chapters.

Many nursing leaders begin their professional leadership development by joining their school chapter of the NSNA as students and serving as leaders within the organization. The experience they gain as leaders in their student organization provides them with the opportunity to develop foundational leadership skills that they can continue to develop as they transition from the student role to the role as a practicing nurse. More information about NSNA and membership benefits and opportunities can be found at


  • Advocate for the profession
  • Participate in continuing education programs
  • Lobby for changes in healthcare policy
  • Pursue networking opportunities
  • Stay current in clinical specialty or role
  • Develop leadership skills
  • Access resources to support career development

Professional Nursing Organizations with Clinical, Political, and Regulatory Focus

Nursing provides many professional career options representing many opportunities for individuals to specialize. Career options are widely diversified not only by these many specialty opportunities but also by role functions. For example, there are nurse researchers, nurse educators, nursing care providers, clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners, nurse informaticists, and administrators, to name just a few.

Overlaid upon each of these role functions is usually at least one, or perhaps more, clinical foci. This section provides an overview of the many types of nursing organizations in existence, including those with a clinical, political, and regulatory focus.

There are professional nursing organizations whose primary mission is to support distinctive nursing role functions. The NACNS, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, National Association of School Nurses, the National Nursing Staff Development Organization, the NLN, and the American Association of Nurse Attorneys are just a few of the nursing organizations that support a specific role function within the profession.

The NSNA created to support nursing students in their role as learners has state chapter affiliates with local chapters established within schools of nursing. For nurses whose primary role is focused on nursing research, there are several regionally organized nursing research societies—the Southern Nursing Research Society, Midwest Nursing Research Society, Western Nursing Research Society, and Eastern Nursing Research Society—with a purpose of promoting nursing research.

There are also nursing organizations that support both a role within a given clinical focus, including the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health, the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, and the American Pediatric Surgical Nurses Association.

Nursing Organizations with A Clinical Focus

Many nursing organizations are structured around a particular clinical specialty area and include within their mission political, advocacy, regulatory, and professional purposes related to the clinical area.

Examples of clinically focused professional organizations include American Psychiatric Nurses Association, Society for Vascular Nursing, Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses, and National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses. Part of the mission of a nursing specialty organization is to enhance the health of patients in their care.

Nursing specialty organization: A professional nursing organization that has a particular clinical focus.

Connection to a clinical specialty organization ensures up-to-date practice information for the specific population of patients that the nurse cares for, helping him or her to optimize the quality of care delivered. To fulfill this purpose, the nursing organizations may create a wide variety of practice and educational resources.

These resources can take many forms including standards of practice, evidence-based practice guidelines, research projects, protocols, educational seminars, and publications such as practice and scholarly journals. Many of these educational resources have migrated to online formats and webinars in an effort to promote wide dissemination of the resources to members, reduce cost to the members and/or their organization, and provide easy and timely access for busy nursing professionals with difficult scheduling needs.

Continuing nursing education is often included in the resources to assist members in maintaining needed contact hours for licensure and specialty credentialing. A few organizations, such as the ONS and the AACN, offer specialty credentialing known as certification in their respective specialty, signifying the nurse has achieved a level of excellence in practice.

Certification: A designation earned by a person to ensure that he or she is qualified to perform a task or job.

Nursing Organizations with a Political Focus

Nursing as a profession has a responsibility to society, with a specific aim to improve the health of the nation. Professional nursing organizations fulfill the obligation of nursing to support improved health outcomes in national and global environments in several different ways. Many international and national organizations support work at the state level through local chapters, sections, or some form of alliance.

In the United States, the ANA is the largest professional nursing organization that represents the views and needs of its members in various policymaking arenas. All nurses can become members of the ANA through membership in their state nursing associations. Through ANA’s political and legislative program, the organization has taken action on such issues as adequate reimbursement for healthcare services, access to health care, and appropriate nurse staffing ratios.

The ANA also has programs focused on the health and safety of the individual nurse and nursing profession. The ANA “Healthy Nurse” and “Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation” programs promote health habits such as sleep, physical exercise, managing stress, getting screenings, and living smoke-free lifestyles for nurses.


  • Standards of practice
  • Policy (position) statements
  • Evidence-based practice guidelines
  • Research project priorities and protocols
  • Grant funding
  • Safe and healthy work environments
  • Health maintenance programs for nurses
  • Practice and scholarly journals
  • Conferences, seminars, webinars
  • Continuing nursing education credits
  • Specialty credentialing (certification)

Nursing Organizations with a Regulatory Focus

Specialty organizations also have a responsibility to support regulatory efforts in the areas of both healthcare reform and professional practice for the purposes of protecting the public’s health and safety. For example, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing is a primary regulatory body in nursing.

NCSBN is a not-for-profit, independent organization governed by a board of directors and a delegate assembly representing 59 member boards of nursing, which include the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. territories—American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands. Some states have separate boards of nursing for RNs and LPN/VNs, which brings the total of NCSBN member boards to 59.

The purpose of the NCSBN is to provide an organization “through which boards of nursing act and counsel together on matters of common interest and concern affecting public health, safety and welfare, including the development of nursing licensure examinations”.

NCSBN develops the NCLEXRN and NCLEX-PN examinations and therefore has a large role in the regulation of nursing licensure in the United States. The NCSBN also provides resources for boards of nursing to support them in their roles of regulating nursing education and practice in their respective states and territories. Additionally, the NCSBN is a leader in providing national expertise to regulatory issues that affect nursing practice such as telehealth and interstate practice.


  • Health and Environment
  • Healthcare Reform
  • Registered Nurse Immigration
  • Nurse Workforce Development Program (Title VIII) Funding
  • Safe Patient Handling
  • School-Based Health Centers

Professional Organization Membership and Involvement

Nurses represent the largest number of healthcare workers in the United States, and as such, have the potential to wield significant influence in shaping healthcare reform in this country. Historically, however, the voice of nursing in these national discussions has not been representative of the numbers of nurses in the profession, and the potential for nursing’s contributions to advancing the health of the nation has not been realized.

Concerns about the lack of nursing representation on national healthcare boards has led to an initiative to secure the placement of 10,000 nurses on national boards by the year 2020. Addressing the concern about the lack of nursing leadership in health care, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Future of Nursing report (2011) called for the nursing workforce to be prepared to lead change in health care.

The IOM report specifically recommended that professional nursing organizations assume a role in developing nurse leaders by providing mentoring and leadership development programs and providing opportunities to develop leadership skills by assuming leadership roles within the organizations. All nurses are expected to be leaders and the nursing profession needs to consider strategies by which to build the leadership capacity of nurses, including new graduates.

One strategy is to encourage membership in professional nursing organizations. Individual nurses can assume responsibility for developing their own leadership competencies by becoming members of professional nursing organizations and taking advantage of volunteer opportunities to become involved in the organization’s activities. A study by Catallo, Spalding, and Haghiri-Vijeh (2014) demonstrated that professional nursing organizations can play a key role in engaging nurses in nursing and healthcare policy issues.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top