April Blog: Get Involved Early with Professional Development Organizations – You Won’t Be Sorry

When I was 26, I was asked to fill a role on the Board of Directors of a local organization for young professionals. This was incredibly intimidating to me. I wasn’t a member and had really only been in the professional world for 3 years.  I felt I couldn’t contribute much – “What could I do for this organization that had much more experienced members? I was too new, too green.”  However, others in the organization emphasized that I would in fact be valuable to the organization and learn a lot in the process. So, I took the risk and joined. “Why not,” I thought? It was only a year commitment. If I were in over my head, I could step back and re-evaluate in a year.

I was glad I did. The work I did for that small organization did wonders for my career:

  • By the time I was 30, I was able to put on my resume that I had I been the President of a non-profit organization, as well as a host of related achievements. I had been nationally recognized for the club operations I put in place, and the Board as a whole won two other national awards.
  • It gave me management experience. If you have ever managed someone, you know how hard it is. Now imagine doing the same thing but with people who are volunteering their time. They are not being paid for their work which makes it even more challenging. We were a small organization, and if we lost Board Members it affected the entire group. So, I had to balance trying to get people to be active and do their job efficiently while still not pushing them too hard or giving them so much work that they wanted to quit. The people who volunteered for this organization need to balance these responsibilities with their careers and personal lives, and they all had different motivations for joining. Some of them were doing this to expand their skills, some were doing it to make connections to move up in their careers, and some were truly doing it as a resume booster. Now, as a manager in my current role, my direct reports too have different goals, different things that motivate them. Having the experience of leading a group of people with different backgrounds, goals and motivations prepared me for doing the same thing in my real job.
  • It helped me network. I, like many people, have a fear of networking. I have never been shy or soft-spoken. However, something about being forced to go up to a group of people you don’t know, introduce yourself and ask questions about them and their careers has always given me anxiety. Being on the Board of Directors of an organization helped me to overcome this fear. As they say, practice make perfect (or better, in my case), and being forced to welcome people, talk to them, encourage them to join our organization, etc. made me a better networker. I still get nervous and uncomfortable in these situations but having the practice has made it much easier.
  • It expanded my skillset. There are many things I have had to do in professional organizations that I have not had to do in my day job; but nonetheless, perfecting those skills has only made me a more well-rounded employee. I also know that if I ever apply for a job that lists those skills as requirement in the job description that I will be to say I have relevant experience. For example, in my first organization I spent two years as the fundraising chair/treasurer. Fundraising was not something I was comfortable with, and numbers and math are definitely not my thing. However, having two years to perfect those skills, I now know that if I were ever in a role that needed to keep track of budgets or raise funds that I would know where to start. I also had to spend a year as the education chair which meant I planned all of our events. I had to recruit speakers, find venues, order food, and do all of this while staying under budget. I have never been in an event planning role, but I have had to help organize details for conferences where this experience has come in handy.

Beyond these, I developed close friendship and was able to provide a public service to other non-profits.  This is why, when I was approached to join the WHPRMS board 3 years ago, I jumped at the chance.

Now, I still had my reservations. First,  this was not a young professional’s group. There are people in WHPRMS who have had decades of experience in healthcare. At the time I was approached, I had had a measly 2 years of experience in healthcare marketing. Second, this was a state-wide organization with over a hundred members, not the same as the 30-person group I had led previously.

But just like before, “why not”? I knew that this was only going to take me to the next step in my career. And I was right. I have learned so much about the healthcare marketing industry since joining WHPRMS. My other points still stand as well. I have developed skills I never would have been able to develop in my day job. I have networked with people all over the state, not just in Madison. I have learned leadership skills that will continue to help me in my goal of being the best manager I can possibly be. There also benefits that sometimes cannot be quantified. The feeling of being helpful, of doing something for myself, of knowing I am doing something that will set me up for success in the future.

That’s why I encourage you to become involved in professional development organizations. Whether it is through WHPRMS (we would love to have you!) or another organization, I truly believe you will find it invaluable, no matter your age or experience. If you’ve been thinking about it but have been nervous you aren’t ready yet, take that leap. You will likely find a group of people wanting to support you and encourage you.

If you have any questions about what it is like to join the Board of Directors of a professional development group, please feel free to email me at secretary@whprms.org. I would be happy to have a chat over coffee and zoom to give you tips or more of my experience.

Kirsten Short
Board Member, Wisconsin Healthcare Public Relations & Marketing Society
Senior Manager, Client Services, PlatformQ Health

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