If I knew then what I know now, I never would have considered not joining Sigma. If you are like me, the author says, you will be overwhelmed by the many opportunities and abundant information your Sigma membership provides.
As an undergraduate, I received a flood of emails from groups inviting me to join their organizations, typically at extravagant cost. Because my budget was limited and I was unsure which invitations were scams and which were truly worthwhile, I typically hit “delete” immediately upon seeing “pay here.”
That was my routine until my adviser told me to be on the lookout for an invitation from one particular organization and not to hit “delete.” The organization she was referring to was Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (Sigma). As predicted, I received an email shortly afterward inviting me to join Sigma’s Lambda Psi Chapter later that spring. I was in my third year of study at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, USA.
I felt honored to receive the invitation but was unsure how Sigma differed from other organizations. My adviser knew of my interest in global health, and she assured me that membership in Sigma would provide opportunities and resources that would help me develop skills needed to advance my career in the direction I desired. Still unsure but trusting my mentor’s advice, I accepted the invitation.
Spirit of mentorship
If I knew then what I know now, I never would have considered not joining Sigma. Shortly after my induction, I experienced the first of many member benefits when I applied for and received travel grants from my local chapter to attend both the 25th Quadrennial Congress of the International Council of Nurses in Melbourne, Australia, and Sigma’s 42nd Biennial Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. Those conferences provided my first real exposure to global nursing research. In addition to meeting leaders in nursing education, practice, and research, I experienced the excitement and motivation that come from being surrounded by hundreds of nurses working toward the common goal of optimizing nursing’s role in advancing the global health agenda.
I also had the opportunity to meet Patricia Thompson, EdD, RN, FAAN, who was then Sigma’s CEO, and Hester C. Klopper, PhD, MBA, RN, RM, FANSA, then president of Sigma. I admired their global leadership and began to comprehend the impact of Sigma’s voice and the extent to which being part of the organization connected me to nurses around the world. I also became aware of another very important benefit of Sigma membership—mentoring by other members. After attending a joint presentation by Thompson and Klopper, I spoke with Thompson and asked for advice on how to become more involved with the organization and its global initiatives. She generously shared contact information, encouraged me to seek leadership positions with my local chapter, and, for the remainder of her time as chief executive officer of Sigma, identified potential opportunities for organizational involvement and professional development.
For me, Sigma’s spirit of mentorship is a defining characteristic that sets it apart from other associations. While many organizations offer structured mentoring programs, I have yet to meet a Sigma member who isn’t eager to connect other members to people and opportunities that will help them achieve their short- and long-term career goals. This spirit, together with recognition that investing in one another advances the nursing profession as a whole, creates an exciting environment in which young professionals can thrive.
Heeding Thompson’s advice, I asked my local chapter leaders how I could become involved. I quickly became a program chair and, with mentoring from chapter board members, began to learn the leadership skills required to run a chapter. In 2015, after seeking to learn more about international collaboration and global health, I was given the opportunity to serve as an intern for the Global Advisory Panel on the Future of Nursing & Midwifery (GAPFON). By asking how to become involved and expressing a desire for specific training, I benefited from mentors who went out of their way to create opportunities that have helped hone my research and leadership skills, and I plan to pass on what I have learned to future members.
A multitude of opportunities
In addition to benefits I’ve gained through personal initiative, I want to note the many formal opportunities available to Sigma members who want to become more involved in nursing leadership and advancing global health. For example, in 2016, Sigma hosted its first Emerging Global Leadership Institute. This now-annual institute provides those who are just beginning their careers in global health the opportunity to work together and learn from experts in global healthcare, leadership, and government. The organization also offers several competitive grants to support researchers at every stage of their career, including the Sigma Global Nursing Research Grant, which funds research to address global health disparities.
Sigma’s special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council provides another way for members to participate in advancing global health. As part of its relationship with the United Nations, Sigma selects United Nations Youth Representatives—members between the ages of 18 and 32—to represent the organization by participating in a variety of UN programs and events. Click here to learn more. An important Sigma resource I’d also like to highlight is the Virginia Henderson Global Nursing e-Repository, an online database of peer-reviewed content where nurses can disseminate their research and learn from others.
I’ve mentioned just a few of the many conferences, continuing education courses, networking opportunities, and other resources available to Sigma members. Regardless of the nursing field you’ve chosen, if you are like me, you will be overwhelmed by the many opportunities and abundant information your Sigma membership provides. To see what I mean, click here and start exploring. Don’t overlook the Career Center!
The right decision
When I think of the many opportunities I have been granted as a Sigma member and reflect on the lessons I have learned, the thought that I ever questioned becoming a member seems comical. Through my work as an intern with GAPFON, I was granted the opportunity to travel and learn from nurse leaders across the globe as they discussed pressing health concerns and considered how nursing can best address those challenges. Many of my peers and I have had the opportunity to present to international audiences and work closely with local and global mentors as we seek to determine how to best contribute to Sigma’s mission to advance world health and celebrate nursing leadership. Thus, my career would have likely taken a much different direction if, as an undergraduate, I had not been inducted into Sigma.
The organization’s leadership team and members have created an environment that fosters professional development and encourages students to ask questions, pursue opportunities, and benefit from mentoring. As the organization continues to expand to new countries and spearhead new initiatives, I am excited to see what opportunities Sigma will provide new nurses in the years to come. RNL
Lindsey N. Horrell, BSN, RN, is pursuing her doctorate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing.