Whether you're a satisfied nurse or a nurse who's totally burned out and ready for change, there's no time like the present to develop and maintain a robust professional network.

Some of us hear the word "networking" and run screaming in the opposite direction, while others are ready to do the work of forging long-term, meaningful professional connections. Either way, there's no denying that having your own network of fellow professionals to whom you can reach out is a practice worth pursuing throughout your career.

Why network at all?

When asked if they do any networking, some nurses don't understand why such a practice would be important, and they literally scoff at the idea of reaching out to other nurses.

  • "I don't need a job. I love where I work. Why would I want to network?"
  • "I'm too shy. I don't like to talk to people — especially other nurses."
  • "Networking? I thought that was for people who have something to sell!"

Do any of these statements sound like you or someone you know? With such commonly-held sentiments, it's no wonder that many of us don't network.

The reason we network is to build a community of like-minded professionals to whom we can turn for a variety of reasons. Your professional network is like the old-fashioned Rolodex that used to sit on your desk.

Do you need a reliable nurse in another city to care for your aunt? Look to your network. Are you moving to another state and need to find employment? Ask your network. Is your best friend who's in her last year of nursing school looking for an ICU nurse to interview? Look to your network first.

Your professional network is like a brain trust that can be your best resource for opportunities or advice when you need them most. You may be happy in your job, but what if your hospital suddenly closes and you need to land a new position as soon as possible? Classified ads are fine, but word of mouth is how many people find jobs these days, and the more people you know — and who know you — the better.

How do you network?

Professional networking can look different based on where you live and how you want to go about it.

A great place to start can be local, regional or state nursing organizations, many of which hold regular meetings. These are excellent opportunities to meet and get to know other nurses.

Nursing specialty organizations, seminars and conferences are common venues to meet other nurses. In some cities, there are gatherings of health professionals held in various guises, and these are yet more opportunities for engagement.

Networking online

The online world is a multiplatform ecosystem that countless nurses wholeheartedly embrace for professional development and networking. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are crawling with nurses and healthcare professionals, with Facebook and LinkedIn offering groups and forums where nurses can interact.

Savvy users of social media find like-minded individuals on various platforms, interact with them online, and then take some of those relationships to the next level by scheduling meetings via telephone, Skype or in person when possible.

On LinkedIn, there are groups for ER nurses, L&D nurses, nurse entrepreneurs and others, and you can utilize these forums to ask questions, get answers, offer support and make friends. LinkedIn offers a function for seeking contacts based on zip codes, and this can deliver leads on nurses who work in a facility or region of interest to you.

Facebook also offers many groups where nurses band together to support one another, and powerful relationships can be forged through those connections.

Meanwhile, thousands of nurses have flocked to Twitter, and great support can be gained from professional networking on that platform. The conversations and dedicated chats on Twitter can be fascinating, and you never know whom you might meet.

Networking for life

No matter how happy you are in your current job, there's no reason not to build a network of trusted fellow nurses and healthcare professionals. Your network can grow, expand and morph along with your career, and those relationships can be like gold when you're in need of advice, reassurance, direction or introductions.

Your professional network is a brain trust, a think tank into which you can dip for wisdom and guidance whenever necessary. Nurture those relationships, give more than you receive, and the power of your network will reveal itself over time.