Networking as a Student

As a Future Health Professional, you’re no doubt aware of the importance of networking. Health careers can often seem like a small community; in even a large city you’ll find that you run into the same people over and over again. So getting to know key people and maintaining strong relationships with those who are in a position to help you can be incredibly rewarding. As a student, though, you may think that networking is the domain of current health professionals alone. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Creating connections with those in your prospective profession as well as with those who can empower you to enter that profession can make your educational ride much, much smoother. Here are my tips for creating and utilizing professional relationships as a student.

  1. Identify your needs. Networking is a lot like staffing a company; you want to “hire” champions for your personal brand. If you are a student, your needs are probably academic advisors, possible writers for letters of recommendation, and professionals for career exploration. If you’re currently looking for a job, you are looking for professionals to offer career advice and peers who are also in your position. Identifying what you can get out of a professional network will allow you to envision who needs to be in that network.
     
  2. Look for contacts where you are. If I wanted to be an RN, I wouldn’t start by emailing the head of the state nursing board. I would look at my current teachers or professors and the admissions office of my preferred nursing schools. The principle technical reason to befriend your professors is to solicit letters of recommendation, but the benefits go far beyond that. Educators have advised countless students and likely keep in touch with some of them; they tend to have great knowledge about what it takes to make it in many professions. As for admissions advisors, knowledge is power when it comes to applying for any program. Maintaining a relationship with a school’s admissions office might not change the way that your application is reviewed, but it will keep you up to date on what the program is looking for in applicants. These are just two examples, but you can see how those close to you are often in a much better position to help you than those in higher, more influential positions.
     
  3. Maintain your relationships. Nobody expects you to be as close to your professional contacts as you are to your personal contacts, but checking in with former professors or supervisors a couple of times a year will make them much more likely to want to help you when you need it. And a professional relationship isn’t solely about getting favors out of someone – if you put a lot into a relationship, you will get a lot out of it. Relationships (even mentor-mentee ones) are a two-way street! Checking in from time to time also ensures that you keep up to date information for each of your contacts.
     
  4. Network with your peers. As students you may not currently be in a position to help each other outside of class. In the future, though, especially in a professional or career-oriented program, you will likely be working with many of your classmates. Forming these relationships now will afford you a great deal of rapport when you enter the workforce together in the future. Nothing forms camaraderie like (educational) hardship! Maintaining an active role in any alumni associations that your schools offer goes along with this – these are ready-made networking tools put in place for you!
     
  5. Engage your network when you need something! The reason that so many people don’t feel that they have a professional network is simply because they have never utilized the network that they do have (no matter how limited). If you have learned from or otherwise interacted with fascinating people, engage them. So much of learning occurs outside of the classroom, and the wisdom and experience of those who were once where you are is perhaps the most valuable education of all. You’ll be surprised by how willing they are to help you and by what (and who else) they know. Don’t forget to write thank you notes when somebody does help you or provides you with advice.

The overarching theme of this blog is how to prepare yourself for a career as a health professional. I would argue that this post in particular is among my most important here. Even in the age of technology, where information is only a click or two away, business is still conducted in person. Knowing the right people can give you a real leg up in your path to your profession. Identify the right people, engage with them, and follow up when they’ve helped you – you’ll appreciate the courtesy when you one day help students in kind!

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