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Building Your Brand

Deborah K. Walker, DNP, CRNP, AOCN®

Establish Your Expertise to Stand Out From the Crowd

As consumers, we are peppered with brands at every turn. And each brand can evoke strong feelings. Quick—Pepsi or Coke? Chances are, one of those two brands immediately resonates with you. Brands can even affect our sense of identity and how we relate to one another.

But what does it mean to brand yourself as an oncology nurse? In essence, it is making a name for yourself, connecting you to your area of expertise. Just like your thoughts when you were asked “Pepsi or Coke?,” if a colleague or potential employer hears your name, what immediately comes to mind? That’s your brand. And developing and growing your brand can open up a world of career opportunities.

It can be daunting to look at yourself as a brand, but “we’re all branding ourselves whether we know it or not,” says ONS member Joni Watson, MSN, MBA, RN, OCN®, clinical nurse manager of the cancer care team at Seton Healthcare Family in Austin, TX. “Nursing is full of possibilities, and we are all experts on something. Develop that. Cultivate what you love and what you naturally seek out. Share that with others, and your brand will naturally grow.”

ONS member Deborah K. Walker, DNP, CRNP, AOCN®, assistant professor and nurse practitioner in the School of Nursing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, agrees. “I love what I do and want to share it with others. So whether it was intentional or unintentional, I guess I have branded myself as a proud oncology nurse practitioner.”

Identifying Your Brand

For Watson, who is a member of the Central Texas ONS Chapter, it started in 2009 with Twitter. “I began using Twitter to receive information and network with other healthcare professionals. During the 2009 ONS Congress in San Antonio, I was one of a handful of nurses who used the Congress hashtag with my tweets. (A hashtag is a way to categorize and search tweets.) And that was the tipping point for me. An ONS Connect staff member saw my tweets, thought I had an interesting style, and invited me to blog for ONS RE:Connect. I have always loved writing, and I thought it might be a creative outlet for me and give me a niche chance to get involved with ONS. That was, indeed, the case.”

Walker traces her brand back to her roots in local ONS chapter involvement. “Initially I got involved locally through various roles on my chapter board,” she explains. “As a member of the board, I had the opportunity to go to ONS Mentorship Weekend early in my career. That meeting lit a fire inside of me that led me where I am today.” Since that first Mentorship Weekend, Walker has planned multiple educational events for her chapter and state oncology organization, and she is now president of the ONS Central Alabama Chapter.

Honing Your Brand

As a blogger, Watson’s brand equates to her writing style and the individual perspective that she can bring to her audience. “I chose to write in my own personal style, which was difficult at first because I felt the need to be like many other nurse bloggers,” she admits.

Joni Watson, MSN, MBA, RN, OCN®

But as she continued to gain blogging experience over time, Watson found that she was branding herself and her voice as an advocate for oncology nursing and nurses in general. And from there her brand took off. 

“I started reading other blogs and watching how successful nurse bloggers used social media, tagged their posts, named their articles, and succinctly laid out their ideas of both the science and art of nursing. I made a writing calendar, scheduling time to blog each week, and formulated ways to keep track of my blog ideas over time. I soon found myself with tons of writing ideas, so I started a personal blog, Nursetopia. I dedicated myself to learning more about blogs and social media, and I committed to blogging each day.”

Walker also turned to writing as a way to develop her brand as an oncology nurse educator and to help her grow professionally. “Publishing meant another way I could collaborate and educate others,” she explains. “Although it seemed like I wrote enough as a DNP student to write a book, getting the information published and to other professionals was a new opportunity and challenge. That is, until I stumbled across the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing Writing Mentorship Program. I was paired with my wonderful mentor, Jeanne Held-Warmkessel, MSN, RN, AOCN®, ACNS-BC, and she made it seem so easy. Also, I was supported, encouraged, and developed internally within my school. Not only am I writing more, but I am sharing what I learned about the writing process with graduate students.”

Opening Career Doors

Walker has found that doing what she loves has led to new professional experiences, helping her along her career path. “Recognizing my love for planning and details, when opportunities present themselves for planning an activity, I usually volunteer. This can get you into trouble if you’re not careful, but for me it has opened many doors.” Walker has volunteered for several ONS project teams and is currently serving on the planning team for the ONS 37th Annual Congress in New Orleans, LA, in May 2012.

Her career path from clinician to faculty in a school of nursing gave Walker opportunities to publish, collaborate with oncology experts, plan educational events, and develop an undergraduate oncology elective course for nursing students, “all things that I never thought I would have the opportunity to do if you would have asked me when I first started,” Walker says.

Similarly, thanks to her work in social media, Watson was selected as one of two nurses to serve on the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media Advisory Board. She has also given presentations on social media at national conferences and participated in dialogues on the topic. She recently had her first article, “The Rise of Blogs Within Nursing Practice,” accepted for publication in the Oncology Nursing Forum in spring 2012.

Watson is also a proud member of the ONS 37th Annual Congress planning team and was recently chosen as the planning team chair for the 38th Annual Congress in Washington, DC.

Just the Beginning

Branding yourself now only sets the stage for your career opportunities in the future, whether expected or unexpected. “I never would have thought that tweeting about nursing or Congress would have led me to write an article about blogs in a peer-reviewed journal,” Watson says. “It’s amazing.”

Additionally, making a name for yourself through your brand can pave the way for new networking connections that can also lead to future opportunities. “The oncology profession has allowed me to meet some amazing friends and colleagues across the country that I can’t wait to walk with through the next open door,” Walker says.

For nurses seeking to brand themselves, Walker says, “you should look at it as an opportunity to grow and expand your horizon. The opportunities are out there, and sometimes there are too many of them. Don’t get discouraged, and if you don’t succeed the first time, do it again! Believe me; I have had many rejections, ‘no’s’ and ‘maybe next times.’ Keep trying. If you are passionate about it, it will happen.”

Note. Photos of Deborah Walker are by Steve Wood, University of Alabama at Birmingham photographer.

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