“Let us never consider ourselves finished nurses…. We must be learning all of our lives.”
The purpose of, and commitment to, ongoing professional development for the RN is to achieve and maintain a level of competence where care is provided in the most efficient way using the most recent evidence-based practices to ensure the best outcomes. For the RN, the expectation that there is a commitment to professional development and lifelong learning is reflected in certification, regulatory, and accreditation criteria and standards. The American Nurses Association's Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice (2015b) and the Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements (2015a) serve as the foundation for legislation and regulatory policies, and both stress the importance of ongoing competency management for RNs to ensure safe, quality patient care.
Also, whether organizations are Magnet® recognized or on the Magnet journey, they are required to provide evidence that they support RNs' professional development at all stages of their career. Magnet's Structural Empowerment (American Nurses Credentialing Center [ANCC], 2017) component requires the organization to “support nurses' continuous professional development” while “nurses participate in professional development activities designed to improve the professional practice of nursing or patient outcomes, or both” (p. 10).
Finally, the Association for Nursing Professional Development as the specialty nursing organization for nursing professional development (NPD) practitioners and the Nursing Professional Development Scope and Standards of Practice (Harper & Maloney, 2016) provide the standards and criteria to guide NPD practitioners in their work to support, challenge, and promote the professional development of all nurses. NPD standards include the development of collaborative relationships, competency management, education, orientation and onboarding, role development, and research/evidence-based practice/quality improvement (Harper & Maloney, 2016).
As NPD practitioners, our daily work requires us to make decisions that relate to the administration of professional development (PD) programs. Whether the NPD department or clinical educator group is made up of a single, part-time practitioner or part of a large health care system with multiple educators, they are responsible to structure, organize, and support a culture of learning that makes nurses excited to learn and advance their practice. As NPD practitioners advocate for education, often in the form of continuing education (CE), they need to be aware of a wide range of personal, professional, and practice issues that determine educational goals.
Other administrative aspects necessary for supporting the PD team that require administrative consideration and planning include, but are not limited to, identifying internal resources (human, material, and financial), legal and regulatory compliance (especially when addressing intellectual property), and providing return on investment for the educational activities offered.
NPD leadership is responsible for creating a healthy environment and supportive relationships that encourage new ways of thinking and inclusion to address the issues that impact how nurses learn. To provide direction, the NPD practitioner starts by identifying department goals and possible projects with an environmental scan. This can include the unit level (e.g., administration of a new medication or use of procedural-specific tools and management strategies), the organization and/or the system (e.g., nursing workforce issues, such as staffing, multigenerational considerations, and workforce retention), and the community (e.g., working with specific populations). Additional scanning is also done with a wider, national assessment of trends. After topics are recognized and specific data collected, the NPD practitioner can identify and prioritize learning needs and move forward with an education plan.
Of the multiple strategies used to meet educational needs, the provision of CE is only one. The NPD leader selects methods and platforms that may include skill-based competency programs, certification support, journal clubs, just-in-time learning, and the support of formal graduate education. These programs are offered in a variety of learning platforms to best meet the needs of the learner. Live coursework may be offered in a classroom setting, conference or symposium Internet- or web-based activities (provider-directed and provider-paced), enduring materials that are offered to learners to complete in their own time (provider-directed and learner-paced), or blended activities (flipped classroom). With these choices, the NPD practitioner is encouraged to get creative when identifying the gaps (knowledge, skill, and/or practices), obtaining the best available content, and delivering the activity with strategies that engage learners and support learning.
For the NPD practitioner, both the NPD department and CE activities are evaluated constantly to make sure goals and outcomes are being met, learner needs are being addressed, and the department is working in the most efficient, cost-effective manner possible.
While a program or activity is being offered and completed, the PD team evaluates not only the offering but also the impact it has on the learner, the organization, and even the profession. For CE, ANCC separates educational evaluation into formative and summative components. Based on the definition by Bloom et al. (as cited in ANCC, 2015), formative evaluation is the “systematic evaluation in the process of curriculum construction, teaching, and learning for the purpose of improving any of these three processes” and summative evaluation is a process that “samples the entire range of outcomes associated over a long period and assesses student mastery of those skill” (p. 45). Although ANCC provides guidance for when an evaluation is done, it does not mandate how it is done. Taking a simplistic view, evaluation is all too often focused on whether the participant was satisfied with a program.
It is time to raise the bar for PD and CE evaluations to get the most useful feedback possible. The web-site Better Evaluation ( http://www.betterevaluation.org) offers a plethora of resources and ideas to expand evaluation practices. Consider Democratic Evaluation: “A process that supports democratic decision making, accountability and/or capacity” or Appreciative Inquiry: “A strengths-based approach designed to support ongoing learning and adaptation by identifying and investigating outlier examples of good practice and ways of increasing their frequency” (Better Evaluation, n.d., para. 5). When determining the best way to evaluate both CE and PD, consider not only the purpose and outcomes but also the target audience and how best to engage the audience—and all stake-holders—in the evaluation process.
Considerations for 2019
There are many opportunities to promote and support PD and CE. In 2019, give yourself permission to try something new. Approaches for consideration include:
- No matter where they are in their career (new graduate RN, incumbent RN, or nearing retirement), encourage RNs to create a career plan. This allows them to take control and accountability for their career trajectory. Where do they want to be in 5 years? What are their professional goals, and what kind of education and credentialing is needed to get there? How can their interests be supported at the organization, rather than leave and go elsewhere?
- Do you know the average age of employees by specialty? If you have a high number of retirees in the next 5 years, what strategies can be developed to meet the pending workforce needs? Succession planning is critical in addressing upcoming RN shortages with professional development strategies.
- Do you have a PD department of inclusion? What stakeholders should be involved in the planning, delivery and evaluation of programs? In the right situation, could patients and their caretakers be included in CE and PD activities?
- Move to interprofessional development. Include all members of the health care team in educational assessments, planning, and program development. Assuming the underlying goal is quality patient care, who should be included in these discussions?
- Build or strengthen outside relationships with academic faculty (high school- and graduate-level education), community health services, and faith-based or other community nursing organizations. Know what is currently available in your community and how working together could help in meeting educational needs.
It is an exciting time to be an NPD practitioner, and by using resources, we can join together to take a step toward becoming the “finished nurse” referred to by Florence Nightingale.
- American Nurses Association. (2015a). Code of ethics for nurses with interpretive statements. Silver Spring, MD: Nursebooks.org.
- American Nurses Association. (2015b). Nursing: Scope and standards of practice (3rd ed.). Silver Spring, MD: Nursebooks.org.
- American Nurses Credentialing Center. (2015). 2015 ANCC primary accreditation provider application manual. Retrieved from https://nursing.lsuhsc.edu/Docs/Quality/ANCC%20Accreditation%20Standards%20for%20Provider%20Unit%20(2015).pdf
- American Nurses Credentialing Center. (2017). Criteria for nursing excellence: Structural empowerment. Silver Spring, MD: Author.
- Better Evaluation. (n.d.) Evaluation approaches. Retrieved from https://www.betterevaluation.org/en/approaches
- Harper, M.G. & Maloney, P (Eds.). (2016). Nursing professional development: Scope and standards of practice (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: Association for Nursing Professional Development.