The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing

Administrative Angles 

Nursing Continuing Professional Development—A Paradigm Shift

Pamela Dickerson, PhD, RN, NPD-BC, FAAN; Jennifer Graebe, MSN, RN, NEA-BC

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has created the need for rapid development and implementation of nursing continuing professional development (NCPD) to scale up nurses and other health care providers to meet a surge in critically ill patients. Through retooling and upskilling nurses and other health care providers, professional development is more important now than ever before. A heightened need for flexible professional development activity planning that is fully integrated into the professional environment is integral to prepare nurses to meet the challenges posed by this pandemic. This article addresses strategies to facilitate delivery of quality NCPD educational activities in real time. [J Contin Educ Nurs. 2020;51(7):297–299.]

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has created the need for rapid development and implementation of nursing continuing professional development (NCPD) to scale up nurses and other health care providers to meet a surge in critically ill patients. Through retooling and upskilling nurses and other health care providers, professional development is more important now than ever before. A heightened need for flexible professional development activity planning that is fully integrated into the professional environment is integral to prepare nurses to meet the challenges posed by this pandemic. This article addresses strategies to facilitate delivery of quality NCPD educational activities in real time. [J Contin Educ Nurs. 2020;51(7):297–299.]

Like K-12 and higher education, nursing continuing professional development (NCPD) is going through a major paradigm shift. Traditional learning environments have been disrupted and are undergoing transformation. Conferences and symposiums are quickly being converted to a web-based or virtual learning format. Faculty are providing NCPD on converting traditional academic curricula and engaging students in a virtual learning environment. NCPD is now readily recognized and implemented within the work-place versus outside of work hours. The learning environment is being fostered, facilitated, and leveraged as teams collaborate and learn in real time through transformative learning.

Transformative learning requires reflective and deliberate practice (Saxena, 2019). This allows for broad planning that is tailored to identified needs and gaps. This outlook creates a nonprescriptive learning environment where learners are actively engaged, a future state is envisioned, and there is a “one size fits none” philosophy. Transformative learning distinguishes and promotes learning that is generated in real time and outcome driven versus by a sense of obligation (Saxena, 2019). Transformative learning generates curiosity and imagination that makes space for learning (Saxena, 2019).

Realigning Goals to Meet Changing Organizational Needs

Strategic planning is often done annually within health care organizations and departments. It is quite possible that the calendar or fiscal year began with goals in mind, along with plans for achieving those goals and measuring their success. A pandemic or major disruption in operations or goal attainment was not anticipated when planning was underway for 2020. Being nimble in a rapidly changing environment requires relooking at priorities with a new vision. It requires key questions to be asked and answered to reprioritize using NCPD to meet nurse performance, organizational, system, and community outcomes. Key questions include but are not limited to:

  • Is this strategic goal still at the top of the priority list?
  • If so, are these goals kept, but perhaps with less emphasis?
  • If not, what new priorities exist, and how will goals be achieved?
  • Do new and existing goals remain critical to the mission of the team and organization?

Nursing professional development (NPD) practitioners and nurse planners are uniquely positioned to support the organization when rapid adjustments are required to meet changing needs. NPD practitioners and nurse planners may need to focus on quarterly, monthly, or even weekly goals rather than annual goals. It is critical to be part of those discussions as a leader—at a higher level—in the health care environment because implementation of new or reprioritized goals will require professional development (education and training), leadership, and guidance in change management.

10 Strategies for Flexing NCPD in Real Time

Strategy 1

Think Strategically Within Your Organization. Open the lines of communication among all departments and leverage educational resources to get the most value out of the education that is offered. Think about education that applies across departments and across professions. Focus on goals that improve team performance, collaboration, and patient outcomes. Find subject matter experts within your organization or community. Lastly, if learning is required for work, then we must begin to support that learning is work and must occur in the workplace.

Strategy 2

Use Accreditation Criteria (American Nurses Credentialing Center, 2015) to Promote Quality. Familiarity with the fundamental requirements of activity planning will help the nurse planner quickly identify a problem, validate the evidence that supports the existence of the problem, determine the level of educational intervention required, and develop a measurable outcome. Ask key questions of stakeholders: Why? What? Who? So what? How? Open and authentic conversations can clarify the answers to these questions, forming the basis for quick, efficient, and effective NCPD that is outcome driven.

Strategy 3

Don't Reinvent the Wheel. There are several educational providers that have made resources available for health care providers, and many professional associations have links to articles, podcasts, and other resources on their websites. After identifying the gap for your learners, look to see what resources already exist that could help you meet their needs.

Strategy 4

Transition “Live” Activities to Virtual Ones Rather Than Canceling NCPD. The essential components of activity planning do not change when NCPD is provided in a different format. However, learner engagement, evaluation, and criteria for successful completion often need to be adjusted for learning to be relevant and appropriate in the new modality.

Strategy 5

Use Documentation to Validate Your Work. Just as the EMR is a tool to demonstrate quality in patient care, an activity file provides evidence of adherence to accreditation criteria. Answers to the key questions posed in Strategy 2 provide the data for entry into the activity file so that documentation is not a time-consuming burden.

Strategy 6

Explore Creative Use of Technology. Many technology companies are free or have low-cost resources available for use during the pandemic. Investigate options to find what works best if you do not already have technology to support virtual learning. More sophisticated platforms can provide adaptive learning, can be individualized to a learner or group of learners, and can track and measure learning outcomes. It is important to ensure that NPD practitioners and nurse planners can use the chosen platforms because there will be learning curves when new methods of delivering NCPD are introduced.

Strategy 7

Learn How to Teach in a Virtual World. Education is being provided virtually in K-12, institutes of higher learning, corporations, and associations. Investigate what strategies others have used and be creative in developing resources that best meet your learners' needs. Pilcher (2015) suggests unique options that can be used in NCPD. Simply providing a voice over a PowerPoint® is not enough to teach in a “virtual” world. Consider tactics such as polling, using chat rooms for discussion, and augmenting the virtual learning environment with clinical rounding or simulation.

Strategy 8

Engage Stakeholders. New skills and retooling of the current nursing workforce will remain a top priority. For nurses, being able to learn at a time and place that works for them in an environment that is engaging will yield application in real time, a real measure of learning. NPD practitioners and nurse planners must embrace the skills and competencies nurses need in evolving practice environments. By engaging learners in the planning and implementation of NCPD, learning becomes performance based versus operational. Further, real-time assessment and evaluation of learning promotes growth mind-set, whereby learners can focus on the “need” versus the “want.”

Strategy 9

Measure and Share Your Success. Keeping those revised strategic goals in mind, plan educational activities that will help learners contribute to organizational successes. Evaluate outcomes of learning in terms of return on investment, return on expectations, or other metrics that matter to organizational executives (e.g., recruitment and retention, quality and safety, or both). Visibility and voice are important attributes of professional development leaders. Showing how you contribute to the ability of the organization to meet the needs of patients and the public during the pandemic increases the importance and value of learning within the organization.

Strategy 10

Keep Moving Forward. As the dust settles, it will be easy to revert to old processes and behaviors. NCPD will need to be laser focused on addressing real-time needs of nurses, organizations, patients, and the community moving forward. Aligning NCPD to workforce opportunities will remain a top priority; with an ongoing professional gap analysis of workforce needs to retool and skill up.

Summary

Learning has taken a front and center stage in all sectors of business, academia, and health care during this pandemic. As the health care sector navigates these uncharted times, situational challenges have underscored the importance of nurses and teams to learn quickly and apply that learning immediately into professional practice.

References

  • American Nurses Credentialing Center. (2015). Primary accreditation provider application manual. American Nurses Credentialing Center.
  • Pilcher, J. (2015). E-learning and innovative learning options. Journal for Nurses in Professional Development, 31(1), 58–59.
  • Saxena, A. (2019). Transformative learning: premise, promise and challenges. Medical Education, 53(6), 534–536.
Authors

Dr. Dickerson is Director of Professional Development, Montana Nurses Association, Helena, Montana, and Ms. Graebe is Director of Accreditation in Nursing Continuing Professional Development and Joint Accreditation, American Nurses Credentialing Center, Silver Spring, Maryland.

The authors have disclosed no conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

Address correspondence to Pamela Dickerson, PhD, RN, NPD-BC, FAAN, Director of Professional Development, Montana Nurses Association, Helena, Montana; email: psd409@gmail.com.

10.3928/00220124-20200611-02

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