The past year brought significant changes to the health care environment. Everything from personal protective equipment, to vaccination development and distribution, to learning in real time to keep abreast of the minute-by-minute practice changes have been in the forefront of nurses' minds. Previously under-used approaches to care delivery, such as telemedicine, have achieved prominence and will likely become standard practice. Navigating the pandemic has taught us to be nimble and flexible, to trust the science, and to ensure that nurses have the right type of professional development to fully practice based on their education and training. As leaders, we must invest in building environments that foster evidence-based practice in both the practice setting and the learning environment.
We have witnessed the ingenuity and creativity of nursing professional development (NPD) practitioners and nurse planners in scaling up to meet the needs of nurses and their patients through retooling and reskilling. In some facilities, nursing continuing professional development (NCPD) has emerged as a powerful, evidence-based way to facilitate nurses' ability to transition to different areas of practice, provide care for patients with a previously unknown condition, and maintain competence to provide safe and effective care. However, in many other facilities, NCPD has taken a back seat as NPD practitioners and nurse planners have been furloughed or were redeployed to other practice areas. Some licensure and certification bodies have reduced or eliminated requirements for continuing education or other evidence of ongoing competence, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as a rationale.
There has never been a more important time for evidence-based, quality nursing professional development that improves professional practice and patient outcomes. The focus of the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Accreditation in NCPD criteria is on developing education to address identified gaps in knowledge, skill, and/or practice, maintaining content integrity, and analyzing measurable outcomes to demonstrate closure or narrowing of the gaps that created the need for the education.
Accreditation in NCPD is not about nurses earning contact hours! The contact hour is the “currency” that is awarded when learners complete NCPD activities, but receiving the credit is of little value if it does not contribute to the practice of the nurse, achievement of improvements in their work, and/or the outcomes that support the strategic initiatives of the organization. Accreditation in NCPD is about ensuring that the learning experiences of nurse learners are outcome driven.
To emphasize the importance of accreditation as a mechanism to recognize organizations' ability to provide quality continuing education, the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Commission on Accreditation for NCPD has created a white paper (American Nurses Credentialing Center's Commission on Accreditation, 2020) (Figure A; available in the online version of this article) demonstrating the value of accreditation. Key components of the paper include a brief history of accreditation in NCPD; the imperative for quality and consistency; an overview of the Donabedian model as it supports the accreditation structure, process, and outcomes framework; responsibilities of accredited organizations related to quality in development, implementation, and evaluation of continuing education for nurses and/or health care teams; and documented evidence of the value of accreditation in NCPD to improve nursing practice and patient outcomes.
The beginning of a new year offers an opportunity for reflection and a commitment to improvement. For nurses, just because your organization or licensure board says you do not need contact hours, what do you need to support and improve your own practice? Selecting NCPD activities that are based on quality standards and help you to maintain and improve competence will support your professional practice, open doors for future professional advancement through an NCPD portfolio, and demonstrate your personal commitment to your chosen profession. For NPD practitioners and nurse planners, how are you analyzing gaps, planning relevant education, measuring outcomes, and sharing those outcomes to support the value of quality NCPD? For health care facilities and other organizations employing nurses, what do you do to support and improve nursing practice? How are you investing in and supporting quality professional development to help you to achieve your strategic goals?
Contact hours are the currency—quality nursing practice is the outcome!
- American Nurses Credentialing Center's Commission on Accreditation. (2020). The Value of accreditation for nursing continuing professional development: Quality education contributing to quality outcomes.