Journal of Nursing Education

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EDUCATIONAL INNOVATIONS 

Professional Role Development in Baccalaureate Nursing Education

Janet Tracy, MSN, RN; Nelda Samarel, EdD, RN; Sandra DeYoung, EdD, RN

Abstract

Expectations of the baccalaureateprepared or professional nurse include socialization into a professional role as well as a practice role. Practice role development is, of course, essential if one is to master the knowledge and skills requisite to the practice of nursing. Because of the universally accepted importance of practice role development, the literature is replete with articles describing research and methods of fostering clinical competence, cognition, and psychomotor skills in nursing education. Although the professional component is considered an essential aspect of professional nursing, there is little literature addressing professional role development. The purpose of this paper is to describe how one BSN program designed and implemented a formal professional role development component within its curriculum.

Background

Professional role development is a critical component of professional nursing and, therefore, a crucial element in nursing education. Socialization and professionalization of the student into the professional membership role should be consistently and increasingly developed throughout the curriculum. Moreover, graduates of BSN programs are generally expected to participate in activities consistent with continued personal and professional involvement.

As faculty in a state college BSN program, we believe that professional role development for BSN students is essential and that this development should increase in complexity for students as they progress through the curriculum. This belief is operationalized via our vertical curricular strand, "Professional Role." This strand specifically discusses the "socialization and professionalization of the student into the practice role and the professional membership role." The objectives define three levels of professional role development in which the student will (a) identify continual learning as essential to personal and professional development; (b) participate in curricular and/or extracurricular learning activities that contribute to personal and professional development; and (c) evidence professional involvement that will lead to further professional growth.

Our ongoing systematic program evaluation revealed that our professional role development component was, indeed, included throughout the curriculum. For example, our first required sophomore level nursing course provides an introduction to nursing as a profession. Within this course, students are introduced to content such as how a profession is defined, how nursing fits within the framework of a profession, the importance of membership in professional organizations, and the importance of practicing from a research/ knowledge base. Although students are encouraged, within the classroom setting, to develop their professional roles, they are not provided with specific direction nor given opportunity to progress in this direction outside the classroom setting.

In another example, subsequent clinical courses provide students with the opportunity to develop their professional roles on the nursing units. Faculty, acting as role models, use clinical opportunities in a serendipitous manner in order to foster this aspect of the students' learning experience. Unfortunately, however, because clinical events vary from agency to agency, all students are not assured of this necessary learning experience. Moreover, this aspect of professional role development pertains only to the professional nurse as a member of the health care delivery team on the clinical unit; it does not develop the professional role globally as a member of the nursing profession.

Our evaluation revealed that although attention was given to professional role development throughout the curriculum, it was not always as consistent as we deemed desirable. Believing, as we do, that the professional role is an absolutely essential component of BSN nursing, it was our intent to further develop and operationalize our vertical strand, "Professional Role." To assess ways in which this component may be consistently strengthened throughout our curriculum, we examined the current literature on professional role development.

A search of the literature revealed numerous articles describing student needs and suggestions for teaching clinical competence, psychomotor…

Expectations of the baccalaureateprepared or professional nurse include socialization into a professional role as well as a practice role. Practice role development is, of course, essential if one is to master the knowledge and skills requisite to the practice of nursing. Because of the universally accepted importance of practice role development, the literature is replete with articles describing research and methods of fostering clinical competence, cognition, and psychomotor skills in nursing education. Although the professional component is considered an essential aspect of professional nursing, there is little literature addressing professional role development. The purpose of this paper is to describe how one BSN program designed and implemented a formal professional role development component within its curriculum.

Background

Professional role development is a critical component of professional nursing and, therefore, a crucial element in nursing education. Socialization and professionalization of the student into the professional membership role should be consistently and increasingly developed throughout the curriculum. Moreover, graduates of BSN programs are generally expected to participate in activities consistent with continued personal and professional involvement.

As faculty in a state college BSN program, we believe that professional role development for BSN students is essential and that this development should increase in complexity for students as they progress through the curriculum. This belief is operationalized via our vertical curricular strand, "Professional Role." This strand specifically discusses the "socialization and professionalization of the student into the practice role and the professional membership role." The objectives define three levels of professional role development in which the student will (a) identify continual learning as essential to personal and professional development; (b) participate in curricular and/or extracurricular learning activities that contribute to personal and professional development; and (c) evidence professional involvement that will lead to further professional growth.

Our ongoing systematic program evaluation revealed that our professional role development component was, indeed, included throughout the curriculum. For example, our first required sophomore level nursing course provides an introduction to nursing as a profession. Within this course, students are introduced to content such as how a profession is defined, how nursing fits within the framework of a profession, the importance of membership in professional organizations, and the importance of practicing from a research/ knowledge base. Although students are encouraged, within the classroom setting, to develop their professional roles, they are not provided with specific direction nor given opportunity to progress in this direction outside the classroom setting.

In another example, subsequent clinical courses provide students with the opportunity to develop their professional roles on the nursing units. Faculty, acting as role models, use clinical opportunities in a serendipitous manner in order to foster this aspect of the students' learning experience. Unfortunately, however, because clinical events vary from agency to agency, all students are not assured of this necessary learning experience. Moreover, this aspect of professional role development pertains only to the professional nurse as a member of the health care delivery team on the clinical unit; it does not develop the professional role globally as a member of the nursing profession.

Our evaluation revealed that although attention was given to professional role development throughout the curriculum, it was not always as consistent as we deemed desirable. Believing, as we do, that the professional role is an absolutely essential component of BSN nursing, it was our intent to further develop and operationalize our vertical strand, "Professional Role." To assess ways in which this component may be consistently strengthened throughout our curriculum, we examined the current literature on professional role development.

A search of the literature revealed numerous articles describing student needs and suggestions for teaching clinical competence, psychomotor skills, interpersonal skills, nursing research, and specific content such as mental health nursing. There is very little written, however, about professional role development in nursing education.

Olsson and Gullberg (1991) maintain that the professional nurse role is clearly defined and assimilated during the work experience after graduation through role repetition, role modeling, and interactions with the professional group. One wonders about relying on this method of professional role development because graduates may have insufficient contact with nurses who are good role models of professionalism. It is generally agreed that professional socialization in nursing cannot be left to chance (Martins, 1988).

Ironically, Schank and Weis, in one of the few related articles (1989), report that baccalaureate nursing students and graduates most frequently identify values related to patient care issues rather than to social issues of the profession. Nursing organizations, on the other hand, place great importance on the transmission of professional values such as commitment to professional organizations and lifelong learning. Two organizations who have made statements are the National League for Nursing and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The NLN Council of Baccalaureate and Higher Degree Programs, in its new self-study guidelines, has included an optional outcome criterion entitled "Professional Development." The definition of this criterion includes activities of graduates such as continuing education and involvement in professional organizations (National League for Nursing, 1991).

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing, in its identification of essentials of baccalaureate nursing education, includes socialization of the student as a member of the profession. The identified behavior as a result of this socialization is a nurse who

aspires to improve the discipline of nursing and its contribution to society through participation in professional organizations and the use of the political process. The professional nurse is committed to the value of collegiality and the need for lifelong learning and continual growth toward expert practice (American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 1986, p. 16).

The dichotomy between the value placed on professional role development and the paucity of literature addressing how to foster that role development is interesting. Surely, if this aspect of nursing education is so important, nursing faculty should find a formal way to build it into the baccalaureate curriculum. One way of incorporating professional role development is by active participation in activities that complement the educational objectives, but are not part of the curriculum. Research on college students has shown that moderate levels of involvement in outside activities has many positive benefits to learning (Hill, 1982).

Operationalizing a Formal Professional Role Development Component

Finding little assistance from the literature, in an attempt to further professional role development throughout our curriculum, we investigated currently existing opportunities that provide for professional involvement. Building on these opportunities, we developed what we believe is a logical, comprehensive, and educationally sound plan in which to accomplish our aims. We reasoned that socialization into professional nursing may be effectively achieved through participation in professional nursing organizations and activities. Therefore, we provided each student with the opportunity and incentive in selected nursing courses within the curriculum to develop his or her professional role by creating a formal mechanism, labeled Professional Role Development, for participation in professional nursing organizations and activities. In order to ensure consistency and continuity, it was essential that the Professional Role Development component be included in every level of our curriculum. For our purposes at William Paterson College, this was most effectively accomplished in theory, rather than clinical courses.

The faculty determined that professional role development should begin as soon as the student entered the nursing major. For us, this is in the fall of the sophomore year. After careful discussion in several faculty meetings, the fall semester was chosen to ensure an enthusiastic start for entering students. In order to be certain that all three tracks of our curriculum - generic, RN, and accelerated - were given equal access and opportunity, courses were selected to reflect those in which all students enroll. Although this component could be incorporated in clinical courses, we decided initially to limit the requirement to courses taught by full-time faculty for ease of transition into this new requirement.

To begin to socialize the student into the role of member of the nursing profession at the sophomore level, learning was designed in and out of the classroom. Class attendance, punctuality, and discussion participation are fostered. Out-of-class experiences are designed to encourage a sense of the professional role through networking, collaboration with others, and a vision of the larger scope of the profession. By senior year, it was decided to require the Professional Role Developme nt component in both semesters to be consistent with the professional role vertical strand of the curriculum.

The exact credit allocation for the professional role development component is determined within each course. A four- or five-point allotment is structured into grading with all sections awarding the same number of points to ensure consistency. The value of the professional role development component is listed in the grade derivation section of the course syllabus. For senior level courses, students earn either a "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" grade for this component. A "satisfactory* grade is required for successful completion of the course.

To fulfill the professional role development requirement, students are offered a "menu" of professional activities from which to choose. Examples of activities include attending a professional nursing organization meeting, joining a professional nursing organization, participating in an activity sponsored by a professional nursing organization, participating on a committee of a professional nursing organization, holding an elected position in a professional nursing organization, subscribing to a professional journal, and attending a professional nursing conference. This plan requires faculty to permit students time off from class, when necessary, and to support the concept as well as to role model these activities.

Values can be instilled through participating side by side in a collégial manner with students. An excellent example of this was one of our faculty members, who was involved with the state nurses' convention and recruited students as monitors for the continuing education sessions. Students were assigned, along with new association members, to be present for distribution of bibliography materials, inspection of functioning audiovisual equipment, and distribution of continuing education credits. This provided students with an opportunity to attend continuing education sessions, network with nurses practicing in a variety of settings, and develop an awareness of the variety of activities of the professional association. To record the students' professional activities without placing a burden on faculty, each student keeps a personal standardized index card provided for that purpose. The faculty teaching the course look at each student's card at the end of the semester for final course grading. In addition to developing the students' professional role and strengthening our curricular strand, implementation of this proposal significantly increases participation in both the Student Nurses Association and Sigma Thêta Tau.

Student Response

After one semester of this experience, students generally remain enthusiastic. Membership in the Student Nurses Association soared from 41 the previous year to 156. Attendance at meetings of the association has created such wonderful problems as not enough space for all who wish to attend! Students seem surprised to meet faculty members at evening and weekend meetings, especially if the workshop is one they have sought on their own.

Students have commented on the large number of possibilities to fulfill the course requirements. In evaluating their experienees, students acknowledged that they have not been active in college activities. This "forces us to get involved" in the field. Several mentioned networking as a benefit from the requirements and one discovered a summer externship program through a meeting she attended. Three RN students took the opportunity to attend an out-of-state weekend conference to fulfill the requirement! Others attended an allday research conference and a Sigma Theta Tau program. It was not unusual when students turned in their cards to find more than the minimum number of requirements Usted for credit.

Conclusion

The formal Professional Role Development component implemented in our BSN program seems to be accomplishing our objectives. It goes beyond the classroom in teaching the value of professional involvement by:

* Providing an avenue for students to actualize their involvement in professional organizations and activities;

* Providing students an opportunity for dialogue with nursing professionals throughout the state and region;

* Exposing students to a variety of views on critical issues affecting the profession;

* Supporting interpersonal skill development outside the classroom in a nonclinical environment;

* Providing opportunities for faculty and students to work together collegially in settings that are viewed as nonthreatening (i.e., settings where no grading or evaluation occurs).

Currently, students are quite enthused about the opportunities they have to be active participants in their new profession. We are witnessing an enthusiasm and exuberance about conference participation, Student Nurses Association meetings, and discussions about professional journals that was not previously present. Students are bringing this zest to class when they report on their activities, thereby effectively communicating their experiences to their colleagues. We are acutely aware that providing such incentives within the program of education does not necessarily ensure continued professional involvement following graduation. We do believe, however, that we have discovered an effective way to lead students toward activities that, once experienced, may be enjoyed, valued, and sought in the future. It is also entirely possible that establishing a habit of professional involvement throughout the educational experience will result in sustained involvement following graduation.

References

  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (1986). Essentials of college and university education for professional nursing (pp. 1-25). Washington: Author.
  • Hill, P.J. (1982). Communities of learners: Curriculum as the infrastructure of academic communities. In J.W. Hill & B.C. Keules (Eds.), In opposition to the core curriculum: Alternative models of undergraduate education. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  • Martins, A. (1988). Education for professional socialization in nursing. Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing, 6(1), 27-29.
  • National League for Nursing. (1991). Criteria and guidelines for the evaluation of baccalaureate and higher degree programs in nursing. New York: Author.
  • Olsson, H.M., & Gullberg, MT. (1991). Nursing education and definition of the professional nurse role. Nurse Education Today, ll(l\ 30-36.
  • Schank, M. J., & Weis, D. (1989). A study of values of baccalaureate nursing students and graduate nurses from a secular and a nonsecular program. Journal of Professional Nursing, 5(1), 17-22.

10.3928/0148-4834-19950401-10

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