Journal of Nursing Education


Sponsored Professional Seminars: Enhancing Professionalism Among Baccalaureate Nursing Students

Dorothy Brockopp, PhD, RN; Mary Schooler, MSN; Darlene Welsh, MSN; Karma Cassidy, MSN; Patricia Y Ryan, PhD, RN; Kay Mueggenberg, PhD, RN; Diane Orr Chlebowy, PhD, RN



If we are to emphasize professionalism within nursing, students need to understand the opportunities, responsibilities, and concerns that are integral to the nursing profession. Sharing ideas related to nursing practice in a specified area with practicing nurses, expert faculty, and a speaker provide students with a sense of excitement about their chosen career. The sponsored seminar series permits undergraduate nursing students to converse with their future colleagues over dinner, develop lasting relationships, and advance their learning in an area of interest.



If we are to emphasize professionalism within nursing, students need to understand the opportunities, responsibilities, and concerns that are integral to the nursing profession. Sharing ideas related to nursing practice in a specified area with practicing nurses, expert faculty, and a speaker provide students with a sense of excitement about their chosen career. The sponsored seminar series permits undergraduate nursing students to converse with their future colleagues over dinner, develop lasting relationships, and advance their learning in an area of interest.

The nursing profession is characterized by the continuing pursuit of knowledge, a sense of responsibility for human concerns, preparation through higher education, peer accountability, autonomy, and altruism. While nursing fulfills all of these criteria to some extent, concerns have been raised regarding nursing's theory base, public image, career trajectory, and autonomy (Corlett, 2000; Joel & Kelly, 2002). The development and evaluation of three sponsored professional seminars within a baccalaureate nursing program were an attempt to enhance nursing students' sense of professionalism. These seminars make an important contribution to students' educational experiences in the areas of mentoring, public image, career opportunities, and independent practice.


The literature addresses professionalism from a number of viewpoints. The ideas that professionalism can be influenced by education, that certain activities are important in influencing that change, and that public image is a contributing factor are found throughout the nursing literature.

For example, there is evidence to suggest that educational activities can increase a sense of professionalism. Learning in an environment that supports the previously identified criteria seems to influence nurses in a positive direction. The characteristics of autonomy and accountability increase, and the concept of independent practice is strengthened when the educational environment encourages professional development (Cvetek, 1999; Malizia, 2000).

Understanding that activities beyond the bedside are important to developing a career in nursing is one of the important factors found to contribute to professionalism among nursing students (Roehrs, 1999). As students realize that maintaining membership in professional organizations, reading professional journals, attending conferences related to specific nursing interests, and participating in other career-related activities are an important part of their profession, they will be more likely to maintain such involvement throughout their careers. Participation in sponsored professional seminars can help students reach this realization.

Mentoring is another crucial activity that enhances the development of professionalism among nursing students and new graduates. Practicing nurses can mentor students and graduates by being competent role models and by providing a safety net as beginning nurses attempt to master their newly acquired roles. Strong mentors provide a positive introduction to the nursing profession and, depending on their beliefs, can foster professionalism among those they guide (Cameron-Jones & O'Hara, 1996; Ehrich, Tennent, & Hansford, 2002; Lo & Brown, 2000).

A positive attitude toward or image of nursing is, in part, a reflection of what nurses accomplish. As students understand the activities and accomplishments of nurses in a variety of roles, they develop a sense of pride, as well as respect, for the profession. Observing nurse leaders, either through the media or in person, facilitates the development of commitment to the profession (Ulmer, 2000).

The three sponsored professional seminars developed for the undergraduate program provide students with the opportunity to:

* Encounter role models who are successful.

* Listen to the development of theoretical foundations for nursing.

* Develop relationships with potential mentors in the clinical field.

* Expand their learning in an area of interest.

* Become aware of the many opportunities for professional growth in nursing.

Sponsored Professional Seminars Series

With the financial assistance of two pharmaceutical companies and one national nursing organization, our college of nursing developed three seminar series for undergraduate students. Each series is administered by a committee that consists of a faculty coordinator; additional faculty, depending on the number of faculty in the college with expertise in the specific area; a practitioner from the community; and one or more nursing students from the undergraduate and/or graduate programs.

These three series focus on cardiovascular disease, oncology, and diabetes. The specific goals of the three series are to:

* Reaffirm the concept that lifelong learning is important.

* Enhance students' knowledge of three illnesses that are highly prevalent in the state.

* Model professional nursing behaviors.

* Develop ongoing relationships between students and professionals in the community.

* Enhance students' understanding of research.

* Encourage undergraduate nursing students to think about graduate school at some time in the near future.

Planning Process

A similar process is used to plan all seminars. Every semester, each sponsored professional seminar committee mails a letter to junior and senior students in the undergraduate program asking them if they would be interested in attending a free dinner at an elegant restaurant accompanied by a nationally or internationally renowned speaker in a specific interest area. A similar letter is also mailed to advanced practice nurses (i.e., nurses holding master's or doctoral degrees) who practice within the specific interest area.

A list of interested students and practicing nurses is compiled, and depending on the number of available spaces, the students are either invited to the dinner program or placed on a waiting list. Equal numbers of practicing nurses and undergraduate students are invited, and place cards ensure each student sits beside a practicing nurse. Total attendance is restricted to approximately 35 to foster relationships among participants. Approximately 150 students have attended the seminar series to date.

Each committee identifies speakers through personal contacts or a review of the pertinent literature. Sponsors pay an honorarium, plus expenses, to the guest speaker. They also cover the cost of the dinner. The college of nursing donates the services of a computer technician to meet the audiovisual needs of the speakers. Ninety percent of the speakers are nurse researchers who have conducted studies in the specific interest area. Other health care providers, such as physicians and psychologists, have also been invited to speak on their research and practice activities. Students have the opportunity to gain knowledge of theory and practice in relevant areas, relate to dynamic role models in nursing, talk to independent practitioners, and enhance their selfimage.


Attendees provide open-ended feedback related to the seminar series. They are asked to comment on whether the programs were interesting and informative, what they would change, and what they learned about nursing. Content analysis revealed that students and practitioners found the programs very informative. Students thought that some of the content was "intellectually challenging" but stated that the presentation increased their interest in that specific area. Students wanted more time for interaction with the speakers and commented that they enjoyed interacting with faculty and practitioners in a social setting.

Benefits to the College of Nursing

In addition to providing a learning experience for undergraduate students, the seminars have enabled faculty and deans within the college to meet nationally renowned speakers in three different areas of practice. On occasion, the process has even been instrumental in recruiting faculty for the college. Other benefits have included:

* Providing a mechanism by which requesting speakers can present to other student and community groups and consult on doctoral and faculty projects.

* Developing new clinical placements through contacts with advanced practice nurses.

* Establishing a potential network of supportive nurses for all participants.

In addition, a description of the sponsored professional seminar's cardiovascular program was presented by one of the authors at an international nursing education conference in Great Britain.


Baccalaureate graduates in nursing are increasingly expected to assume leadership roles. They need to understand the breadth and depth of the nursing profession to be successful in this dynamic field. These series inform students about opportunities for advancing their education, conducting research, adopting various roles, and learning more about the challenges necessary to providing quality health care in the United States and abroad. Many undergraduate students do not understand the roles of advanced practice nurses, how research affects practice, or how important it is to remain clinically competent. These seminars provide a mechanism for conveying each of these ideas.

In addition, the seminars unite students with professionals in the field who can mentor and encourage them as they enter the profession. Finally, financial support of the sponsored professional seminar by vendors and professional organizations provides meaningful, concrete evidence that student nurses who have the potential to develop into competent, multitalented nursing professionals through education and careful mentoring are truly valued in today's health care system.


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  • Enrich, L., Tennent, L, & Hansford, B. (2002). A review of mentoring in education: Some lessons in nursing. Contemporary Nurse, 12, 253-264.
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  • Lo, R., & Brown, R. (2000). A clinical teaching project: Evaluation of the mentor-arranged clinical practice by RN mentors. Collegian, 7, 8-10.
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  • Roehrs, C. (1999). Beyond the bedside: Facilitating reflection of nursing professionalism. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Colorado at Boulder.
  • Ulmer, B. (2000). The image of nursing. Association of Preoperative Registered Nurses, 71, 1126-1127.


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