The importance of continual professional development for all nurses


For nurses at all levels of seniority and in every healthcare environment, lifelong learning is essential to being a professional. Nurses wishing to expand their knowledge and improve their skills can do so by educating themselves further, whether by enrolling in a postgraduate degree, attending conferences, or completing additional short courses. Any of these options will help improve their ability to provide quality patient care and pursue their career objectives. Nurses who grow their knowledge and skills can play various roles in advancing nursing practices or working toward improving their patients’ health.

In addition to enhancing and reinforcing their existing competencies, nurses use ongoing learning to keep up to date with developments in healthcare, such as innovative technologies, changing best practices and new ways of treating certain conditions. This knowledge ensures nurses can deliver the best possible care to help improve the health outcomes of patients.

Maintaining licensure and gaining new skills

Frequently, licensing bodies require evidence that nurses have been attending professional development activities before they renew a nurse’s license to practice. The details of these requirements will vary between states. Aside from meeting these regulatory policies, nurses can also acquire new skills that enhance their practice and as a result, enjoy faster, more rewarding career development opportunities.

There are many forms of continued learning, but to make the most of these experiences, nurses should set goals for each activity and plan. This will enable nurses to devote the necessary time to the learning process. This could involve an element of self-reflection, as nurses identify the aspects of their work they want to develop, but seeking feedback from colleagues can also be helpful. Once they’ve chosen which type of professional development to explore, nurses must remain organized to take full advantage of the opportunity. This ensures they benefit from their efforts and continue to develop professionally. Some of the most effective forms of ongoing learning in healthcare include:

Taking part in workshops

Many healthcare settings are complex and challenging despite the rewarding nature of the work. Nurses can participate in workshops to keep up with these changes and learn practically. These are often run in-house and offer an alternative to returning to college for nurses hoping to extend their skills. As specialists run them, workshops can relate to research, education, medicine, or technology and bring together nurses from across a discipline or a geographical region. The presence of many different professionals is helpful because it means people can discuss what they’ve learned and how they plan to apply it. In doing so, they help to support each other’s practice.

Workshops are rarely centered on a lecture, instead, there are several scheduled activities in which nurses can participate. In many instances, nurses will be awarded a certificate to verify that they have received training. Aside from this, additional training is a good way for nurses to demonstrate their commitment to their work and show their employer that they could be a good prospect for promotion. This can lead to better opportunities for career advancement in fields that are of interest to individual nurses. In addition, it can allow them to move into more senior positions, experience higher levels of job satisfaction and command a better salary.

Nurses who have attended workshops are useful to employers because they can share the training they have received, whether it involves equipment, treatments or technology, with other nurses on the ward. This means that as well as standing out from the crowd when it comes to being considered for a promotion, they can familiarize themselves with teaching others and develop their leadership skills.

Self-directed learning

Studies have shown that self-directed learning can meet many of a nurse’s professional development needs. This can involve reading recently released or revised textbooks, research papers and journals to gain a deeper understanding of a particular topic. As it is a largely independent activity and allows the subjects to be chosen by the nurse, self-directed studying can be highly motivational. It can also be free, making it a readily accessible option for nurses that are open to learning new things. Should nurses prefer, self-directed learning can take place online, but it can be as simple as reading a book at home. Either way, it can help to improve competency. This form of learning is useful when it comes to creating a sense of achievement and giving nurses more confidence in their abilities.

Attending regular nursing conferences

To see the latest healthcare innovations in action, even before they reach a ward, nurses can attend conferences. Along with being exposed to new forms of medical technology, they will hear speakers from across the US talking about risk management, patient safety and clinical practices, among other topics. This is especially important because nursing and the healthcare system in general are advancing and changing at a rapid pace. Conferences allow nurses to see innovations in action and interact with technology before it hits the market.

Various groups can organize these conferences, but whether arranged by health associations or nursing organizations, there will be opportunities for nurses, from nurse leaders to staff nurses and new nurses, to share their experiences working in medicine. There are also often special keynote speakers at conventions ready to share their unique experiences and knowledge with an audience. These people can inspire nurses with insight into new career paths and alternative healthcare options.

Along with learning more about their field, nurses have the chance to network with other professionals at a conference. This allows them to make useful connections with people that they can call upon to provide advice, or guidance in the future, as well as offering support themselves. Nurses who make connections with leaders and innovators may find new opportunities for career progression.

Finally, nurses can use conferences as a way of connecting with their peers from across the state or nation, learning from each other and becoming more competent practitioners. This can be in the form of casual social meetings, but conferences also typically include interactive sessions. These might be roundtable debates or presentations, during which visitors are expected to collaborate, share ideas and discuss topics of mutual interest.

Earning a range of valuable certifications

By working towards and completing certifications, nurses show they are skilled and competent in various fields. Certifications reward and recognize a nurse’s hard work and give them confidence in their abilities. Aside from being of benefit to the nurse, the setting they work in also benefits as nurses with additional skills can deliver excellent care, offer useful suggestions and provide expert advice when it comes to a niche topic within their area of study. Nursing shortages are impacting hospitals and clinics across the US, so now more than ever, healthcare organizations are eager to find and retain confident practitioners with a range of skills and the ability to adapt to a changing environment.

For nurses, a certificate is validation of their clinical competence. It strengthens their connection to a specialty that interests them and can lead to a change of career direction if that’s what is desired. Although patients will appreciate a highly competent nurse, other nurses, supervisors and the management team will also view certification favorably. Nurses with specialized knowledge can be great colleagues to have around, as they are often aware of new ideas and best practices. As a result, they may be able to offer a fresh solution to a problem. From the employer’s point of view, the more qualified people they have on the team, the more the facility stands out from the competition and the more attractive it seems to patients.

Some organizations that are considered authorities in patient outcomes and care excellence track the number of nurses with certifications employed at a given hospital. The Joint Commission, for example, conducts reviews of hospitals and favors those with high numbers of certified nurses. A good report from them can lead to increased grant funding and accreditation, indicating an excellent standard of performance. For a facility, these are both important factors in attracting new patients and remaining profitable.

Gaining an advanced degree

An advanced degree is an investment worth making for many nurses who are aiming for the most senior positions in healthcare. Master’s degrees and terminal degrees, such as the Doctor of Nursing Practice, are needed to gain a license for various types of advanced roles. These can pave the way for nurses to acquire additional skills, take on more responsibility and move into a concentration they are passionate about. Post-grad nurses can also work more independently than before, as they have competencies that are not taught to undergraduates, and this leads to more job satisfaction for many. In addition, the future earning potential for well-qualified nurses is exceptional, as they are needed in all areas of healthcare and there is an ongoing shortage of healthcare workers.

Nurses with a Master’s degree have the opportunity to advance their careers and move into more leadership roles by enrolling in a Doctor of Nursing Practice online degree offered by reputable institutions such as Wilkes University. This fully online program is ideal for advanced practice registered nurses who wish to pursue this terminal degree while fulfilling their current roles and responsibilities.

This degree is designed to equip graduates with the skills and expertise to influence healthcare outcomes through leadership systems and healthcare policy implementation. Some of the topics covered include diversity and social issues, application of nursing research, epidemiology & environmental health, leadership in advanced nursing practice and biostatistics. This program can be completed in as little as two years.

Finding a mentorship program

Advancing through the ranks in nursing takes time but learning through books and listening to the experiences of others provides only part of the required skills and knowledge. To excel in a new or more advanced area of medicine, many nurses choose to find a mentor. These more experienced nurses often participate in programs that aim to guide, advise and inspire younger nurses, with a focus on enabling a change of career or a promotion. It’s a very supportive relationship and although many will arrange and conduct it formally, there can also be hugely beneficial informal mentorships. Most last for a couple of years at least and are marked by the provision of direction and advice.

The person being mentored can gain deep, realistic insights into a medical specialty or role and can use the opportunity to build their professional network. If they move between roles while the mentorship is active, their transition can feel far less stressful or overwhelming, because they have someone to turn to for support.

The knowledge that the less experienced nurses gain is useful for improving their problem-solving skills and making them better communicators. They can speak to their mentor about new procedures or policies and be better informed when dealing with changes on the ward. In addition to promoting the passing on of generational knowledge, mentorships build healthy connections between professionals at different stages of their careers and can support a positive workplace culture.

Professional development provides additional opportunities

By working on professional development activities throughout their careers, nurses have a positive impact on the patients they treat and the healthcare system. Attending courses, self-directed studying, and conferences ensure that a nurse’s skills remain current and any gaps in their knowledge are filled. It can also lead to career benefits for a nurse, as continued learning supports their professional aspirations and progression to other areas of medicine, as well as boosting their earning potential.

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