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How Important Is Continuing Education for Nurses?


Content courtesy of IntelyCare. Nurses are learners. We learn when we are assessing our patients, implementing (yet another) new procedure or policy, and when we have new treatments and medicines to administer. Providing safe care requires not only being up to date on the latest science, but seeking out and integrating that understanding into day-to-day practice. We're inquisitive and driven to provide the best care for our patients. We're a trusted resource to our families and friends. Being a trusted resource to family and friends and to strangers in their time of need and when they are in compromised situations, unfamiliar settings, and not feeling their best means that nurses need to have a combination of skills. Foundational education provides just that, a foundation of knowledge. However, schools of nursing can only provide so much. Nursing is both an art and a science. We practice as we continue to gain experience and reflect on our successes and times when we wish we could have done more. Refining our practice means nurses need to constantly learn.

The origins of continuing education for nurses

Before we had formal schools of nursing, we had nurses, midwives, and healers gaining knowledge from decentralized oral history. Learning was passed down from experienced provider to novice provider -- only women. They shared their anecdotal experience from their own practice and from working under the direction of physicians. Eventually knowledge sharing was formalized and is what we think of today when we think of nursing education. Nursing education began in hospital-based programs, but over time and after higher demands for nurses, it moved into formalized academic settings (colleges and universities). Men and people from increasingly diverse backgrounds joined the profession and continue to do so.

Despite these developments, the profession has a long way to go to develop a workforce that is representative of the population, which is essential for the delivery of the highest quality, holistic care. The profession continues to move in the right direction toward diversity, equity, and inclusion, and nursing education must keep up and continue to promote cultural competency.

Formal academic nursing education today provides the essential foundation for basic competent practice. Nursing researchers are working to develop unique sets of nursing-focused knowledge that draws from other professions like psychology, sociology, and medicine, and brings together the best of each perspective to create a rich, essential body of knowledge for nurses.

The importance of continuing education

Patients deserve and expect to receive high-quality and evidence-based care, so nurses must stay abreast of evolving scientific and practical knowledge gains and update their practice accordingly. Research continues to produce significant findings that can and should guide practice. It's unacceptable to do things simply because they've always been done a particular way or simply because a provider ordered something. In a recent ruling in North Carolina, nurses can now be held responsible for medical mistakes because they now have a significant and influential role in care coordination and care management. Continuing education provides an essential part of the clinical competence that supports that influential role. Clinical competence is the combination of knowledge, skills, abilities, and attitudes that underpin a nurse's work. Practicing at the top of license means to focus the greatest amount of time and energy on the actions that make a nurse unique from other provider types. However, the nurse must have a deep and broad knowledge base to practice at the intersection of medicine and care. Some of that knowledge comes from initial educational preparation. While fundamental, prelicensure nursing education produces minimum competency, there's considerable debate about whether that minimum competency is equivalent to practice readiness. Practice readiness has a variety of definitions, but at its core, it means a nurse can perform job functions while communicating effectively and thinking critically. In fact, workforce partners have created formalized post-licensure, organization-based learning programs to fill in the gaps of prelicensure education.

Continuing education must be part of this landscape of educational avenues to develop and maintain practice readiness. The onus of practice readiness and clinical competence must lie with the nurse.

Nurses, as professionals with a body of professional knowledge, have an obligation to their practice and to their patients to be equipped with a sound understanding of the scope of their practice and the safe care of those in their care. To do this, nurses must find trusted sources of continuing education.

Choose continuing education resources wisely

Each state has a set of guidelines for the requirements of continuing education. Most states require a certain number of continuing education hours or credits. NCSBN provides a resource with information on those state-specific requirements, as does State licensing boards require specific education, often related to a particular topic like domestic abuse reporting or the dangers of human trafficking. While these educational programs are essential, they are only one piece of nurses' scope of practice and their ability to practice competently at the top of their license. Nurses should be discerning customers when it comes to continuing their education. Avoid boring and outdated educational materials, or education that doesn't meet the basic standards of the American Nurses Credentialing Center, of course. All states accept Nursing Continuing Professional Development to meet license renewal requirements.

Nurses should look not only for continuing education that relates to their practice (whether by specialty or setting), but that captures their interest and attention. In fact, researchers found that continuing education is more effective when it involves the learner initiating and engaging with the education. Passive listening to lectures or the online equivalent is not as effective as education that is interactive or compelling.

The online learning communities have learned a lot since 2006, and nurses will continue to benefit from the evolution of online continuing education that helps them maintain their licenses and a high level of professional practice. If you're looking for a great way to continue your learning with relatable, learner-focused, on-demand, and affordable education, visit IntelyEdu, IntelyCare's premier educational platform.     With IntelyCare, you don't have to choose between a work-life balance and great pay and benefits - you can have it all. Want to see for yourself? Join the movement and become an IntelyPro! Check out more content from IntelyCare here.