Today’s nurses usually need more than the basic nursing license to achieve success and satisfaction in their chosen profession. Good nursing comes with an expectation of lifelong learning for the sake of excellent patient care and safety, as well as for personal achievement.
Nursing is about evidence-based practice and the delivery of quality care to patients. Healthcare is constantly evolving, and this means that nurses are continuously learning new practices: ongoing discoveries in the pharmaceutical area, new evidence-based practices that change the methods of treatment, and rapid advances in technology that necessitate improved operational and analytical skills. Higher education, research facilities, and medical institutes now recognize the need for ongoing training. Baylor University is one such higher education institution, offering the Baylor online DNP for nurse practitioners who want to introduce excellence and integrity to patient care.
Generally, nurses who engage in an ongoing learning process are self-motivated and have a natural thirst for knowledge. They understand the value of learning and that this, in turn, leads to improved patient care and safety. Research indicates a shift towards lifelong learning, with the learner’s self-direction and independence being a strong driving force.
When a graduate nurse registers for a license in nursing, there is usually an additional examination set by the board in that particular state. In addition, each time they renew their practice licenses, nurses are required to take another examination. This ruling serves to reinforce current practices and introduce new or recently updated practices, promoting self-confidence in the nurse and a desire to study further.
A study by Lisa Davis et al., “Lifelong learning in nursing: Delphi study,” defines lifelong learning in nursing as “a dynamic process which encompasses both personal and professional life.”
The aim of the above study was to conceptualize learning from a nursing perspective and identify characteristics of lifelong study. Data gathered from a team of experts in various aspects of nursing indicated that the essential characteristics of a lifelong learner are as follows:
- An enjoyment of learning
- A reflective and questioning nature
- An understanding of the dynamic nature of knowledge
- An active role in seeking learning opportunities
In nursing, the process of learning is both formal and informal. Formal learning includes study through registered institutions that facilitate the graduation of bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Informal study entails the practical experience gained while working in a medical facility. Nursing practice in any environment imparts knowledge that is not always learned in institutions. When caring for patients, nurses come to realize that even different personalities can affect the way patients respond to treatment or how they react to a diagnosis. No two cases are the same, meaning that nurses are continually gaining practical experience.
To gain a deeper understanding of lifelong learning, Qalehsari et al. selected 22 articles from various publications and analyzed the data contained therein. In spite of the lack of a clear definition, their publication, entitled: “Lifelong learning strategies in nursing: A systematic review” categorizes and explains the results of their research under the following headings:
Intellectual and practical independence
The consensus was that students prefer a practical environment in which to learn.
Critical thinking and intellectual skills are developed with practical, problem-solving work, as it encourages independent search for solutions.
A uniform approach to teaching discourages self-directed learning and inhibits critical thinking. Teaching should therefore be flexible and encompass different learning methods.
Reflective skills and creativity transform knowledge into practical methods and should be encouraged in the training process.
In addition, collaborative or group training enhances interpersonal and communication skills, which are further improved through interaction with patients.
Collaborative learning results from group learning, interacting with teachers, and learning from colleagues. It results in empathy and a sense of belonging. The student’s mind is opened to the opinions and knowledge of others, which fosters a culture of sharing and thinking.
Lifelong learners are curious beings, constantly seeking additional knowledge and skills through observational learning. Involvement in research-based learning and questioning enhances brain activity and intellect. An appreciation of new ideas and a willingness to learn new skills encourage the ability to think as a researcher would. Their powers of observation and communication skills also contribute to the reinforcement of explorative skills.
Persistence in learning
Teaching aimed at increasing learning skills ultimately improves self-confidence in learners. Teaching communicative, technical, and clinical skills using various teaching skills in a practical environment encourages students to learn.
Teaching and learning should be based on the student’s needs and, ultimately, on the patient’s requirements. Ease of education and enjoyment of learning increase interest and determination in lifelong learning. Identification of students’ needs brings about a commitment to learning, and the achievement of goals is further motivation for ongoing learning. It makes sense, therefore, to guide students in the development of a personal study program with realistic, achievable goals.
The learner should possess learning management skills in self-assessment, goal and strategy selection, and time management. Learning management is the process of using self-assessment to identify one’s own learning deficits and seeking the appropriate assistance to achieve learning goals. Learning strategies should be realistic and measurable.
A suitable learning environment
As with anything in life, a good environment is conducive to productivity and feelings of well-being. A comfortable study environment is of particular importance, minimizing the stress of study and enabling constructive learning. Fatigue and time pressure are counterproductive, and other external factors, such as stressful relationships and physical discomfort or illness, can inhibit lifelong learning.
Intelligence, spirituality, sustainable growth, and improvements both in personality and self-confidence are factors of inclusive growth in the individual and are useful traits where gaining the confidence of teachers and patients is requisite to success. Lifelong learning and increased knowledge promote these qualities in the individual.
Code of ethics
Ongoing learning is important enough to get a mention in the nursing code of ethics which states that “nurse managers and executives must ensure that nurses have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to perform professional responsibilities that require preparation beyond the basic education programs.”
Further reference is made to the continuation of personal and professional growth, encouraging nurses to read widely, engage in personal study, and continue with life-long learning.
By adopting an ethos of lifelong learning, the nurse can be assured of keeping up with the latest in evidence-based practices, thus minimizing legal risks. There is a greater likelihood of promotion and an increased salary in a position that is both interesting and challenging.
There is much scope for nurses to learn and improve their skills. With ambition, hard work, and extra study, a nurse can move into a specialty such as family nursing, gerontology, or acute care. Nurse practitioners can open their own practices or work in any environment they choose, including research. Some nurses go on to study for a doctorate in hospital administration or move into nurse analytics with a computer science degree. The options are endless, and finding work in the current, skill-impoverished environment is almost guaranteed.