Continuing nursing education (CNE) is both a blessing and a curse for the working nurse. You recognize that keeping fresh and up to date on new procedures, equipment, and protocols will improve the care you give patients. Yet carving out time to take classes (even virtual ones) is challenging.
That’s why nurses are coming together in their nursing associations to ensure that their CNE is exactly what they need to maintain certifications, stay current on health care issues, and keep their peer-reviewed classes efficient and effective.
No organization is more aware of continuing education’s critical role than the Society of Pediatric Nurses (SPN), the premier pediatric nursing society representing over 3,300 pediatric nurses dispersed over 28 specializations.
“The practice of pediatric nursing is constantly evolving, and pediatric nurses need current, relevant information to be effective in their jobs, especially in an ever-changing health care environment,” says Kim Eskew, MBA, CAE, executive director of SPN.
Rather than guessing what pediatric nurses wanted or needed from an education program, SPN – with the assistance of its association management partner, SmithBucklin – conducted an education needs survey of its membership. The purpose was to identify the desired educational topics and delivery modes.
“Overwhelmingly, our members responded that they wanted specific clinical content in a variety of areas such as behavioral and mental health as well as the care of children with chronic conditions,” Eskew says.
The results fueled SPN’s plan for creating and implementing new education opportunities for pediatric nurses to earn CNE contact hours. SPN developed an online education center, which provides easy access to online classes and helps members track their progress. SPN also offers six free webinars annually for members, and is publishing specialty books on mental and behavioral health. Overall, SPN increased its accredited contact hour offerings from 19.75 contact hours in 2014 to an anticipated 83 contact hours in 2017.
SPN’s new education programs led to improved clinical performance. Last year, 62% of SPN education participants reported actual changes in on-the-job practices due to the education provided. SPN also created pre-licensure and residency competencies that outline the professional guidelines and standards expected in programs for pediatric nurses. These professional competencies help ensure that pediatrics remains in the forefront of the general nursing curriculum, and they guide development of hospital-based residency programs.
“The survey helped us to better understand our nurses’ educational needs,” Eskew says. “The findings have been incorporated into our organization’s three-year strategic plan, which calls for the implementation of evidence-based education that will help our members provide high-quality care to their patients.”
Another nursing organization, the Association for Nursing Professional Development (ANPD), has been tailoring education offerings to the wishes of its members since 2013. ANPD is a 4,000-member organization that advances the specialty practice of nursing professional development for the enhancement of health care outcomes. One of the primary goals of its enhanced education program was to increase the relevance to nurse professional development leaders, such as charge nurses.
“Rather than relying on speculation or hearsay, ANPD asked its members: Does the education program meet your needs?” says Kaye Englebrecht, executive director of ANPD.
Additionally, ANPD framed its education by consulting with an accrediting body, which takes into account the standards of excellence governing a profession’s continuing education programs. This is especially important for nurses because accredited continuing education is required in order to maintain their certifications, licenses, or other job requirements.
After assessing its members’ educational needs, ANPD worked with its association management partner, SmithBucklin, to enhance its education programs by implementing new technologies, such as online programs and on-demand webinars. From 2014 to 2016, ANPD quadrupled its offerings for members to earn CNE contact hours. The association created online programs, offered 10 free webinars annually for members, and developed the Nursing Professional Development Quick Guide Series (a go-to guide for executing educational activities).
ANPD also developed the Frontline Nurse Leader curriculum, an online program that provides the bedside registered nurse with leadership knowledge to function effectively in a charge nurse position.
“We wanted to offer our members education that they couldn’t find elsewhere,” Englebrecht says. “Our board of directors was awesome. They were open to every new idea we presented them.”
As a result, conference attendance increased by 12% from 2012 to 2017, and membership increased more than 30%.
Additionally, a quality CNE program has impact beyond a professional’s credentials. From a public health perspective, an educated health care workforce improves patient care in hospitals, clinics, and medical offices.
“Better education means better patient outcomes and a higher quality of care,” Eskew says. “For hospitals or health systems that seek accreditation based on clinical benchmarks, highly educated nurses are an asset, and a better-educated nursing staff means a healthier community.”
Because they are peer-led, nursing associations are better able to adapt and respond to issues affecting their profession. They can provide webinars and on-site education programs that are timely and relevant. These programs often lead to changes in best practice guidelines and sometimes industry standards.
“Unlike other purveyors of education, nursing associations are wholly focused on helping their members succeed,” says David Schmahl, executive vice president and chief executive of the Healthcare + Scientific Industry Practice at SmithBucklin. “Each nursing association maintains its own body of knowledge that defines core domains and competencies required for the profession, and it ensures its members’ professional development is moving forward.”
“What’s really great about fulfilling your members’ education needs is seeing them grow and develop in their careers and knowing that you played a significant role in helping them achieve their goals,” Englebrecht says.