Friday, August 12, 2011

The Critical Need for Continuing Education in Nursing

In writing my book and preparing educational courses for nurses, I have devoted much study to critical thinking and its application to nursing. While critical thinking is a very large subject with many parts, one component stands out in our world of evolving technology, mass communication and frequent research updates; accurate information.

In our initial training, we were exposed to the most up-to-date information available. This was the frequently cited reason for always having to purchase the newest edition of text books. We dutifully studied and were tested on information that would allow us to practice state of the art nursing. Later, we were tested on this same information to earn our license. After all of this training and testing, we were set free to be nurses. Having graduated from my nurses training in 1973, there was no continuing education requirement for my state at that time.

Back in 1964, musician Bob Dylan released his third album, The Times They Are a-Changin'. We should pay heed to this title in nursing. Though healthcare and nursing have always been changing, the rate of change is increasing at an ever increasing pace. It is hard to read a newspaper, magazine or listen to the TV without hearing about some study that has been published on any of a number of health related topics. You see, what we worked so diligently to learn in our initial training, may not be true anymore. Our instructors didn't lie to us. They provided us with the best information available at the time. Then the times changed!

For a nurse who was trained before the early 1990s, the cause of gastric ulcers was "known" to be excess stomach acid produced from too much stress or spicy food. After all, no bacteria could grow in the highly acidic environment of the stomach and duodenum! The treatment for these patients was centered on antacids, the Sippy diet (frequent portions of milk and cream followed by the addition of cereal, crackers and pureed vegetables) and stress reduction. The work of two Nobel Prize winning Australian physicians (Dr. Barry Marshall and Dr. Robin Warren) in the mid-1980s laid the foundation for medicine to learn that our treatment of gastric ulcers was totally off base. The research of these two investigators showed that a bacterium (Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori) was responsible for gastric ulcers. Our treatment regimen, while very impressive and time consuming, was totally worthless.

You see; the world of information around us had changed. How were we to learn of this important change? If you didn't work in a gastroenterologist office, it might have been many years until you stumbled upon this gigantic change. This is why we have a need for continuing education. Healthcare is always in a state of change. It is up to us to be constantly searching for and learning new information. Even the items that we initially learned should be periodically examined to confirm their continued accuracy and relevance to our nursing practice.

Many states have instituted a mandatory continuing education requirement for licensure renewal. A recent Internet search revealed 18 states that don't have even a minimal requirement for continuing education. If not for the renewal of a license, we should all commit ourselves to a continuing education program for the sake of keeping our professional standing at its highest level. The public expects it. Our patients deserve it. We should demand it of ourselves. I know; educational courses incur cost and take time, but that is part of being a professional.

The results of the 2011 Gallup Poll on honesty and ethics of professionals were recently released. For the twelfth year (out of thirteen), nurses have achieved the highest rating. This shows that the public embraces the professionalism of nurses above pharmacists, physicians, police officers and even clergy. We hold an esteemed position in the eyes of the public. For nurses to continue this path, we must continue to learn every single day. It is essential for the critical thinking process and for our profession.

1 comment:

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