Q&A: The Need for Lifelong Learning in Nursing

By Matt Phillion

Healthcare changes every day, from advances in technology to shifts in culture and regulatory requirements.

Nurses, and truly all healthcare professionals, should view their education as a lifelong journey and explore advanced training resources to keep their skills sharp and fresh. It’s also contingent on organizations to help their nurses discover and access training in areas like emerging technologies and digital literacy, while nurses can also benefit from additional, ongoing education to refine their soft skills like communication and empathy—especially as telehealth continues to be a growing part of the healthcare landscape and remote communication is key.

We spoke with Jennifer Bertram, Leader of Education and Training Innovation, Hospital Patient Monitoring, at Philips about the challenges and opportunities nursing faces in ensuring nurses have access to education to keep up to date on emerging technologies and other core competencies.

PSQH: To set the stage: where are we right now in terms of ongoing, lifelong education for nurses?

Jennifer Bertram: To summarize it in one word: challenged. Nurses and their leaders are facing pressures from cost-cutting, staffing challenges, and the rapid pace of technology advancements. While the introduction of new technology is often meant to make life easier for nurses, adopting these solutions requires time for onboarding and can create change to nurses’ daily routines. Nurses may not have the experience, time, or unit workflows in place to allow them to easily navigate these changes. It’s not all bad news, though: this challenge also creates an opportunity to rethink our approach to continued nursing education and ongoing trainings by providing new solutions that best meet the needs of nurses in today’s changing landscape.

PSQH: As burnout and staffing shortages abound, what can we do to provide opportunities for nurses to learn on an ongoing basis when their schedules are already so heavily loaded?

JB: One way that we can meet nurses where they are today is to integrate learning into their workflow and improve access to these educational tools. I am encouraged to see more and more hospitals provide mobile devices to their staff, as this opens the door to more creative educational approaches, such as subscriptions to mobile learning sites. We are also seeing an increase in the usage of QR codes to access online education.

PSQH: What types of education and training are nurses asking/looking for? Is there a particular need (or needs) we’ve been overlooking as an industry that nurses are pushing for more help with?

JB: This may be surprising, but what I get most requests for are foundational clinical skills. Nurses are sometimes unable to use healthcare technology tools to their full ability because they don’t understand the clinical concepts and theory behind how the solution was developed.

For example, we are working with a large hospital network to design educational experiences to help nurses understand how a waveform informs them about what is happening inside the body. This ongoing, informal education is what today’s nurses need to help them retain and remember what they already know. We are seeing new nurses right out of school immediately begin working in higher acuity settings with less patient care and clinical technology experience.

As a result, organizations are looking for help from healthcare technology providers to make sure novice and seasoned nurses alike have the foundation they need to succeed.

PSQH: Are we doing enough to enable nurses to keep up with the rapid pace of technological evolution? What can we do better?

JB: Personalize, personalize, personalize. One of the best ways we can support nurses is by ensuring that education is focused only on the skills they need to learn based on their daily routine and patient population. Nurses need practical, focused education programs that enable them to use clinical technology that fits within their workflow and meets their patient safety guidelines. They do not need programs that will not enhance their skill set or are not relevant to their current care setting.

Refining Soft Skills

PSQH: Where are we struggling right now in these areas? How can we help nurses develop these skills, and where can they build them up?  

JB: All of the technology in the world won’t necessarily make for better, safer patient care unless the nurses using it have the critical thinking skills they need to properly apply it towards delivering patient care.

Think of it like using a navigation app on a phone: Many people have had the experience where the navigation system is telling them to go one way, but they can see that path won’t work for whatever reason. Do you ignore what your mind is telling you or blindly follow the navigation app’s bad advice? We see the same thing happening with nursing technology. Nurses need to be well-equipped with the critical thinking skills necessary to use the technology the way it is intended to be used.

One of the best ways to put this into practice is to spread the education out over time to take advantage of spaced repetition and using realistic scenarios. This can look like a nurse receiving a text with a 30-second video showing monitoring data and a patient bed. They can respond via text about what to do next and why—and see the real-life consequences of their decisions. If nurses receive this type of training text once a week for several months, they would have learned and practiced several key skills in less than five minutes a week, helping them improve and retain critical judgement over time.

PSQH: How does telehealth play into all of this? Is it an opportunity for different training techniques?

JB: I don’t know if telehealth requires different training techniques, but it does require a new skillset for nurses. For example, we are currently developing nursing education tools focused on telehealth solutions. We must train nurses so they know how to use the solution, but we must also be able to educate the patient on how to use it remotely, creating more responsibilities in their role. As a healthcare technology provider, we want to make sure that nurses have the tools they need to effectively communicate with patients and manage their care across a variety of settings.

PSQH: What does the future look like for ongoing nursing education and training? How do you envision the concept of lifelong learning growing and expanding in the future?

JB: I think the educational future for nurses is a journey, not a destination. When I envision where Philips will take our Clinical Learning Journeys programs and how we can support care providers in getting the most out of clinical technology, I get excited about how we can use AI and other emerging technologies to ensure that our education programs remain relevant, flexible, and personalized for each nurse. I think lifelong learning programs will continue to be driven by nurses’ individual needs and interests, with the focus being not just on access to trainings, but personalization to ensure deep understanding.

Matt Phillion is a freelance writer covering healthcare, cybersecurity, and more. He can be reached at matthew.phillion@gmail.com.