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Learning builds trust

Nurses’ continuing professional development helps build careers and gives the public peace of mind. 

Nursing is often rated as one of the most trusted professions in Australia, topped only by other emergency services. While this is a warming statistic, we need to look at what this trust rests upon. I would argue, aside from our presence in times of need, a firm foundation of the public’s trust in us is our capacity to explain and translate health and medical knowledge and information, which we ensure is current through ongoing education.

In 2010, the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA) introduced requirements for nurses and midwives to accrue 20 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) in each year of practice. This mandatory education not only provides the chance to specialise and expand our own nursing practice, but provides the public with peace of mind, as they are assured that each nurse or midwife who cares for them is up to date with current practice. The NMBA encourages nurses and midwives to identify and prioritise their learning needs, develop a plan, participate in relevant CPD and reflect upon their new skills and the impact on their work.

Whether it’s a conference, workshop, or formal award courses such as graduate certificates or a master’s, CPD is as broad or as specialised as you wish to make it. Postgraduate education for nurses and midwives can take on various forms, but does need to adhere to your context of practice if it is to count toward CPD. Aside from natural career progression, nurses and midwives may also choose to pursue research into niche nursing fields or engage in a clinical specialty, such as breast care nursing or paediatric nursing.

Providing for more than just the upkeep of your registration, further education offers you career development, advancement in clinical and management areas, an increase in confidence in the currency of your skills, and the ability to become a nurse educator, a clinical nurse specialist or nurse practitioner, to name a few. For some, it is the opportunity to develop and change practice and influence local health policy. Most importantly, further education ensures you remain a valuable member of the healthcare team.

Whilst your employer may direct you toward CPD that their organisation requires you to complete, it is ultimately an individual’s responsibility to maintain their professional development. Often this responsibility can be a financial burden so it is important to look for opportunities for self-education tax rebates and scholarships. Nursing scholarships are available through various avenues, including local, state and commonwealth bodies, as well as through the private sector.

Deciding on what and where to study relies heavily on your current area of practice, your professional aims for future growth and development, your interests, as well as the delivery method of study that is most convenient for you. Advances in educational provision and supports have allowed for greater flexibility in study. In a postgraduate context, choose education delivery that will complement your work and life, whether it is face-to-face, distance education, online or through residential schools. Developments in technology have affected program design, benefitting both students and educators. Courses should be designed to meet contemporary industry needs and provide the knowledge, skills and attitudes directly suited to your specialist areas of healthcare. Coursework programs should be academically challenging and professionally relevant in an environment that encourages independent learning as well as a collaborative team approach.

Continued growth in knowledge is one of the hallmarks of a profession and as nurses and midwives, we are individually responsible for improving and broadening our knowledge, expanding our expertise and competence, and developing the personal and professional qualities required to excel in our roles. Most nurses would argue that further education has increased their professional behaviours in all areas and has been instrumental in developing their clinical confidence. Confidence in our roles and work ultimately means better patient outcomes. Finally, our own professional development means we have an opportunity to contribute back into our profession.

Adjunct professor Debra Thoms is chief executive of the Australian College of Nursing

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