From the desk of Adrianne E. Avillion, DEd, RN

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, July 22, 2011

Editor's note: This feature is written by nursing professional development expert Adrianne E. Avillion, DEd, RN. Each week, Adrianne writes about an important issue in the area of professional development or answers reader questions. If you have a question for Adrianne, e-mail her at

Stimulating critical thinking in proficient nursing professional development specialists

Critical thinking is a skill that must be nurtured at all levels of practice. Even highly experienced nursing professional development (NPD) specialists need to work on their critical-thinking skills. For example, proficients in professional development have at least five years of experience in the specialty, are master's prepared practitioners, and automatically fulfill their responsibilities in a professional development evidence-based practice (EBP) manner (Avillion, 2011; Benner, 1984). So what kinds of exercises are appropriate to stimulate advanced critical thinking-skills in proficients?

Proficients are looking for leadership opportunities and to expand their knowledge of research, publishing, and budgeting. Here is an example of a critical thinking exercise for proficients.

Objective: Prioritize budget resources based on organizational needs.

Scenario: Nicole has worked as an NPD specialist for six years. She is interested in the financial aspects of professional development and asks her manager whether she can be more involved in the budgeting process. Today, the manager receives news that the professional development budget must be trimmed by $50,000, which is a significant portion of the budget. The department had planned to purchase additional simulation equipment to facilitate education for clinicians working with stroke patients, from admission through rehabilitation, since the organization plans to pursue the status of an accredited stroke center. Nicole is asked for her recommendations regarding budget cuts, which may include reducing the amount and type of resources purchased and/or reducing staff hours. How should Nicole proceed?

In this case, proficients should respond to this scenario by assessing organizational and departmental priorities and gathering evidence for how these priorities may be met. For example, is there evidence to support that purchasing new simulation equipment will improve education outcomes? Can she reduce the amount of equipment needed? Can she substitute less expensive, but equally effective, means of education? Can she collaborate with other facilities to purchase and/or share resources? How would a reduction in staff hours affect departmental effectiveness? How can she reduce the costs of already established educational efforts?

These are just a few of the questions proficients should address. Exercises such as these help proficients to think critically and nurture their own professional growth and development.

Avillion, A. E. (2011). Professional Growth in Staff Development: Strategies for New and Experienced Educators. Danvers, MA: HCPro.
Benner, P. (1984). From Novice to Expert: Excellence and Power in Clinical Nursing Practice. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

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