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

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, August 12, 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

Musings on the future of Nursing Professional Development

Last month I had the privilege of attending the National Nursing Staff Development Organization's (NNSDO) annual convention. It is always an exciting experience with abundant opportunities for networking and attending interesting educational sessions.

In my dual role of convention attendee and exhibitor with HCPro—a provider of information solutions, education, training, and consulting in the field of healthcare management, compliance, and regulation—I had the chance to talk with many colleagues about the joys and challenges of being a Nursing Professional Development (NPD) specialist. During many of these conversations I noted repetitive themes. I have been attending NNSDO conventions since the organization's inception and was one of its charter members, and every year I hear the same or similar concerns:

  1. Pressure to improve orientation while decreasing its length
  2. Pressure to deal with requests to solve problems with education that are actually system or process issues
  3. Pressure to enhance education attendance, even when the education is offered on demand via distance learning.

After all these years, why are we still dealing with the same old problems?

I know there are no easy solutions to these dilemmas, nor do I pretend to have magic answers. However, I do sincerely believe that to reduce the severity of these seemingly never-ending dilemmas depends, in part, on the need to:
Improve our data collection strategies to support evidence-based NPD practice
Increase our efforts to add to the unique body of knowledge that is professional development

Many of our colleagues from other disciplines (and even some of our nursing colleagues) have no idea what it is we actually do. Our specialty is often not even acknowledged. Recently when renewing a subscription to a professional nursing journal I was asked to identify my specialty from a lengthy list of possibilities. Professional development or staff development was not even an option. Why? What should we be doing to solidify our positions and enhance the recognition of our specialty?

Let's go back to the issue of data collection. Many of our colleagues are still evaluating their NPD practice based almost entirely on reactive data. When asked what are the results or impact of their education offerings on nursing practice or organizational outcomes, many of our colleagues note that they "don't have time" to gather the data that allows us to provide evidence of education impact. But without this data we cannot show that what we do makes any difference in quantifiable terms. I propose that we must make time if we expect to survive as a specialty and to keep our jobs!

If we don't take the time to demonstrate impact, who will? How many of our colleagues in other disciplines, or even in nursing, could explain what it is that NPD specialists accomplish? Perhaps one of the reasons orientation is a never-ending problem is that we do not have the data to justify our orientation programs as they exist or as we would like them to exist. Perhaps one of the reasons we are continually asked to fix problems with education even though education is not the answer is that we don't have data to demonstrate that certain issues are system problems, not a lack of knowledge. Perhaps one of the reasons we continue to struggle with attendance is that we do not have the evidence to show how essential education really is.

I know that there are many factors that influence each of these common dilemmas. However, I propose that if we fail to provide the evidence of what it is we do and why it is critical to patient outcomes and organizational effectiveness we fail ourselves and our specialty.

I invite you to share with me your thoughts and comments about my musings this week. I believe that we must press forward as a specialty without delay and part of that forward motion is gathering data to provide evidence of the impact of nursing professional development.

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