Nurses in the digital age are flooded by a deluge of new information in healthcare. As Flora Haus, RN-BC, MSN, NEA-BC, education program coordinator, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, said: One of the biggest challenges today is the fact that there is so much new information coming out at such a rapid rate. At the same time, we have an obligation to stay current if we hope to provide the best possible patient care. This means we have to choose carefully where we will gain new knowledge.
Haus believes a sense of curiosity is one of the most powerful instincts she can cultivate in nurses to help them overcome obstacles to staying current in their field. Haus experienced that prevailing pull of curiosity as a new nurse in the 1970s, when a physician asked her to administer blood thinner to two patients who were bleeding as a result of Goodpasture Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder in which antibodies attack the lungs and kidneys.
She was so puzzled by the treatment recommendation that she researched the condition in medical books until she found why administration of the blood thinner was the appropriate treatment. It taught me more about the cascade of clotting that the hematology system manifests, she said.
I believe we should not accept the status quo, and my goal is to encourage other nurses to cultivate the curiosity to figure out the answers to their questions and then act on this new knowledge to change things, Haus added. To me, that is nursing.
Learning how to learn
One of the best, and often-underused, strategies for sifting through new information is a visit to the medical librarian in a hospital.
Medical librarians are not what they used to be, Haus said. They have the ability to listen to nurses and direct them to multiple resources that are online rather than simply looking up the answer in a book. They have even pointed me to [resources geared for]non-healthcare industries that have comparable knowledge in areas such as conflict management.
Cedars-Sinai, a nonprofit community hospital, also encourages staff nurses to pursue their own research projects. The facilitys nurse researchers work with staff to help them formulate questions for investigation, collect and measure data and then produce an abstract. Last year, more than 100 nurses presented research that was showcased at the hospitals annual Research Day.
I tell nurses that if something is bugging them at the end of the shift, lets talk about it because it might be fodder for a research project, Haus said.
Another way hospitals can make staying up to date easier for nurses is by asking RNs how they like to learn, said Sara Levin, RN-BC, MSN, NE-BC, manager of nursing professional development and research at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Ill. Every year, nurses at NorthShore complete a learning needs assessment, and Levin uses the data to tailor education offerings.
Our nurses prefer a blended learning approach that combines a variety of learning methods, such as online modules followed by simulation of healthcare scenarios, Levin said. One of their favorite modalities is high-fidelity simulation. They prefer a simulated environment because this offers a realistic, safe place to learn and make mistakes, and they can learn alongside colleagues from other disciplines.
Journal clubs, on the other hand, have not been highly rated by nurses at Northshore, Levin said. She suspects the issue is the difficulty of taking time outside of work to meet, and that technical articles do not make for light reading. One journal club that has been successful is a multidisciplinary ED group that meets off-site in a non-clinical setting. The informal atmosphere and collegiality seem to help the club thrive, Levin said.
Leadership is crucial
Nursing leaders also influence their staffs experience of learning, according to Lisa Wichmann, RN, BSN, MS, ACM, NC-BC, nursing director of ambulatory care coordination, Brigham and Womens Hospital, Boston. Her RNs who coordinate high-risk care attend weekly meetings, and Wichmann tries to include educational sessions led by engaging guest speakers at the first meeting each month.
We are teaching our high-risk ambulatory care coordinators how to coordinate care for patients with complex medical and social issues, coupled with behavioral health and addiction issues, Wichmann said. When working with patients who have chronic illnesses, the nurses need to understand a patients health insurance benefits, the application process for Social Security and disability requirements. In ambulatory care coordination, we have to stay as current as possible because healthcare reform is here and our costs and outcomes are measured.
Brigham and Womens Hospital also encourages nurses to stay up-to-date by offering them two conference days a year. In addition to receiving full pay on those days, each nurse has $700 per year to cover the cost of travel, food and conference fees, Wichmann said.
Although it may seem difficult to pull away from the daily demands of work and home to attend a conference, taking time to learn outside the hospital walls is invaluable, said Catherine Galla, RN, MSN, CENP, vice president, nursing initiatives, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System. Every nurse comes to that point where he or she is faced with a challenge at work, and at conferences you can meet people who are facing similar issues and have already tried things that worked.
She encourages nurses to consider attending conferences related to their specialty. Those who have a new career path they are interested in pursuing should try to attend a conference focused on the new direction. Galla also emphasizes that although carving out time to read is difficult, it is critical to make a habit of reading journals, newsfeeds or other information related to nursing and healthcare.
Its important to try to stay current, and now in healthcare we really need to understand what is going on in the Affordable Care Act, Galla said. As nurses we need to own the fact that we are professionals, and we have a responsibility to spend time staying informed.