Broadening the Nurse’s Mind - Nursing CE

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC - 12/14/17

When we nurses attend nursing school, our brains are stuffed with ideas, concepts, theories, and task-based learning. We go to clinical and care for patients, study science and pathophysiology, and absorb as much pharmacology as we can. It’s a marathon of educational osmosis.  

Heads bursting with learning, we hit the nursing school finish line, pass the NCLEX, and launch headfirst into our first professional position.

The first years of our experience as novice nurses focus on increasing our efficiency and knowledge, and sharpening the all-important task-based skills that will lead to expertise. This is as it should be, and we can celebrate that we’ve finally become what we sought to be: experienced nurses who can handle whatever comes our way. And once we feel this sense of accomplishment, many of us will find ourselves asking the question, “So, now what?”

No Laurels for Us

When those first crucial years are under your belt and you find yourself getting comfortable, you could certainly choose to rest on your laurels. Granted, some nurses may do this, but many of us prefer to continue to grow and stretch as nursing professionals.

When we proactively seek out new learning, we’re choosing to not rest on our laurels; rather, we’re saying that we’re ready for more and we’re willing to do the work to get there.

There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable in your nursing specialty. If you worked hard to get where you are, it’s fine to settle in, perfect your skills, and become an absolute expert in your area of focus. Having said that, what we generally find in nursing is that our sense of comfort and safety will consistently be challenged by change – and change drives us towards more learning, as does curiosity.

Change is an Engine

It’s been said that change is the only constant in the universe. This also couldn’t be more true for healthcare.

If we consider what nursing looked like in the time of Florence Nightingale, we see that things have evolved since she created the initial building blocks of nursing science. And if we consider how nurses were mere handmaidens to doctors even half a century ago, we also note how far we've come in terms of autonomy and personal agency.

In the 21st century, technology is in the driver’s seat of many industries, and healthcare is no exception. Nurses have embraced the advent of electronic documentation (with some kicking and screaming along the way), and nursing informatics has emerged as a popular nursing specialty. With the growing power of artificial intelligence and robotics, nurses can expect to increasingly interact with new and exciting technologies.

While rapid technological change in healthcare will no doubt continue, we’ll also continue to see advances and breakthroughs in the treatment of  many diseases, as well as new ways of understanding the very nature of disease. These are exciting times, and savvy nurses want to stay up to date.

Curiosity is the Nurse’s Friend

A curious mind compels a nurse to find answers to new questions, as well as to seek innovative approaches to old problems. A curious and supple mind is a counterbalance to boredom, intellectual laziness, and doing things the same old way “because that’s just how it’s done”.

When we’re intellectually curious, we don’t just take the old practices for granted – we want to know why things are done a certain way, and we’re open to new approaches. We don’t shy away from the new.

It’s our curious minds that can lead us to ask the right questions, think outside the box, or not even accept that the box is there in the first place. Curiosity is like putting on your thinking cap and taking off your blinders at the same time.

The Nurse Polymath

A polymath is a person who has wide-ranging interests and knows a fair amount about many different subjects. Nurse polymaths don’t just check their curiosity at the door of the workplace. Rather, they allow their minds to wander far and wide, and it’s their innate curiosity that drives them.

For a nurse with polymath tendencies, anything can wind up in the intellectual crosshairs. For instance, the nurse may find they want to know more about the grieving process, so they read books and listen to podcasts that deepen their knowledge. This improves their ability to work with dying patients and their families, as well as empowers their in relation to their own family and life.

Another nurse may study writing for his own personal growth. As this nurse gets to know and understand himself more deeply, that learning can only benefit his nursing practice.  

Polymathism could lead a nurse to learn calligraphy or pottery, or perhaps brew homemade beer in her basement. Every piece of knowledge or experience contributes to our own well-rounded nature, and a well-rounded life leads to deeper compassion and greater understanding of the human condition.

For nurses who work directly with patients, having a wide range of interests and knowledge can grease the wheels of conversation and connection, and increase the likelihood of a nurse and a patient finding common ground.  

The Nurse’s Broad Mind

A broad mind is an open mind, and an open mind creates desire for more learning and novel experience.

Whether it’s a continuing education course on congestive heart failure or a memoir writing class, any activity or knowledge that broadens the nurse’s mind is food for personal and professional growth. You can find a variety of continuing education opportunities at

Highly educated, intellectually curious nurses who are creative thinkers and innovative problem-solvers can only be a benefit to their colleagues, healthcare institutions, communities, patients and their families, and the entire healthcare industry.