How Does Continuing Education Impact a Nurses’ Knowledge and Attitude?

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC

When we nurses think about continuing education, we may be more apt to think about meeting licensure requirements than actually needing to learn something. Nursing CEUs can often feel like a weight we carry on our shoulders, but can’t they be more than just a professional obligation to get out of the way?

Knowledge is Power

Clinical nursing may be largely task-based, but tasks performed by a nurse are backed up by evidence-based knowledge that informs almost everything we do. We don’t just take a fasting blood sugar because it seems like the right thing – we do it because we know that a fasting blood sugar has a specific meaning and we can use our knowledge base to interpret a patient’s blood sugar data.

Taking the notion of diabetes further, a valuable continuing education course on the latest evidence base regarding blood sugar management and patients’ cultural backgrounds may have a measurable effect on how we approach diabetic teaching. Continuing education is one of the ways in which we stay up to date, accumulate knowledge, refine our nursing practice, and improve patient care.

When we graduate from nursing school, we have a basic foundation of relative expertise that puts us in the novice phase of our career as nurses. We can learn a great deal on the job, of course, and our colleagues are important sources of learning and support. But our education can come from multiple sources, and earning CEUs can transform our practice and keep us on our toes.

Be Flexible Your Attitude About Learning

We’ve likely all met nurses who seem like they’re stuck in the past. When asked why they do something a certain way, they might say, “Well, that’s the way it’s always been done. Why should I change?” If this sounds familiar, it’s because so many seem to have such a narrow point of reference.

Your attitudes about learning may reflect directly on your attitudes about nursing practice. Continuing education can directly challenge your outlook and attitude about certain aspects of your work as a nurse. This is a very good thing, and we must continue to remind ourselves that accumulating knowledge and having the habit of questioning our assumptions can have an outsized influence on how we see the world.

For example, let’s say you’re a nurse with a specific viewpoint about patients who identify as transgender. You have personal judgments about these individuals, and you have little true understanding of what transgender health really entails.

You decide to take a course on transgender health because you have two patients who seem like utter aliens to you, and you’d actually like to be more knowledgeable about their health challenges in order to serve them better.

During the CEU course, you learn about the ways in which transgender individuals are discriminated against in healthcare. You also realize that some of the questions you’ve been asking in your assessment are inappropriate. Meanwhile, you also learn that, even if a patient presents as male, that individual may still need gynecological care. You take the opportunity to bring what you’ve learned to the attention of your medical director, and as a result, the standards are changed throughout the practice.

Knowledge can directly alter attitude, and attitude can also impact how you seek out and accumulate knowledge.

An Attitudinal Shift

Continuing education can seem like a burden, but it can also be embraced as an opportunity. Sometimes all we need is a little information in order to embark on a big shift in our attitude or our nursing practice.

Whether it’s the example of learning about the specific needs of transgender patients or absorbing new ideas about diabetic management, there’s always opportunity to add to our knowledge base, change our attitude, or alter our thinking about something we thought we already knew.

Feeding our minds with new learning is an avenue towards enlightened nursing practice. Isn’t it exciting and worth the effort to take our nursing skills and professionalism to the next level?

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