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New research offers insight into professional development

Advancing their knowledge and skills is important to nurses, despite challenges

Apr 04, 2018

National research into professional development (PD) in nursing, conducted in December and January by Pollara Strategic Insights (on behalf of CNA), shows that nurses are more than eager to advance their knowledge and skills, despite barriers to access that can make doing so more difficult. The results came from an online survey of 1,387 respondents, primarily RNs, and in-depth interviews with 15 nurse leaders who have hiring authority and budgetary discretion for PD.

PD activities nurses value

According to Pollara vice-president Lesli Martin, “the survey responses show that professional development is an important part of a nurse’s career, and not something they are forced into.” More than three out of four respondents said they had participated in at least one PD activity in the past year. Two-thirds averaged at least three activities each year; one-third at least five. Alongside these high participation levels, just five per cent of nurses chose only those activities that were mandatory. While some pursued PD to advance their careers, most did so to increase their general knowledge, follow an area of interest or acquire knowledge related to their current position. Fewer than one in four enrolled in PD activities to become certified in their area of work, increase qualifications for a new position or improve their chances of getting a promotion or raise.

Nurses most often chose PD topics related to direct practice (71%), the area with the smallest gap between what is needed and what is available. Topics related to education skills and leadership were the second (47%) and third (45%) choices, respectively. Direct practice courses were the most frequent choice (84%) for nurses with fewer than eight years in nursing; education skills were the first choice (57%) for those with eight years or more.

Most respondents (64%) described Canada’s PD offerings as “good” in terms of available topics, but fewer than one in five described them as “excellent.” Accessibility was the biggest barrier preventing them from pursuing PD activities — more specifically, problems of affordability, location and time. Cost was the most frequent access barrier. Seventy per cent of respondents said they had paid for PD themselves, although 60 per cent said their employer had reimbursed them for at least some activities. Suggestions on how to overcome barriers related to location and time included scheduling activities when nurses are able to take them (e.g., during work hours) and providing more local and online learning options. According to Martin, many nurses are willing to take these courses on their own time and with their own money, but they do want support from their employers.

PD activities hiring managers and decision-makers value

While nurses pursue PD mostly for knowledge or interest, 78 per cent of nurse leaders with hiring authority said participation in these activities has an influence on whom they hire; 42 per cent calling this a strong influence. Sixty-nine per cent prefer candidates to have had courses related to direct practice, while at least half say education, skills remediation, leadership and quality improvement are “important” or “very important.” Overall, the courses taken or certificates received can be less critical for getting hired than an applicant’s overall interest in learning, Martin says.

In the interviews among decision-makers who arrange PD activities for nurses, 40 per cent said skills remediation is the area they choose most often. More than 70 per cent also identified quality improvement and leadership as frequent choices. Most (80%) said their organizations will pay for learning activities, although nearly 30 per cent weren’t sure about the maximum cost allowance. Still, Martin notes, organizations try to provide PD to their nurses as much as budgetary constraints will allow. They will try to pay for the activities and provide leave for nurses wanting to take them or arrange for in-house training where possible.

Sixty-one per cent of survey respondents have more than 20 years of experience in nursing, and 72 per cent work full time: 57 per cent have responsibilities in direct care, 33 per cent in education and 18 per cent in administration.


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