Do you sometimes get the feeling, as a nursing professional development (NPD) practitioner, that people don’t know what you do? Maybe, it is the confused look on their faces when you say “I am an NPD practitioner.” Or maybe, you find yourself tongue-tied when you are asked that fateful question, “so what do you do?” Well, the Association for Nursing Professional Development (ANPD) has been working hard to advocate for NPD practice while communicating about and providing clarity around the important, multifaceted roles we play. ANPD organizational leaders are present and involved in many forums and events alongside other leading nursing organizations. Our purpose is to spread the word, to claim colleagues out there who are looking for their professional specialty organization but may be unaware that we exist. We also aim to help others within and outside of NPD and nursing at large gain a better understanding about our specialty.
I have heard all too many times, “you’re a nursing professional development practitioner…so what do you do?” Sometimes, people will follow that up with, “is that like a nurse practitioner?” On the other hand, perhaps equally if not more often, I hear many of us respond to the “what do you do” question with, “I am nurse educator.” Although that may hold some truth, we know it certainly is not the most accurate description of what we do. In fact, we may be misrepresenting and even shortchanging ourselves by describing ourselves as nursing educators.
As NPD practitioners, we design educational activities in order to address practice gaps. This can include educational activities aimed at licensed and nonlicensed healthcare personnel. It may include continuing nursing education and now regularly includes interprofessional education (Harper & Maloney, 2016, pp. 17–18). So certainly, education is one of our responsibilities; however, as NPD practitioners, we have tremendous responsibilities in the onboarding and orientation realm, for example. Organizational factors such as turnover and retention weigh heavily on the work that we do in this area. Implementation and execution of successful orientation programs, as well as residency and fellowship programs, have significant implications not just on the transitioning nurse for whom these programs are designed, but also on the unit and organizational culture, not to mention the organization's financial bottom line.
NPD is a unique specialty with its own scope and standards and role delineation. The scope and standards is a foundational document that describes the who, what, when, where, how, and why of NPD practice (ANPD, 2018). It defines NPD as a specialized nursing practice that facilitates the professional role development and growth of nurses and other healthcare personnel along the continuum from novice to expert, as described by Benner (Harper & Maloney, 2016, p. 6). As NPD practitioners, as opposed to nurse educators, which has long been the term held for our colleagues in academia, our focus is on nurses and other staff who are already in practice. Certainly, our reach encompasses everyone in the practice setting, and that includes nursing students in clinical practice. Our responsibilities are unique and crucial. I have heard it said so many times by colleagues in other professions that they wish they had a role with specialists like us within their discipline—someone skilled and capable, educated, and prepared to design and lead orientation for new staff, ongoing competency management, education, professional role development, all while helping to foster a culture that embraces research and evidence-based practice (EBP) while creating and enhancing collaborative partnerships.
NPD practitioners have helped to showcase that competency is a dynamic process inclusive of assessment and evaluation of performance. We have expounded upon competency of individuals and now are highly engaged in ensuring and supporting competency of teams (Harper & Maloney, 2016, p. 17).
Perhaps one of our most valuable talents is that we identify and develop strategies to facilitate a continuous process of lifelong learning. The value that a culture of lifelong learning brings is exponential and one we are still trying to effectively measure. We are confident that it contributes to more professional work environments that nurture and result in effective role transition and growth, role integration, skill acquisition, and mastery as learners advance from novice to expert (Harper & Maloney, 2016, p. 19).
Participation in research, EBP, and quality improvement (QI) activities is highly dependent on the practice environment and the role of the NPD practitioner (Harper & Maloney, 2016, p. 19). Not only do we conduct and participate in research, EBP, and QI, but we promote participation, among others, by encouraging and supporting staff as they engage in these very important areas of professional practice.
Over the past 15 years, a significant shift has taken place where we see NPD moving from being conceptualized as interactive domains of staff development, continuing education, and academia with a focus on nurses to what it is now—a specialty practice involving interprofessional collaboration, evidence-based practice, and physical and virtual learning environments (Harper & Maloney, 2016, p. 7); one where we see seven roles that comprise NPD and an NPD practice model that helps to depict NPD in action. We might consider ourselves to be those who do a bit of everything, a jack of all trades if I might. Highlighting just a few of our key roles may more precisely capture what it is that we do.
As NPD practitioners, we facilitate professional role development including practice transitions. We use the educational design process to bridge the knowledge, skills, and/or practice gaps identified through a needs assessment (Harper & Maloney, 2016, p. 16).
It has been said that change is the only constant. As NPD practitioners, we manage change. As change agents, we actively work to transform processes at micro-, meso-, and macrosystem levels through inspiration, initiation, adoption, and sustainment of and adaptation to change using project management and improvement processes (Harper & Maloney, 2016, p. 16).
We are champions of scientific inquiry. We promote the generation and dissemination of new knowledge and the use of evidence to advance NPD practice, guide clinical practice, and improve patient care (Harper & Maloney, 2016, p. 17).
We are partners for practice transitions. What we do to support the transition of nurses and other healthcare team members across learning and practice environments, roles, and professional stages has a direct impact on the individual, those working with the individual, those under the care of that individual, and the organization.
We are mentors and leaders. This we do in so many ways. We influence the interprofessional practice and learning environments, the NPD specialty, the profession of nursing, and health care (Harper & Maloney, 2016, p. 16). One of the earliest authors of mentorship in nursing, Dr. Connie Vance, indicates that her current definition is that mentoring is developing and empowering each other through relationships and connections that lead to professional and personal development and leadership skills (Vance & Nickitas, 2014). This is a cornerstone of what we do best.
Upon reflecting on these few highlights of our roles and specialty, a couple of things shine through. (a) Our role is unique and crucial. (b) Nurse educator falls far short of describing what we do. (c) Our impact is further reaching than we may have ever imagined. So the next time someone says, “you’re a nursing professional development practitioner…so what do you do?” ask them how much time they have and then go ahead and tell them about the many ways you impact so many people including nurses, the healthcare team, patients, and everyone along the way!