CONTINUING EDUCATION and staff development are how nurses stay abreast of current best practices and trends. But have you ever been dissatisfied with a staff-development session you've attended and wondered whether you could organize a better one? Have you thought it would be fun to try?
If you answered yes to these questions, you should consider becoming a staff-development specialist. This article gives you an overview of what these nurses do and can help you decide whether to move into this stimulating career. (See What's in a name?)
Defining the roles
Staff-development specialists are simply nurse educators who teach in hospitals. Most hospitals employ two types of educators: hospital-based staff-development specialists and unit-based ones. If the hospital has sufficient financial resources, it may also employ specialty nurse educators who concentrate on areas such as diabetes, ostomy and wound care, and cardiac care.
Most hospital-based staff-development specialists have an MSN degree, although some employers accept those with BSN credentials; most unit-based staff-development specialists have a BSN degree, although some positions require an MSN.
Hospital-based staff-development specialists provide instruction to the entire hospital staff, including healthcare providers and other personnel. They also develop and teach curriculum and theory in nurse internship programs and provide continuing education programs for all of the hospital's nurses. When new clinical products are introduced, they educate either large groups of healthcare professionals (physicians, nurses, and technicians) or the hospital's unit-based staff-development specialists, who then train their staffs. They provide instruction on electronic charting to nurses, therapists, and unlicensed assistive personnel.
Some hospital-based staff-development specialists have even broader responsibilities, providing initial orientation to all hospital employees, ranging from physicians and nurses to technicians, security personnel, and hospital cooks. They develop online education modules, provide general computer courses (such as how to use Word, Excel, and PowerPoint software), and even offer courses on languages spoken in the community such as Spanish, medical terminology, and childbirth. Hospital-based staff-development specialists, the nuts-and-bolts of hospital education, are indispensable for a hospital's successful operation.
Unit-based staff-development specialists are dedicated to one hospital unit, or sometimes more than one. These staff-development specialists train only the staff of the unit to which they're assigned. They instruct staff on whatever is needed for the unit to run properly, ranging from new equipment use to medication administration to policy and procedure. They provide staff-development sessions and unit orientations. An important link between the unit manager and staff, they're a lifeline for staff members who need to improve their competency levels or simply need refreshers.
Unit-based staff-development specialists, in short, are unit stabilizers. Like their hospital-based counterparts, unit-based staff-development specialists ensure that hospital units run smoothly and are always equipped to provide safe and effective patient care.
These two career paths have many similarities, and both are extremely rewarding. For example, both are responsible for meeting the competency standards established by The Joint Commission. Both are responsible for staff orientation. Both let the educator in you be creative when you engage in developing educational programs. Most important, hospital- and unit-based staff-development specialists command respect from their colleagues because they help ensure that patients receive competent and thorough care.
If you'd like more information on staff-development specialists, including educational and certification opportunities, see the links below. Consider joining the National Staff Development Organization.
If you love to learn and to teach others, this job is for you. Put your creative energy into planning staff-development sessions, then reap the rewards of your own professional growth and improved patient care.
What's in a name?
- education specialists
- educational clinical specialists
- nurse educators
- clinical educators.