Professional development as a specialty of nursing practice is defined by standards, based on research, and critical to quality patient and organizational outcomes. The specialty of nursing professional development (NPD) has evolved over the years. The first educational focus in nursing started with establishing the first national nursing organization, the American Society of Superintendents for Training School Nurses, in 1893. In 1971, the American Nurses Association (ANA) established the Council on Continuing Education, and in 1974, Helen Tobin, often referred to as the "Godmother of Staff Development," published The Process of Staff Development: Components for Change. The first standards related to nursing professional development were the Standards for Continuing Education in Nursing, also published in 1974. The Journal for Nurses in Staff Development (now known as the Journal for Nurses in Professional Development) was first published in 1985, and in 1989 Belinda Puetz spearheaded the establishment and incorporation of the National Nursing Staff Development Organization (NNSDO). NNSDO became the Association for Nursing Professional Development (ANPD) in 2012. ANPD's mission is to advance quality health care by defining and promoting nursing professional development practice. The goal of ANPD is to be acknowledged as the expert voice, advocate, and leading resource for nursing professional development practice.
Maloney and Woolforde described the history of nursing professional development, reflecting on the past, present, and future. The article outlined the accomplishments and strategic focus of the specialty from 2010-2018. The major pillars of focus of the 2016 ANPD strategic plan were NPD role delineation (changed to role clarity), managing transitions, leadership, and ANPD value proposition. These were reaffirmed with the 2018 strategic plan. The 2021-2023 strategic plan, which can be found on the ANPD website, outlines three key priorities: maintain the position as a strong organization, partner with other organizations, and define and advocate for the NPD role. Overall goals for each of these priorities included: 1) ANPD will continue to thrive as a strong organization; 2) ANPD will build alliances with outside organizations (healthcare and others) that generate an advantageous return on investment for ANPD and its members; 3) ANPD will strategically position itself to advocate for the NPD specialty and provide members with resources, evidence, and research that equip them to demonstrate the value of their role. This will help prepare NPD practitioners for the future.
Starting in the 1990s, there was a tremendous increase in NPD activities and publications ANPD published the latest Nursing Professional Development Scope and Standards of Practice in 2022. This edition defines nursing professional development as "a nursing practice specialty that improves the professional practice and role competence of nurses and other healthcare personnel by facilitating ongoing learning, change, and role competence and growth with the intention of improving population health through indirect care." (p. 16). The 2016 edition of the standards introduced the concepts of interprofessional continuing education and interprofessional collaborative practice, as well as the need for evidence-based practice (EBP). The 2022 version included NPD practice judgment and population health as it described current practice and examined trends to forecast the future of the NPD specialty.
Issues of Concern
Critical updates and changes in the 2022 standards can be found in the StatPearls article on Nursing Professional Development Standards. The scope of practice for the NPD practitioner reflects the changing landscape in healthcare. The NPD scope of practice defines the who, what, where, when, why, and how that drive nursing professional development practice. It is reflected in the updated NPD practice systems model, which includes inputs, throughputs, and outputs. All NPD activities occur in the context of interprofessional practice and learning environments. NPD practitioners continuously engage in environmental scanning to ascertain internal and external opportunities and challenges within the organization.
Evolving trends in healthcare and nursing education have influenced NPD practice. There is a continued emphasis on interprofessional education, collaborative practice, and EBP. Due to the various positions that focus on education, there is a need for role clarity for NPD practitioners. Differences between NPD practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, academic clinical nurse educators, and academic nurse educators are outlined in the updated standards. Other trends affecting NPD practice include longer life expectancy, burgeoning patient technology, healthy practice, learning environments, and global events.
NPD practice changed focus during the pandemic, transitioning from in-person to virtual educational delivery formats. One strategy was described by Reid et al. to prepare NPD practitioners to teach in a virtual environment. They had a transition-into-practice program that had to be taught virtually, and many NPD practitioners identified they had little experience teaching in a virtual format. The organization developed a blended learning program to assist NPD practitioners in facilitating learning in a virtual environment.
Staffing redeployment during COVID was an issue during the pandemic. Several approaches to address this were published. Fox and Richter described how their NPD practitioners were split into three teams to meet the demand for the orientation and training of frontline staff. One team was responsible for the orientation of new hire employees and travel nurses. Another team trained staff for a different role or unit due to the low census in their own unit. The third team was responsible for real-time education and support of all staff the in the clinical units. They identified this as a hat trick, which is when a single player achieves three goals in a single game. The NPD team achieved three goals to meet the demands for ongoing education and training of all staff.
Another approach to surge staffing was identified by Kelley et al. Their organization changed from primary nursing to a team nursing model and introduced the use of RN extenders and senior/graduate nurses for each level of care environment. RN extenders had to have at least twelve months of clinical experience, no corrective action in the last year, and completion of competencies in their current clinical setting. These employees assisted in monitoring changes in patient status, performing nursing tasks, providing patient education, documenting care, and reporting back to the RN team leader. Senior and graduate nurses with and without a professional RN license were also used. Many state boards of nursing initiated emergency care guidelines that allowed nursing students to assist in staffing without violating the state nursing practice act.
NPD practitioners support the transition of nurses and other healthcare team members across learning and practice environments. With the new practice arenas come new roles for nurses. The Future of Nursing Report from the Institute of Medicine challenged nurses to assume new and expanded roles to help meet the evolving needs of the healthcare system. There are now nurse navigators, health coaches, community health workers, and many new roles in nursing informatics, telehealth, and patient safety. Nursing as a profession and associations such as ANPD are working on ways to increase diversity in the field. We need to have diverse practitioners to help meet the needs of the diverse population.
Return on investment is another important concept impacting NPD. Ongoing restricting and healthcare changes continue to reshape how healthcare organizations operate and how they measure success. Return on investment (ROI) is a key factor in the viability of any organization. NPD practitioners must establish and articulate the financial and clinical impact of NPD practice through ROI data. NPD practitioners can use this method to evaluate education priorities and allocate resources based on statistically relevant data. Demonstration of ROI allows NPD practitioners to compete for limited resources. An updated known cost of outcomes table was included in the 2018 article. This helps NPD practitioners to identify the financial value of improved outcomes and calculate economic impact. This table is updated regularly, and a 2020 copy can be found on the ANPD website.
Research in the field of NPD has increased. Harper et al. detailed the work of a task force charged with redesigning ANPD’s small research grant process. One of the purposes of this group was to develop a cost-effective framework to advance the scientific research base of the specialty. They identified a spirit of inquiry approach, defined as a consistent, intentional, and applied professional curiosity, as a key element of modern NPD practice (p. 119). They collected data from randomly selected ANPD convention attendees using a round table discussion from members of the Journal for Nurse in Professional Development editorial board and included an open-ended question of the ANPD annual convention evaluation beginning in 2016. Ten spirit of inquiry areas identified were:
- Determination of strategies that significantly increase engagement of learners
- Types of technology that enhance learning
- Development of learning outcome metrics
- Strategies to sustain behavior change pursuant to NPD intervention
- Strategies that result in successful career and care continuum transitions
- NPD practices and/or programs that significantly impact outcomes (residencies, onboarding, competency management, life support, etc.)
- Examine models (Lean, Six Sigma, QI, etc.) that create more efficient and effective NPD practices a. Time studies b. Interruptions
- Examine stakeholders’ views that impact the perceived value of NPD practice/role/influence a. Chief nursing officers b. Managers c. Chief financial officers d. Academic educators
- Factors that increase “buy-in” of stakeholders & target audiences
- Strategies that influence the adoption of interprofessional development (pp. 121-122)
Numerous studies have been conducted in these focus areas. Phillips et al. described a longitudinal, quasi-experimental sepsis simulation pilot study on the impact of boost methodology on nurse knowledge retention. Boost methodology was used to stimulate the recall of information. Boosts can be done in various ways, including question/answer, scenarios, video clips, and/or statements that connect learners to previously learned content. Their findings suggested that boost methodology may impact nurse knowledge retention. This could have implications for healthcare organizations by decreasing the need to reeducate staff and decreasing the burden of traditional education formats.
Harper et al. conducted a study on preceptor practice in 2020. ANPD used a nonexperimental, cross-sectional, descriptive design using the practice analysis method to identify the roles and competencies essential to preceptor practice. Using the Ulrich Precepting Model to identify the roles, knowledge, and activities necessary for preceptor practice, they surveyed 3,623 preceptors. Within the spheres of quality, safety, and evidence, the Ulrich model identified seven roles of preceptors within the context of nursing and the broader healthcare system. The seven roles identified were: teacher/coach, role model, leader/influencer, facilitator, socialization agent, evaluator, and protector. The study validated the seven roles and compared those roles with the NPD practitioner roles identified in the standards.
The capacity of the NPD leader has expanded. The value of NPD relies heavily on the ability to show value across the board in ways that benefit the entire organization. There is a StatPearls article specific to the NPD leadership role in advancing the specialty practice of NPD. An important responsibility of the NPD leader is to help develop a department plan that supports the organization’s mission, vision, and strategic goals. Leadership is not an organizational position but a personal, professional behavior. The Association for Nursing Professional Development has both a Leadership Academy and an Evidence-Based Practice Academy to help NPD practitioners develop leadership skills.
As with any specialty, certification is available for NPD practitioners. In addition to the basic certification in nursing professional development offered through the American Nurse Credentialing Center, there is also advanced certification in nursing professional development offered through the Competency and Credentialing Institute. The advanced certification is a portfolio-based certification. A description of the development of this certification can be found in the article by Harper et al.
Nursing professional development (NPD) practitioners play a critical role in preparing healthcare personnel for current and future roles and helping individuals cope with an ever-changing healthcare environment. They facilitate the professional role development of nurses and other healthcare personnel, encouraging interprofessional education and collaboration. They become champions of scientific inquiry by promoting the generation and dissemination of new knowledge and the use of evidence to influence NPD practice, guide clinical practice, and improve patient care. They actively support, promote, and demonstrate NPD as a practice specialty.
Nursing, Allied Health, and Interprofessional Team Interventions
The focus of NPD practice is the healthcare consumer/partner. All NPD activities occur in the context of interprofessional practice and learning environments. NPD practitioners work with members of the interprofessional team to achieve desired outcomes. The outputs of NPD practice include learning, change, and professional role competence and growth, which help achieve the desired outcome of optimal care and population growth.