Teaching Professionalism in Nursing in Your Program

Osmosis Team
Published on May 13, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

How can your nursing program incorporate professionalism in nursing content into your curriculum, and why is it important to do so? In today's post, Leah Tieger, a writer on the Osmosis team, introduces the concept of professionalism in nursing, discusses how it benefits patients, and shares some tips for including it in your curriculum.

As healthcare systems become more and more complex, professionalism in nursing has become increasingly important. From RNs to NPs, the nursing practice requires a combination of bedside care, clinical decision-making, case management, administrative documentation, interprofessional collaboration, and patient education. Professionalism simply describes the many core competencies nurses need to successfully manage their wide-ranging and ever-shifting roles.

Read on to learn more about nursing professionalism and how patients benefit. Then scroll down for an overview of influential factors, as well as a list of practical tips to bring professionalism into your curriculum.

What Is Professionalism in Nursing?

In Health Professions Education: A Bridge to Quality, the Institute of Medicine devotes an entire chapter to the basic core competencies of all healthcare professionals:

  • Provide person-centered care: In addition to clinical care, this competency includes respect for patient values, clear communication with patients, wellness and prevention advocacy, and a focus on population health.

  • Work in interdisciplinary teams: This competency stresses the importance of communication, cooperation, and collaboration for fully integrated care.

  • Employ evidence-based practice: Aside from staying up to date on best practices, healthcare professionals should engage in continued education whenever possible.

  • Apply quality improvement: While mostly self-explanatory, this competency requires self-assessment and team-assessment. It also includes the skills needed to design, test, and implement change processes.

  • Utilize informatics: Effectively use information technology to communicate with patients and care teams, assess outcomes, and mitigate errors.

When applied to the nursing profession, these competencies are supported by three underlying attributes. Researchers in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research (IJNMR) list these attributes as cognitive, attitudinal, and psychomotor. Cognitive professionalism describes the ability to learn continuously and apply that knowledge across all aspects of care, collaboration, and assessment. Attitudinal professionalism applies to the attitudes, ideas, and beliefs that shape nurses’ approach to job duties. As noted in the IJNMR article, successful nurses align their attitudinal orientation with accepted standards of nursing care, and with staff or organizational goals. Psychomotor professionalism speaks to nurses’ expanding skill base. In other words, when nurses gain experience, they not only sharpen their clinical skills but their managerial, collaborative, and self-assessment abilities as well. 

Healthcare professionalism competencies, and the traits that contribute to those competencies, are as complex as the nursing role itself. In other words, professionalism in nursing can vary from hospital to hospital, unit to unit, and nurse to nurse. Different levels of professionalism could influence patient safety.

How Nursing Professionalism Benefits Patients

In a Journal of Advanced Nursing study combining observation and interviews, researchers defined professionalism as “personal involvement in and reflection on clinical practice, knowledge, skills, and clinical experience.” Based on this definition, they tracked in-hospital patient monitoring, ward round preparation, and collaboration and communication with interprofessional teams. Nurses who were identified as more professional were subsequently found to monitor patients more thoroughly. Levels of professionalism also influenced decision-making, communication, and interprofessional collaboration.

While this research is by no means conclusive, several studies link nurse educational attainment to improved patient outcomes. Educational preparation is just one factor that’s been found to positively influence professional behaviors in nursing.

Factors That Affect Professionalism in Nursing

From educational attainment to years of experience, from organizational culture to job satisfaction, the factors affecting nursing professionalism potentially impact all aspects of patient care. These influences could impact career trajectory as well. Nurse practitioners are stepping into roles once held exclusively by primary care physicians and nurse leaders are increasingly gaining chief executive roles. While more research must be done to fully understand the factors influencing professionalism in nursing, the following studies offer significant insight:

  • A behavioral inventory published in the Journal of Nursing Management reveals that higher levels of nursing professionalism are linked to higher levels of education, increased length of nursing experience, and roles in nurse administration.

  • Researchers in the Canadian Journal of Nursing Research conducted a multiple regression analysis with results indicating that organizational culture affects professionalism in nursing by a variance of more than 16%.

  • Organizational structure often influences job satisfaction, and researchers in the Journal of Korean Academic Society of Nursing Education noted that this factor affects professionalism with a beta coefficient of .140. Job performance and organizational commitment were also influential, with a beta coefficient of .811 and .086, respectively.

Teaching Nursing Professionalism to Your Students

As a nurse educator or nursing program administrator, there are several learner-centered approaches to incorporating professionalism content into your curriculum. A Nursing Education Perspectives article suggests having interactive lectures led by area experts. The article also encourages student-led scenarios addressing key elements of Miller's Wheel of Professionalism in Nursing, including community service orientation, theory development, research development, and self-regulation. Researchers in Teaching and Learning in Nursing suggest simulated scenarios as well, followed by feedback and debriefing sessions. 

Finally, encourage multidisciplinary studies. In their fact sheet on education in nursing practice, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) explains that nurses with a liberal education demonstrate increased abilities in assessment, analytical and creative thinking, cultural sensitivity, scientific reasoning, and communication. These skills support the key tenets of professionalism in nursing. 

If you have additional tips to share, or new approaches to teach nursing professionalism, email us [email protected].

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