HealthJuly 10, 2020

RN-BSN and advance practice students: The importance of academic professionalism

Pam Embler, MSN, PhD, RN

Patricia Benner’s theory, From Novice to Expert, provides nurses with an understanding of the pathway to excellence in practice.

Faculty, preceptors, and staff nurses familiar with this theory can help the new graduate grow in skill, critical thinking, proficiency, and confidence to serve as valuable contributors to the profession.

Practice professionalism can be defined in terms of behavioral attributes, such as competence, positive attitude, integrity, trustworthiness, reliability, a high degree of work and practice ethics, and confidence. It is highly regarded by employers and these expert practitioners. Nursing is not a profession of mediocrity and it could be argued that the serious practitioner strives for perfection in practice professionalism.

Just as Benner identified maturity in nursing experience in practice, nurses experience levels of academic maturity as they pursue advanced degrees.

When these practice professionals enter the halls of academia, literally as seated students or figuratively as online students, we faculty have a duty to serve as role models and set the standards of academic professionalism. The following suggestions are provided to help the novice academic transition to the expert academic.

1. Establish an environment ripe for learning

Faculty will more easily engage the student in an environment of respect and trust. Faculty need to let students know that they are invested in their success. More than any other area in higher education, the development of the advanced practice nurse has far reaching contributions to patients, families, communities, and the population. When faculty serve as facilitators, coaches, and co-learners open to receiving knowledge as well as imparting knowledge, the student sees themselves as a contributor to the learning process, not just a receptacle.

2. Communication with students

Encourage your students to communicate. Be available to students at various times in in varying formats. Establishing scheduled “office hours” even in the online environment can encourage communication when students know you are available on a consistent basis. It is important that faculty appreciate, respect, and understand that students have lives and responsibilities outside the classroom.

3. Establish course expectations and provide skills for success

Faculty should clearly communicate the importance of reading the syllabus in its entirety. In addition, students should be instructed to check for course announcements and email communications daily. Faculty should strive to provide succinct and concise syllabi – everyone’s time is valuable and lengthy syllabi often go unread. Do not provide excessive course announcements or students might quickly become blind to them. Timely, succinct, and concise announcements which provide pertinent course information such as assignment due date reminders and overall motivational statements can help to maintain course interest and engagement.

4. Hold the student responsible

Faculty should not be afraid to challenge students by asking them what kind of student do they want to be? Challenge the student to consider their academic professionalism in the same way as their practice professionalism. Assignment due dates are not arbitrary just as medication times, procedure schedules, etc. are not arbitrary in practice.

Remind the students with these hypothetical practice examples –

  • If you are going to be late for work - you call/communicate.
  • If you are going to be absent from work - you call/communicate.
  • If you cannot complete a task as assigned - you communicate that to the charge nurse, the nurse coming on shift, or unit director/manager.

Finally, communicate clearly to students that it is preferred that they reach out to faculty when course responsibilities are in jeopardy. Faculty will always reach out to students when they see that course participation has waned or assignments are missing, but ultimately it is the student’s responsibility to communicate with faculty in a timely manner. Be clear – failure to act in any other manner is a reflection of academic professionalism.

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