The Role of the Nurse as Learner & Teacher
Mark Steven Rhodes, RN, is currently enrolled in the RN-to-BSN program at the University of South Alabama, and is a staff flex-pool nurse at Dell Children's Medical Center, Austin, TX. He recently left a position as PICU unit director after 4 years. He was also a travel nurse for 4 years in the U.S. and worked for 2 years in Riyadh, Kindom of Saudi Arabia.
In all stages of nurses' careers, from new graduate to chief nurse officer, they are in the role of learner and teacher.
All nurses come into the profession from different backgrounds and with unique skill sets. These differences provide teaching and learning opportunities for nurses of all experience backgrounds. According to Eason, curiosity and desire to enhance knowledge and skill are essential to growth.
As newly graduated nurses enter the work environment, they continue the learning process they started in nursing school. The learning opportunities for the new nurse include one-on-one interactions with their preceptor, institutional human resource training, and learning from professional journals and conferences. As the nurse grows, the learning opportunities continue.
New nurses may be able to teach newer computer technologies to their preceptors, while their preceptors teach the technical aspects of caring for patients. As well, nurses have a primary teaching role in patient and family education.
As new nurses enter the field, they bring a wealth of technological expertise with them. Even in the early stages of their careers, they can serve as teachers. I have pulled new nurses into my office to help me with a Power Point presentation, or to help with a [software] formatting problem.
Experienced nurses may serve as preceptors for new nurses or nurses new to the specialty area. Nurses also have informal teaching roles with nursing and medical students, physicians, and other specialists they encounter in the healthcare arena. Other opportunities for the nurse to serve in a teaching role are at school and community health education events.
While as nurses we assume the role as teacher, we can make efforts to improve our teaching skills. For example, I took a preceptor course and was able to create a generic roadmap for the new nurses I mentored. After getting to know the learning style of the individual nurse, I fine-tuned the roadmap to fit the unique needs of the individual. I also attempted to foster the desire for continued education in each new nurse, as we are responsible for ensuring our clinical knowledge is as expansive and comprehensive as our specialty (Eason). This is critical for the nurse to advance along Benner's novice to expert path (Blais & Hayes). As I have grown in my career, I have seen my past orientees grow into preceptor and mentor roles.
Having very recently left a management position and returned to a float pool position in a new hospital, I have been oriented to six different pediatric units, including ICU, intermediate care, and four different acute care areas. The experience of my preceptors ranged from one year of nursing experience to 20 years. Each was able to offer a unique teaching experience to me. I also had the opportunity to offer something to each of them. This reflects Blais & Hayes' assertion that Benner's novice to expert model is situational and fluid, and that an expert in one set of circumstances may perform at a different level in a different situation.
Nurses never grow out of the role of learner. Nurses in all stages of learning can also assume a teacher role, as they bring unique attributes and experiences into the profession. We must recognize that all nurses are probably in the role of learner and teacher for their entire career. Recognizing the learning and teaching theories that support and guide practice is important in compelling the nurse who must use them in the clinical setting. Applying these theories in an individualized manner is vital to the learner, as well the teacher.
Blais, K., Hayes, J. (2011). Professional Nursing Practice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Eason, T. (2010, October). Lifelong learning: Fostering a culture of Curiosity. Creative Nursing, 16(4), 155-159.