1. Innocent, Karen DNP, RN, CRNP, APN-BC, CMSRN

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My parents encouraged my 4 sisters and me to go into nursing because it was a "safe" career choice. Being a practical person, I followed their advice. My mother, a nurse for 20 years, was excited to take me with her to attend continuing education seminars and often discussed clinical and work-related nursing topics with me. This mentorship positively influenced the direction of my career and opened my eyes very early to the value of pursuing lifelong learning.

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The first conference I attended was a 2-day program on wound care that took place at a ski resort a few hours from our home in Pennsylvania. The most poignant memory I have of that event is how much in awe I was of the professionalism and intellectuality of the nursing faculty. Until then, I did not have an understanding that nurses were leaders in clinical practice, scholars, or health care executives. As I was only beginning to learn about the significant role that nurses have in shaping health care delivery and quality of care, I quickly realized that my associate's degree in nursing (ADN) was only the first degree I would earn. Moreover, I made a conscious decision to continue my career in nursing and to work toward board certification, becoming an advanced practice nurse, and attaining a doctoral degree much like the presenters at that conference.


Although my preferred career path is not for everyone, I continually promote a few principles among my colleagues and nursing hopefuls to help them make the best career and education decisions. The first principle is maintaining relevant knowledge, skills, and competency in one's role, specialty, and practice setting. Regardless of nurses' roles, they have the accountability to maintain their competency through reading the current literature and attending educational sessions to stay aware of evidence-based practice guidelines. The American Nurses Association Code of Ethics for Nurses1 emphasizes the necessity of maintaining competency to protect the public, which all nurses should aspire to achieve. As nurses learn and develop their skills, there is an expectation to take this information back to the workplace and implement improvements in health care delivery and nursing practice.


The second principle is that nurses should be aware of health care trends in order to navigate their careers. This will help guide them toward skills they need to acquire, credentials that are most desired by employers, and possible changes in educational requirements for certain nursing roles. An example of this is how the baccalaureate degree in nursing is becoming a standard in many acute care hospitals. While nurses with ADNs are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses, employers are setting a higher employment standard. This reduces employment options for new graduates with ADNs and can be very frustrating for experienced nurses who have not continued their education.


The third principle is related to the inner desire to learn in order to advance one's career and to advance the profession of nursing. Currently, more than half of the licensing boards in the United States mandate that nurses earn a prescribed number of continuing education contact hours. This should not be confused with professional development, which is a much broader concept. The nurse who uses continuing education hours, along with other professional development activities, including professional organization involvement, committee work, serving as preceptor, or participating in a journal club, accomplishes more professionally than those who amass contact hours alone. Obviously, nurses also need to earn credentials that are recognized by employers and licensing boards to perform specific roles by earning certifications or advanced degrees. However, it is best to be motivated to seek professional development opportunities that are aligned with one's professional goals and educational needs.


These are just a few principles that have influenced my career and pursuit of lifelong learning. It is likely that the most significant factor that differentiates those who have a strong professional commitment and accomplishments is that their nursing careers have been guided by an internal drive toward continued professional development.




1. American Nurses Association Web site. Code of ethics for nurses with interpretive statements. Accessed December 6, 2013. [Context Link]