1. Puetz, Belinda E. PhD, RN

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Helen Tobin, MSN, RN, FAAN, is a remarkable woman, recognized around the world as one of the most important and influential pioneers of nursing staff development. Her groundbreaking contributions, tireless dedication to excellence, and firm belief in ongoing healthcare education played a significant role in shaping the work of staff development into a collaborative, efficient, and effective process. Her legacy stands as a model, the standards of which we would do well to emulate. In this 25th anniversary edition of the Journal for Nurses in Staff Development (JNSD), we pay her tribute.

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Helen grew up alongside her siblings, including older sister Pauline, in Three Rivers, Michigan, where their father worked as a veterinarian. Inspired by an aunt to enter nursing and following her sister's footsteps, young Helen began her training at the Borgess Hospital School of Nursing in Kalamazoo, Michigan, graduating in 1943. She applied for and was inducted into the Army Nurse Corps and, after completing basic training at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, served in a variety of posts for 15 months.


With funds received from the GI Bill, Helen returned to school, receiving her baccalaureate in nursing from the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, Western Reserve University, in Cleveland in February 1949. Helen was hired at the University Hospitals of Cleveland as assistant head nurse, advancing to head nurse within 6 months. By 1957, she had earned a master's degree in nursing and early on concentrated her work in research and methods improvement at Cleveland City Hospital. She accepted the position of director of staff development at University Hospitals 3 years later, in 1960.


In those days, staff education was an internal affair, highly centralized, and heavily focused on orientation. It seemed that developing meetings took priority over developing people. Helen and the nurse administrator saw a need for change. With the growing use of technology and the increasing complexity of illness, the time for a sequential and systematic approach to staff development had come. One of the first major accomplishments was to modify the language to more accurately reflect the purpose and vision of the work Helen and others had taken on. Helen brought the idea of staff development to the appropriate bodies in the National League of Nursing and the American Nurses Association; the idea made sense, and the terminology caught on.


In all her work, Helen paid careful attention to the many opportunities for staff development, always looking at how things were being done and how they could be done better. There was tremendous room for improvement, for example, in the nursing orientation process. Understanding that competency and skill were directly related to patient safety and nursing satisfaction, Helen set out to change the existing program. She made her case to nursing administration who agreed to increase the amount of time new RNs received in "real-world" training before working independently on the nursing unit. In addition, Helen promoted a 5-week orientation and skill training program for nursing assistants.


Expanding this idea of immersed transition from nursing student to practicing nurse, Helen pushed for a more collaborative relationship between clinical staff and nursing faculty, which resulted in the appointment of a clinical staff member to the faculty and vice versa. This collaboration served the hospital and the university equally well, reinforcing Helen's belief that education is interdependent.


Realizing that there was more to staff development than nursing orientation, Helen turned her attention to finding ways to increase the skills, knowledge, and attitudes of currently employed staff. She was instrumental in the design and implementation of workshop programs for associate degree and diploma RNs and baccalaureate RNs. Nurses would attend these workshops according to their education level; enhanced learning specific to role expectations promoted confidence through skill. Three months after completing the workshop, nurses were evaluated by the head nurse in accordance with well-defined expectations. If these expectations were not met by a minimum of 75%, training materials were reviewed and revised accordingly. Goals were competency focused and measurable. Not only did this method of setting expectations and measuring outcomes lend itself to professional development, it set the standard for clinical competence, standards that continue to support safe and efficient nursing care to this day.


True "in-service" education also focused on the institutions' own policies and procedures, as well as providing unplanned or "incidental" learning as the opportunity for such occurred. Helen's role as director of staff development provided her with the avenue to institute much-needed processes for these and many other pieces of the staff development puzzle.


Her work had only just begun, but being the educator that she was and understanding the benefits of having a "process" for staff development, Helen realized that it was time to share what she had learned. Thus, she shared the idea of a "process" for staff development with colleagues and together with those colleagues developed a book titled, The Process of Staff Development. Published by C. V. Mosby, this book subtitled Components for Change would transform staff development into the specialized and highly professional discipline it is today.


Coauthored by Pat S. Yoder, Peggy K. Hull, and Barbara Clark Scott, The Process of Staff Development covered staff development from its beginning to its then-unrealized future and encompassed topics such as organization and administration, budgetary process, changing behavior, learning strategies, and evaluation. First published in 1974 then revised and republished in 1979 with Pat S. Yoder Wise and Peggy K. Hull as coauthors, this textbook held its ground as the cornerstone of staff development in nursing schools, hospitals, and healthcare agencies for decades. Its audience has been far-reaching and its impact, immeasurable. The enormous wealth of information contained in this collaborative work remains, in many ways, relevant even now.


Before the publication of this book, not much had been written on nursing staff development. The JNSD is but one testament to how things have changed. Continuing education, ongoing education, in-service education, and the like encompass an enormous amount of nursing practice and policy making. It was Helen's work that really started the ball rolling. In her prime, Helen wrote over 14 articles which were published in a variety of nursing journals. She also facilitated at workshops throughout the country, presented at countless conferences, and served on education committees with several nursing organizations including the American Nurses Association. Her philosophy and expertise were in great demand during the 1970s and 1980s.


Despite all her hard work and dedication, Helen says that the real credit for staff development being recognized as a field in nursing goes to Belinda Puetz, editor in chief of JNSD. Much of Helen's work preceded the formation of the National Nursing Staff Development Organization, but she gratefully acknowledges Belinda's visionary efforts that led to the group's genesis in 1989. The National Nursing Staff Development Organization brings staff development professionals together from around the world to share ideas and honor achievements at its annual convention. Of the many awards given each year, one of the most prestigious remains the Helen Tobin Writer's Award. Named for the amazing woman who was the first author on the first text on staff development, this award is given to an author whose article appears in JNSD and reflects the highest standard of excellence.


As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of JNSD, let us seek to be the new pioneers of the 21st century and to grow and change, making every effort to better our profession and ourselves. Let us pay tribute to Helen Tobin, the "Godmother of Staff Development," a woman whose legacy still leads the way.