Education Progression: We Need Mentorship and Support for all Nurses to Become Lifelong Learners

Nov 7, 2012, 9:00 AM, Posted by

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Human Capital Blog is asking diverse experts: What is and isn’t working in health professions education today, and what changes are needed to prepare a high-functioning health and health care workforce that can meet the country’s current and emerging needs? Today’s post is by Linda Dedo, RN, MSN/MHA, medical center manager, University of Virginia, and co-lead of the Virginia Action Coalition Education Progression Workgroup.


Education progression is an important objective for today’s nursing workforce. I have been a nurse for 40 years and, as I reflect, my career has been an exercise in progression. I first became interested in nursing as a young teen when my mother helped me become a Red Cross candy striper. I did volunteer work at several local nursing homes until my senior year in high school when I enrolled in a vocational practical nursing program.

I graduated from this program at age 19 and began my formal nursing career. I worked in acute care hospital settings for 20 years and I always thought I was a good nurse. I was well-respected by my peers and well-liked by my patients. I collaborated well with the physicians and other health care leaders in my organization, but I was beginning to realize that I would need to return to school if I expected to continue to grow in my bedside nursing role in a large academic medical center.

As I began to explore my educational options, none of my peers ever approached me to serve as a mentor; or to offer guidance or support regarding education progression. I was listening to rumors about how Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) would be phased out of acute care and forced to work in clinics or long-term care and this thought frightened me a little. I returned to school in the early 90’s and earned an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN).

Earning a Registered Nurse degree was an important milestone in my life. Clinically, I didn’t feel any different, but I began to think differently about the intricate factors that influenced my care delivery. I felt like my thinking was more logical and that interactions with physicians and other professionals more comfortable.

I decided that lifelong learning was the path for success so, without hesitation, I enrolled in a Bachelor’s program. As I neared completion of my Bachelor’s in Nursing (BSN), I was offered a manager position in the hospital where I worked. The acuity in this unit was high, the patient care was difficult, and the physician/nurse relationships were tenuous at times. I had my work cut out for me and I was thankful for the strategies I was learning in school. I began to see my organization through a different set of eyes as I was exposed to patient safety and quality initiatives, health care policy, staffing, and professional development challenges. I was on a journey and there was no turning back.

Earning my BSN made me eager to get involved in my professional organizations, and I began to experience yet another dimension of nursing. When I finished my BSN, I didn’t even think twice before immediately enrolling in a dual Master’s program in nursing and health administration. I had discovered that I really enjoyed health policy and I wanted to learn more about the politics of the profession. I became the president of my local chapter of the Virginia Nurses Association (VNA) and was later elected as the commissioner on nursing education for VNA. It was in this professional relationship that I began to feel mentored and supported to become all I could be for myself and for nursing.

When I think back now to my opinions of myself and my skill as an LPN, I cannot imagine where I would be had I decided to be satisfied with the status quo.  Today, I am pursuing a doctoral degree in health administration and expect to defend in about 15 months. My personal goal is to provide my expertise to my profession as a consultant and as a teacher for the next generation.

From my personal perspective, I believe that what is missing from our profession is mentorship and support for all nurses to become lifelong learners. We need to inspire one another to develop that desire to advance knowledge, not because it is required but because patient care and quality depends on it.

How do I encourage others? I speak to groups of nurses all over the Commonwealth of Virginia to tell my story and to encourage other nurses to consider education progression.

As I meet with nurses in various settings, I see some repeating themes where we, as a profession, could be more thorough and more united. For instance, if the ADN is going to remain the entry into practice, perhaps we should consider a practice differentiation between ADN and BSN clinicians. Maybe there should be a requirement that all nurses who earn an Associate’s degree go on to earn a BSN within a particular time frame. Employers should be encouraged to offer funding and flexible scheduling for those returning to school.

Education is an investment. When health care leaders begin to understand the value of lifelong learning for nurses, then dividends can be earned for the profession for years to come.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.