Staying Current: Ongoing Educational Opportunities for New Nurses

You have your RN license! It’s the beginning of one journey, and the end of another one — or is it? In a profession like nursing, education never fully ends. The medical field is continually changing, and it takes planning just to keep up. Most states waive the continuing education requirement for the first couple of years, but it’s a good time to become familiar with professional organizations and journals. If you do decide to do some professional development during this time, you may be able to apply it toward your first continuing education requirement.

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How can you get a good foundation during your early days out in the field? If you’re lucky, you may land a first position in a facility that has a residency program in place for new nurses. Studies have shown that these can ease the transition into the workforce. If you don’t have that opportunity make sure you have a support system in place. Stay in touch with a mentor. Become familiar with your state affiliate of the American Nurses Association — you may want to drop in on a meeting. If you’re tech-savvy, you may want to seek out fellow nurses on Twitter. They’ll point you to many resources in the coming months and years.

Professional Nursing Organizations to Explore

You will probably want to become a member of one or more professional organizations. These organizations can serve you in a variety of ways: by being a clearinghouse of information or source of counsel, by offering professional development and CEU opportunities, and by facilitating networking. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses accepts members from a wide variety of practice settings, from hospital to long-term care. Membership allows you (among other things) the privilege of searching for journal articles and accessing full-text articles from any of eighty health care journals. The organization also operates a Practice Resource Network (PRN) to help members find the resources they need and get their questions answered. The American Nurses Association is another of the best known professional nursing organizations. Just browsing the site will put a lot of resources at your fingertips. This includes news releases and legislative updates as well as educational resources.

Donna Cardillo, RN recommends attending meetings of (though not necessarily joining) the Association of Nurse Executives. There are connections to be made!

Whatever your specialty area, chances are there’s a professional organization representing you. Examples include the Society of Pediatric Nurses, the Association of Rehabilitative Nursing (ARN), and the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN). You may also want to explore organizations that promote areas of special interest (for example, the American Holistic Nurses Association.) You don’t want to overwhelm yourself, but visit the website of anything that looks interesting, join those that seem most useful (as your budget allows), and bookmark others to use as resources.

Nursing Journals to Check Out

You may also want subscriptions to one or more professional journals. You can read many of them online. One of the most respected is the American Journal of Nursing (AJN). Another popular choice is the Journal of Professional Nursing, which is put out by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. ANA publishes American Nurse Today. There are twelve issues a year, six online and six delivered in print form.

In many cases, nurses can earn continuing education units by reading online journals and answering quizzes. It’s a perfectly acceptable way of staying current. But if a prospective employer asks you about your continuing education, she’ll want to know that you are setting and meeting professional goals — that your choices fit into some larger pattern. If you do decide to pursue specialty certifications a couple years down the line, you may be asked to provide evidence of continuing education units in your specialty.