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Prioritising a learning culture for nurses of the future is key to improving patient care: opinion

Today, nurses are increasingly playing a greater role in diagnosing and prescribing treatments. The digitalisation of healthcare systems in recent years also meant that nurses had to upskill to keep up with new administrative demands in addition to their extensive list of responsibilities.

To compound matters further, they faced immense pressure from coping with increased workloads and had to deal with dynamic clinical changes throughout the global pandemic.

Beyond the physical and mental toll on nurses, these conditions have resulted in an increased frequency of care fragmentation and a greater occurrence of adverse events. It is undeniable that the above factors have subsequently contributed to the low retention of nurses in the workforce today.

Starting right by prioritising training

New and returning nurses are expected to operate in environments of high stress and staff shortages,
with increased responsibilities. In a 2022 study for Elsevier conducted by Ipsos on nurse trainings, a
nursing respondent with less than two-years' experience shared that they have had to supervise and
sign off on decisions made by juniors new to the profession.

The past few years of the pandemic have further disrupted training priorities, evolved patient expectations and fast-tracked innovations in the healthcare industry through technology.

Due to the demands of urgent care provision, training was either put on hold, rushed or moved online. Both nurse educators and new nurses had to adapt quickly to the shift on top of taking on more responsibilities with limited guidance very early on in their careers.

As a result, many nurses felt drained and doubted their ability to provide the necessary level of patient care.

While it was necessary at the time to prioritise caregiving for patients, providing comprehensive training to nurses should not have been neglected. Consequently, it would have benefitted nurses and strengthened their confidence to execute clinical decision making, leading to better efficiencies, quality of care and safety for patients under their management.

Critically, with nurses now playing a stronger and more influential role in the management of patients, training will help student nurses and returning nurses cope better with the additional responsibilities, armed with new skills required for them to be practice ready.

Reducing workload by optimising training

Providing training can sometimes be easier said than done. Part of the World Health Organization's global patient safety action plan 2021-2030 ‘Towards eliminating avoidable harm in health care’ highlights the need to adopt a global approach towards the establishment of a safety culture and comprehensive training across health systems to build competencies.

The challenges of implementing continuous and comprehensive training for nurses is related to the scarcity of time. In the same Ipsos study, a significant number of nurses reported that changing policies and procedures as well as guidelines were other deterrent factors they faced. As nurses struggled with their existing workload, making time to attend regular courses that required a fair amount of paperwork could cause additional mental burden.

To ease these burdens, standardisation and cutting down text-heavy trainings to bize-sized update sessions could lead to greater learning outcomes, allowing nurses to stay current with the latest technologies and healthcare developments.

It is imperative that the adoption of technologies consider the existing workflow of interdisciplinary teams, enabling an evidence-based, single plan of care to be documented against, minimising the stress of administrative and bureaucratic tasks on nurses.

Implementing practical simulation training to build confidence to use new digital tools

Insights from Elsevier’s Clinician of the Future report showed that 69% of clinicians agreed digital health technologies will be a challenging burden, and of those clinicians that took part in the corresponding survey, 83% agreed their training needs to be overhauled to keep pace with the introduction of new technologies.

As clinical information grows and progresses hand in hand with the innovation of digital technologies, we must advance nursing competencies and educational curriculums proactively to keep apace across all specialisations.

To traverse the fast-changing technological innovations in the healthcare scene, training also needs to be revamped to introduce the latest advancements and equip users with the confidence to utilize these new clinical support platforms.

Beyond using existing simulator tools to prepare for actual patient care procedures, nurses should also be trained to use newer digital tools as such exposure improves their inclination towards adopting and adapting in a healthcare system which is fast becoming digital-first.

To develop the next generation of nurses to succeed, we must focus on creating an environment that values lifelong learning, which includes the evaluation and evolution of training according to healthcare systems of the future.

Beyond an emphasis on developing essential skills in resilience, self-care and wellbeing to help combat burnout levels, it is necessary to introduce new technologies and optimise the delivery of trainings to uphold quality of care.

While the pandemic brought about significant challenges, it also shone light to the value of nursing and the rewarding career it offers. There were a significant rise in nursing applicants across all ages and a proportion of senior nurses returned to the profession.

The role of nurses will always evolve alongside healthcare systems. It is ultimately a culture that invests in the nurses, one that allows for alternate pathways for growth that will create more opportunities for further development of skills and knowledge to improve quality of care for patients.

Tim Morris is commercial portfolio and partnership director at Elsevier.

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