The nurse as a lifelong learner : an exploration of nurses' perceptions of lifelong learning within nursing, and of nurses as lifelong learners
The arrival of lifelong learning within nursing constitutes a major conceptual shift that every qualified nurse is expected to adopt to be able to function as a Registered Nurse (RN) throughout their career. In the 1990s, lifelong learning had been appearing sporadically within nursing literature as a fait accompli, and with a seemingly general assumption that there was a shared understanding and acceptance of the concept amongst all nurses. The literature review revealed that lifelong learning is closely linked to the evolving nature of healthcare delivery in the National Health Service (NHS), and that it comprises of a number of related components. However, there was a dearth of empirical literature with regards to its application to day-to-day nursing practice at the time this study started. The study focused on examining the assumptions that seemed extant at the time and the areas that were not documented in the literature. It sought to ascertain the nature of RNs' perceptions of lifelong learning, and took into consideration the underlying philosophy, principles and practicalities of the concept. It also sought to identify both the formal structures required for effective implementation of lifelong learning as well as the day-to-day factors that might facilitate uptake and continuation of learning. Furthermore, the study endeavoured to ascertain the current and likely future impact of lifelong learning on nursing. To explore these issues, the study involved collecting, analysing and interpreting data from twenty-six individual interviews and two focus group discussions along with a comprehensive documentary analysis. The findings revealed that there are positive perceptions as well as reservations about lifelong learning amongst RNs, the latter mainly because mandatory continuous professional development (CPD) is resented by a number of nurses. This could be due to their lack of experience and apprehension related to studying in a university. The study found that structural mechanisms could be more firmly anchored and equitably available. Numerous day-to-day factors such as profession-based and personal networks tend to influence levels of engagement in formal learning. For instance, CPD in the form of workbased formal and informal learning is relatively widely utilised. Additionally, the impact of attitude change towards continuing development of own knowledge and competence yields favourable outcomes for the RN and for patient care.