September 8, 2011

VUSN speaker sees need for changes to nursing education

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Patricia Benner, Ph.D., R.N., right, spoke at Vanderbilt last week as part of the School of Nursing’s Centennial Lecture Series. Here she talks with Christine Kennedy, MSN, R.N., following the lecture. (photo by Anne Rayner)

VUSN speaker sees need for changes to nursing education

Nursing education needs some sweeping changes, according to Patricia Benner, Ph.D., R.N., who spoke as part of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Centennial Lecture Series at Langford Auditorium last week.

The audience of 400 administrators, nurses and educators from throughout Middle Tennessee and Kentucky was eager to hear what Benner, professor emerita in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, had to say.

“We pulled off a coup by getting her here,” said Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., CNM, dean of VUSN. “With the changes in health care delivery, it is incredibly timely that we are talking about nursing education to best serve our patients.”

Benner spoke extensively about her work findings from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching National Nursing Education Study, part of a larger project that also looked into teaching methods and student needs in the studies of clergy, engineering, law and medicine.

“We have fallen behind in that level of science — social science, natural sciences — that we are teaching at the undergraduate level,” said Benner.

“The practice has become more complex and the answer has to be teaching a more situated clinical science, much like the Carnegie Study into medicine concluded.”

The comprehensive Carnegie Study determined that students need three apprenticeships, starting with a cognitive framework to foster knowledge of science, theory and principles required for practice. Additionally, a practice framework is needed that focuses on clinical reasoning and know-how in a clinical setting over time. Finally, nursing education needs a formation and ethical comportment where the student learns to embody and enact the notions of “good” to the practice.

Benner emphasized that a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching different disciplines does not work, especially when it comes to nursing education.
She called for more extensive interdisciplinary collaboration, particularly between the nursing and medical communities. She encouraged more classroom time spent on ethics and discussion.

She recommended simulated experiences that are based on actual cases rather than fabricated cases that often are overly complex. She underscored that nursing is a profession of involvement and engagement.

“It’s a big leap from the textbook to the clinical situation,” said Benner.

The VUSN Centennial Lecture is an ongoing series that started with the school’s 100th anniversary in 2008 and was made possible with support from the family of Ann Schuh Taylor, BSN ’51.