Reflecting on a decade of nursing education
Responding to a provincial need for a focused, consolidated approach to continuing education for nurses, in 2007 Grant MacEwan University opened its Centre for Professional Nursing Education (CPNE). Much has changed over the past 10 years. For example, advances in educational technology have allowed the centre to move from offering a hybrid of face-to-face and online courses and programs to offering all of its programming online, using innovative distance learning interfaces. Nevertheless, important qualities remain the same: responsiveness, adaptability, and a passion, shared by staff and faculty, to foster excellence in learning. All of this has helped establish the centre as a “go to” facility for nursing education in Alberta and beyond.
Answering the call—then and now
MacEwan’s foray into continuing education for nurses began in 1973 with the launch of its respected nursing refresher program, which is still offered through the CPNE. Soon after, the Edmonton health region, provincial health care associations and CARNA (College & Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta) recognized a growing demand for nurses with specialized skills in areas such as gerontology, palliative care, perioperative nursing and occupational health nursing. Concurrently, nurses sought ways to develop competencies in these specialized areas.
MacEwan took action, developing stand-alone courses, workshops and entire certificate programs in nursing specialities. In 2007, upon completion of the Robbins Health Learning Centre, the university amalgamated all these offerings at the Centre for Professional Nursing Education.
“Our programs are very much tied to current practice and what’s happening in the environment,” says Shirley Galenza, who has been the director of the CPNE since it opened. “There are ebbs and flows,” she adds, explaining that the Occupational Health Nursing program, for example, is largely tied to the economy. In the centre’s early years, with the Alberta economy booming due to the then-vibrant oil industry, the demand for occupational health nurses—and training in that nursing specialty—was particularly high.
Currently, skilled O.R. nurses are in demand, which has required the centre’s Perioperative Nursing program to expand its faculty and number of sessions. Along with the regular intake of nurses who register on their own, additional factors are at play, such as an aging population (large numbers of nurses are nearing retirement age), staff turnover, and nurses taking breaks to raise families. Combined with the highly specialized nature of O.R. nursing, these dynamics have even prompted Alberta Health Services (AHS) to address an impending shortage by sending cohorts of students to the program.
“Perioperative nursing is nothing new,” says Andrea Lysak, sessional faculty in the program, “but it’s a very different area of nursing—almost like learning a whole new language—because once the patient is asleep, everything changes.” Technology plays a huge role: minimally invasive surgical techniques are now the norm, and robots and lasers are commonly integrated. The O.R. also relies on a more team-oriented approach than many other areas of nursing. The CPNE’s perioperative program provides nurses with the skills they need to function confidently in this ever-changing environment.
Sometimes an increase in the incidence of a medical condition triggers a modification to the centre’s programming. A case in point is the relatively new “Dementia Care in the Elderly” course, which is part of the Post-Basic Nursing Practice: Gerontology and Hospice Palliative Care program. Beth Wilkey, sessional faculty who teaches the course, says, “Dementia is currently a major force, and we need to prepare ourselves to provide the best care to individuals living with it.”
Faculty, key to success
Like most of the CPNE’s faculty, both Lysak and Wilkey work in areas related to subjects they teach. In fact, from the beginning, the centre has sought to recruit faculty who are engaged in practice. Not only do they bring the clinical setting to life for students, but they also bring their desire to share knowledge. “We are very fortunate to have really committed and passionate sessional faculty,” says Galenza. “I think this is the strength of the CPNE.”
For Lysak, a perioperative nurse in Alberta Health Service’s North Zone Locum Program, learning and teaching go hand in hand. “I have a thirst for knowledge,” she says. She attends conferences and in-services, subscribes to journals and reads constantly. This helps her stay on top of operating room standards, which change every two years. Not only does this impact her own practice, but it also ensures she imparts current, relevant content to her students.
A nurse practitioner in the long-term care arm of Alberta Health Services, Tammy Damberger has taught several courses at the centre over the years. She believes that maintaining her clinical knowledge is key to keeping course content current. “The hope is that you can teach the concepts but also ground them in the clinical setting,” she says. “Having a commitment to hiring individuals who are also in clinical practice is something I give the centre credit for.”
The CPNE regularly reviews its courses and programs, making minor revisions annually and major revisions every three to five years. Individual faculty, however—because they are current in their fields—constantly incorporate minor updates (swapping outdated readings for more current ones, for example). “I love having the flexibility and autonomy to tweak my courses,” says Wilkey.
Enhancing the teaching and learning environment through technology
Advances in virtual learning platforms have transformed how students learn, and how faculty teach, at the CPNE. In 2014, the centre moved from WebCT, the platform it had been using since it opened its doors, to the more interactive, intuitive Blackboard Learn, which provides a comprehensive array of communication and content presentation tools.
“Blackboard Learn is seamless,” says Lynn Feist, the director of the eLearning Office at MacEwan. “I think our students have really high expectations of the digital world, and this technology allows us to meet those expectations.” Students can access Blackboard Learn on desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones, and see virtually the same interface and menu on each device. “Taking a quiz, for example, is really easy on a smartphone,” Feist says.
Feist has noticed several positive changes in the use of online technology at the centre. The comfort level of both faculty and students has increased, which means the technical support department fields fewer questions. Also, because the technology is so user-friendly, faculty quickly become comfortable with the digital tools they use regularly, and they begin to explore using more advanced tools. “Using technology has certainly upped my game,” says Damberger.
Lora Walker, an occupational health consultant at NAIT, teaches several courses in the CPNE’s Occupational Health Nursing program. She’s perfectly comfortable online, whether it’s responding to emails from students, verifying that online links are working, or updating online material and references. She recently attended an in-service about the video platform Kaltura and subsequently made an instructional video that she integrated into Blackboard Learn, welcoming students to her course and explaining how to navigate through it. “If this helps, I may make more videos,” she says. “I’m always looking for ways to make online learning more friendly for my students.”
“I don’t want technology to drive what we do,” says Galenza, “but it does make it easier for faculty to be current and to engage more with students.”
Strength in partnerships
The CPNE’s success and its ability to reflect currency in practice also hinges on engagement with partners. “Because we’re so aligned with the Faculty of Nursing, our partnerships are targeted and strong,” says Galenza. The centre continues to work closely with AHS and the regulatory body for nurses, CARNA, but has also developed a strong relationship with the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Alberta (CLPNA) and now offers numerous programs and courses for LPNs.
“As a nurse, you want to be current, so you need to set learning objectives for yourself,” says Walker. “This is exactly what the centre helps with—creating a learning plan for yourself.”
While the CPNE has achieved its goal of becoming a “one-stop shop” for nurses, its roster of corporate offerings to health authorities has also increased since it opened. Galenza fields calls from B.C., northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories. “We’re having more and more enquiries from corporations looking at programming and customization for their staff,” she says, citing B.C.’s Interior Health and Northern Health authorities as new CPNE partners.
In light of CPNE’s ambition to be responsive, and recognizing that occupational health is closely tied to the management of the workplace environment through health promotion and screening, the centre has opened registration in several workplace safety courses. These include audiometry, spirometry and vision screening, and enrolment is open to all individuals who work in an occupational safety role. Galenza says she foresees the CPNE moving further into this area of interprofessional practice while opening more of its courses to professionals other than nurses.
Other changes are in the works as well. “We think there’s going to be a high demand in the area of informatics—because nurses must have a strong knowledge base that helps them engage with technology,” says Galenza, explaining that the centre is exploring the expansion of its programming in this area, from the one course currently offered. The centre will also soon unveil a continence management program and is looking into developing an executive leadership program for healthcare professionals.
Keeping pace while looking ahead seems to be the CPNE’s success formula. “I really do feel the empowerment of being in the wave of change,” says Walker, “because it’s fulfilling personally, and it’s fulfilling to see the opportunities that will be available for upcoming students.”
The Centre for Professional Nursing Education provides continuing education for nurses and health-care professionals.