Lifelong learning: Your catalyst for success

success catalyst nurse leader

Thriving in a contemporary practice setting can hinge on your willingness to continue your education.

Today’s professional nurses have a wide variety of choices regarding where to practice and how far to advance in their careers. Healthcare reform has sparked development of new care-delivery models that offer opportunities to practice and lead change in both familiar and new arenas.

Deborah E. Trautman, PhD, RN, FAAN

As leaders of nurse-managed health clinics, community health centers, health/medical homes, and other practice sites, nurses are driving improvements in health and enhancing access to health care on many fronts. As more patients enter the system and an aging population increases the demand for care, many more nurses will be needed to serve in primary care, preventive care, and specialty roles, as well as to lead independent practices.

Thriving in a contemporary practice setting can hinge on your willingness to return to school to continue your education. Completing a registered nurse (RN) program and passing the NCLEX licensure exam are only the first steps in your development as a professional nurse. In a 2015 progress report on the future of nursing, the Institute of Medicine found that “for nurses to be prepared to meet increasingly complex patient needs, function as leaders, and advance science, they should achieve higher levels of education.”


Many doors are open to nurses with preparation beyond the entry level. Those with graduate degrees provide direct patient care as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), conduct research, teach online and in the classroom, influence public policy, lead health systems, consult with corporations, and implement evidence-based solutions that can revolutionize health care. These highly skilled providers are in great demand to fill established and emerging roles that allow nurses to focus on such practice areas as geriatrics, pediatrics, public health, administration, informatics, forensics, systems improvement, and genetics/genomics.

Whenever possible, I encourage students to stay in school beyond their initial licensure, especially if their long-term goal is to practice in an advanced clinical, research, or teaching role. Many new graduates—even those who plan to return to school soon after getting their first job—find that reentering academia after starting clinical practice is hard. Of course, staying in school isn’t an option for many nurses who must work to support themselves and their families. Those who work while pursuing a course of study must take care to choose the right kind of educational environment (such as online vs. face-to-face, formal vs. informal, and advanced degree vs. continuing education). Identifying your educational preferences is key to your academic success.

President John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Nurses in all settings are leaders who champion the needs of the patients and populations they serve. I encourage all nurses to assume leadership roles both within the profession and the larger community. I have found that the best leaders are those who embrace lifelong learning and are open to developing new expertise.

2017 Education Guide

Deborah E. Trautman is president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

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