So don’t treat your clinical education like it is one

I see a number of posts from nurse practitioners requesting quick fixes. Inquiries like “I accepted a new position in neurology – do you know of any quick brush-up courses?” and “I’m trying to learn medical Spanish – does anyone know of any conferences to attend?”. While conferences and other short learning experiences certainly have merit, mastering the various aspects of clinical practice takes much more time and involvement than a one-week continuing education bootcamp. 

Why do I bring this topic up? I think it boils down to managing expectations. I also talk with a number of NPs who are dissatisfied with their careers. Nurse practitioners are capable of working in a multitude of settings which makes transitioning to a new practice area or to a new job relatively simple. Convince an employer to hire you. Sign an employment agreement on the dotted line and bam! You’re official. Once you’ve accepted the position, however, things can get difficult. 

Mastering a new specialty, a new procedure, or a new clinical skill/knowledge takes time and practice. I’ve worked as a nurse practitioner in the emergency department for more than ten years now and there are still plenty of nuances I have to learn about ECG interpretation to name just one example. Attending an ECG interpretation conference might give my skills a little boost, but it won’t make me an expert. Its the day-in-day-out practice that counts the most. 

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Applying our typical “need it now” approach in life to clinical practice has negative consequences. Typically, NPs recognize pretty quickly that the one-week refresher course they’ve signed up for will only fill a small portion of their knowledge gap. When they get into practice and apply what they’ve learned in school or at the latest conference, the reality of the remaining knowledge deficit sinks in. They get frustrated. I’ve been there. 

The answer to this “get ready quick” mentality isn’t to stop learning altogether, or to skip out on conferences that might provide some helpful information. Rather, it’s to manage expectations. Learning a new specialty, making it through your first years in practice, and implementing new skills requires time. Don’t expect to take shortcuts. Recognize that mastering new skills and applying new knowledge is a long road. This way, you won’t get burnt out and discouraged but instead view improving your practice as a career-long, challenging but enjoyable learning project. Set yourself up for success. Developing your clinical knowledge is more like slow-cooking a meal in the Crock Pot than microwaving leftovers. 


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