Jean Weyman, PhD, RN

Continuing education at BC - bridging two worlds

Jean Weyman

By Laurie Fronek | 5/22/07

Jean Weyman, PhD, RN, directs the continuing education program at Boston College's William F. Connell School of Nursing. She talked with On Call's Laurie Fronek recently about the importance of continuing education for nurses and offered some advice on how nurses can find courses that truly serve their individual goals.

Q. Why is continuing education important for nurses?

A. There's the licensure issue, of course. Nurses are required to have a certain amount of continuing education depending on which state they're in. But there's also the current knowledge explosion within medicine. To stay abreast of new findings is a challenge for all nurses and physicians. Most importantly, continuing education enhances professional competence and allows self-growth, so people also use it to support role development or career changes. Finally, people's approach to continuing education is changing. At one time, people did it mainly because they had to get the mandatory credits. Now, adults just really like to learn.

Q. What kinds of things should nurses consider when they are looking at all the different offerings that are out there for CEUs?

A. Time is precious. It feels like people are working longer and harder every year, and certainly, the nursing profession has always involved long hours. So people should look for programs that give them what they truly need.

I recommend that nurses think about what their goals are, long-term and short-term, and then try to find a curriculum or path that takes them in a direction they want to go. To do that you need to identify what is available, take a look at the content, and then evaluate how well it will help you meet your goals. Also, think about how you want to get the education you need: where you want to go for it, how much time you have, and how you learn best.

"Continuing education enhances professional competence and allows self-growth, so people also use it to support role development or career changes."

It's also important to go with programs that are accredited by ANCC, the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Consider who is offering the program. Is it a known entity? What is the reputation of the individual provider? I usually say to stick with people and brands that you know - institutions and organizations that are known entities and that you can stay connected with and go back to after the program is over.

Q. Can you talk about the approach Boston College takes in offering continuing education for nurses?

A. What we try to do is offer a continuing-education curriculum. Our undergraduate and graduate programs have curricula, of course, and our philosophy is that everyone should have a curriculum for their continuing education as well. Adult learners do enjoy taking one-time classes, but they really like coming to something that feels like a path, where they have a sense of direction.

There is an important difference to keep in mind. Unlike our undergraduate or graduate students, our continuing-education students are in charge of their own curriculum. They're not in a class because somebody said they had to be there. So we offer classes cafeteria style. Nurses can choose based on their specialty or their area of interest. This means every person's curriculum is different. But they are all working toward something. You can take one class this year, for example, and then come back and take the next level class next year. And you can put classes together in order to earn a particular certificate, like our certificate of clinical research.

Our basic core program is an RN refresher/re-entry program. Nursing curricula, they say, become outdated about every 10 years. So for continuing education, we take our undergraduate nursing curriculum and crunch that down into a semester of updates. The idea is that if you come and do that every 5 to 10 years, your core knowledge will stay current. We also run conferences, like the Northeast Regional Nurse Practitioner Conference, and other programs.

Q. What's the difference between taking continuing education through an academic institution like yours or doing it more piecemeal style, such as taking stand-alone courses?

A. The major difference is probably that because we're based in the university, we're always here. We have a curriculum, and our classes repeat. That gives students flexibility. Many of our classes take place over time. For example, we'll do a seven-week class. If a student has to miss one, we're going to offer it again next fall so he or she can come and pick it up then. Also, because we're always here, students get the feeling of being connected. I see that as an advantage.

The other interesting thing is that we have one foot in the academic world, because we're housed in a university setting and I sit on the faculty of the school of nursing. We also have one foot in the clinical world, because we bring in a lot of clinical people to teach - and all the customers, the continuing-education students, come from clinical settings. So our program is a bridge between the two worlds.

Laurie Fronek is a freelance writer who lives in Seattle and a regular contributor to On Call. She has done the interviews for On Call for the past nine years.