Nursing Professional Development and Why It’s Important

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Nursing can be an exciting career option for people who are passionate about lifelong learning. That’s because science and nursing knowledge are continually evolving as new studies are released and evidence-based practices are refined. Indeed, nursing professional development is one of the hallmarks of this field.

In This Article:

What Is Professional Development for Nurses?

A nurse’s first completed nursing degree program (e.g., associate degree or Bachelor of Science in Nursing — BSN) will teach foundational clinical knowledge and skills, but it’s simply not possible to teach everything a nurse may need to know in one degree program. Continuing professional development for nurses is comprised of all the activities that a nurse may do to expand their knowledge and sharpen their skills. These activities may help refresh a nurse’s previously acquired knowledge and skills or add to their existing framework of competencies.

The nursing field is dynamic in that it is characterized by emerging trends, continually developing research and new science technologies. Why is continuing education important in nursing? Quite simply, nurses need to be able to stay on top of the emerging trends and make clinical decisions informed by the latest evidence and guidelines, as well as use new technologies — all in the name of supporting better health outcomes for patients.

Do I Need a New Degree for Nursing Professional Development?

Continuing professional development often involves reading the latest nursing research in medical journals, exploring the work of experts at professional conferences or seeking mentorship from seasoned nurses. In other cases, however, continuing education is a bit more structured.

For example, state boards of nursing often require registered nurses (RNs) to complete a certain number of continuing education credits (or contact hours) to keep their nursing license active. Continuing education credits may also be required by healthcare employers certifying organizations that grant certification in specialty areas.1

The continuing education credits required by states or employers may not lead to a degree, but they are designed to help RNs do their job more effectively and safely. In some cases, however, a nurse may decide that it’s time to head back to school to earn a new degree.

For instance, if you became an RN with an associate degree, you might also decide that you need to earn a BSN to position yourself for potential career advancement. In this situation, you might enroll in an RN to BSN program — an accelerated program that allows active RNs with an associate degree to leverage their past education and experience to earn a bachelor’s degree more quickly.

Why Is Continuing Education Important in Nursing?

The importance of continuing education in nursing cannot be overstated. Here’s a closer look at the many benefits of periodically refreshing and strengthening your knowledge and clinical skills.

Maintaining and Enhancing Nursing Knowledge

Earn your BSN to enjoy opportunities to sharpen your skills, broaden your understanding of best practice and prepare to take on more responsibilities in a hospital or healthcare organization. GCU’s RN to BSN program is tailored to meet the needs of the RN student and maximize the strengths that working RNs are expected to already possess.

Staying on Top of Evidence-Based Practices

Change is arguably the only constant in healthcare. With each passing year, clinicians add to the ever-growing body of knowledge. New standards of care and interventions are developed, and new technologies are integrated. It is essential to be current on the latest evidence-based practices and implement them into your own approach to patient care.

Choosing a Specialization

An RN to BSN degree path can pave the way for your future trajectory in healthcare. Whether you have your eyes set on becoming the next unit educator or supervisor, or beginning a career in higher education, they all start with your BSN. This is partially because, once you have a BSN, you may become eligible to apply to graduate-level nursing degree programs.

Advocacy for Patients

As a registered nurse, your patients look to you to provide the best possible care. It is vital that you are current on the latest evidence and are prepared as an advocate to handle any given situation. A BSN is designed to give you a strong base of knowledge and skill to draw from.

Enhancing the Direction of Your Career

Too often, nurses rely on the strong, nationwide demand for healthcare providers for job security. But employers prefer to hire and promote providers who demonstrate an ongoing commitment to nursing with professional development.

As an example of this, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) explains that a wide range of employers (including Magnet hospitals and the military) and professional nursing organizations value BSN-prepared nurses. In fact, the AACN states that BSN-prepared nurses are often valued for their critical thinking, leadership, case management and health promotion skills.2

By choosing the RN to BSN degree program, you are affirming your dedication to give your patients the best possible care. This is a value that no healthcare organization can do without. Furthermore, nursing education can lay a firm foundation for pursuing a nursing specialty or different work setting. Some examples of career paths you might consider pursuing include:

  • Cruise ship nurse
  • Flight nurse
  • Parish nurse
  • Public health nurse
  • Charge nurse
  • Critical care nurse
  • Cardiac care nurse
  • School nurse

Once you understand the importance of education in nursing, a world of possibilities awaits.

Earn Your Degree at GCU

Grand Canyon University has maintained a tradition of nursing education excellence, curriculum, evidence-based instruction and experiential learning opportunities. If you’re already an RN who holds an associate degree or diploma certificate in nursing, it’s time to explore our Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) degree program. Fill out the form on this page to learn more. Staff. (2022, Dec. 15). Nursing continuing education (CE) requirements by state. Retrieved April 12, 2024.

American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2024). The Impact of Education on Nursing Practice. Retrieved April 12. 2024.

Approved by the associate dean of the College of Nursing and Healthcare Professionals on May 20, 2024.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.