Background Significant ongoing learning needs for nurses have occurred as a direct result of the continuous introduction of technological innovations and research developments in the healthcare environment. Despite an increased worldwide emphasis on the importance of continuing education, there continues to be an absence of empirical evidence of program and session effectiveness. Few studies determine whether continuing education enhances or develops practice and the relative cost benefits of health professionals’ participation in professional development. The implications for future clinical practice and associated educational approaches to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse multigenerational and multicultural workforce are also not well documented. There is minimal research confirming that continuing education programs contribute to improved patient outcomes, nurses’ earlier detection of patient deterioration or that standards of continuing competence are maintained. Crucially, evidence-based practice is demonstrated and international quality and safety benchmarks are adhered to. An integrated clinical learning model was developed to inform ongoing education for acute care nurses. Educational strategies included the use of integrated learning approaches, interactive teaching concepts and learner-centred pedagogies. A Respiratory Skills Update education (ReSKU) program was used as the content for the educational intervention to inform surgical nurses’ clinical practice in the area of respiratory assessment. The aim of the research was to evaluate the effectiveness of implementing the ReSKU program using teaching and learning strategies, in the context of organisational utility, on improving surgical nurses’ practice in the area of respiratory assessment. The education program aimed to facilitate better awareness, knowledge and understanding of respiratory dysfunction in the postoperative clinical environment. This research was guided by the work of Forneris (2004), who developed a theoretical framework to operationalise a critical thinking process incorporating the complexities of the clinical context. The framework used educational strategies that are learner-centred and participatory. These strategies aimed to engage the clinician in dynamic thinking processes in clinical practice situations guided by coaches and educators. Methods A quasi experimental pre test, post test non–equivalent control group design was used to evaluate the impact of the ReSKU program on the clinical practice of surgical nurses. The research tested the hypothesis that participation in the ReSKU program improves the reported beliefs and attitudes of surgical nurses, increases their knowledge and reported use of respiratory assessment skills. The study was conducted in a 400 bed regional referral public hospital, the central hub of three smaller hospitals, in a health district servicing the coastal and hinterland areas north of Brisbane. The sample included 90 nurses working in the three surgical wards eligible for inclusion in the study. The experimental group consisted of 36 surgical nurses who had chosen to attend the ReSKU program and consented to be part of the study intervention group. The comparison group included the 39 surgical nurses who elected not to attend the ReSKU program, but agreed to participate in the study. Findings One of the most notable findings was that nurses choosing not to participate were older, more experienced and less well educated. The data demonstrated that there was a barrier for training which impacted on educational strategies as this mature aged cohort was less likely to take up educational opportunities. The study demonstrated statistically significant differences between groups regarding reported use of respiratory skills, three months after ReSKU program attendance. Between group data analysis indicated that the intervention group’s reported beliefs and attitudes pertaining to subscale descriptors showed statistically significant differences in three of the six subscales following attendance at the ReSKU program. These subscales included influence on nursing care, educational preparation and clinical development. Findings suggest that the use of an integrated educational model underpinned by a robust theoretical framework is a strong factor in some perceptions of the ReSKU program relating to attitudes and behaviour. There were minimal differences in knowledge between groups across time. Conclusions This study was consistent with contemporary educational approaches using multi-modal, interactive teaching strategies and a robust overarching theoretical framework to support study concepts. The construct of critical thinking in the clinical context, combined with clinical reasoning and purposeful and collective reflection, was a powerful educational strategy to enhance competency and capability in clinicians
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