Teaching the Literacy of Professionalism: When Clinical Skills Are Not Enough

Publication Title

Nurse Educator

Publication Date


Document Type





teaching, literacy, professionalism, clinical skills




Many RNs seeking their BSN degrees do not have well-developed nonclinical professional skills related to scholarship. To address this issue, faculty used the Community of Inquiry Framework to develop an elective, online course to help RN-BSN students explore professional growth through writing, presenting, and portfolio development. The authors discuss the course and its outcomes.

Most nurses can recall times when they heard a presentation or read an article that resonated as something they could have created. Interesting career accomplishments, unique clinical scenarios, and valuable project contributions are common among nurses and are worth sharing with colleagues. But when asked how often they speak or write about their work, nurses identify barriers such as feeling inadequate, lacking knowledge on how to present, and failing to recognize the value of contributions. At our major Midwest university, we found that the majority of RNs in the BSN completion program had limited knowledge of professional opportunities for scholarship beyond the role of staff nurse. One student told us, “My facility hosts an annual call for posters…. I wrongly assumed that poster presentations were only for those pursuing advanced degrees.”

Recognizing the benefits to both individual RNs and the nursing profession, we developed a 3-credit-hour asynchronous online course to explore professional growth through writing, presenting, and portfolio development. The term professional literacy was used to describe the ability to seek and apply skills related to scholarship for career advancement.

The course focus was influenced by the absence of such content in ADN program curricula, student identification of the need for these skills, and faculty desire to offer students a deeper understanding of professional contributions beyond direct patient care. The professional skills of self-assessment and peer assessment were also introduced. We believed the course would appeal to RN students, in part, because it supported the principle of the Magnet Recognition Program® to “provide a vehicle for disseminating successful nursing practice and strategies” and promoted the RN students’ advancement on their facility’s clinical ladder.

Professional education standards were considered in course development. We included 3 American Association of Colleges of Nursing Baccalaureate Essentials that were most relevant: Essential 3 (scholarship for evidence-based practice), Essential 6 (interprofessional communication and collaboration for improving patient health outcomes), and Essential 8 (professionalism and professional values). The National League for Nursing Core Competencies for Nurse Educators that most closely aligned with this course included Competency 1 (facilitate learning), Competency 2 (facilitate learner development and socialization), and Competency 4 (participate in curriculum design and evaluation of program outcomes). Examples provided in this article reinforce the selection of these competencies.