Lifelong Learning

by Lane Therrell FNP, MSN, RN Lane Therrell FNP, MSN, RN, MSN, RN, NP

Specializes in Family Nurse Practitioner. Has 9 years experience.

Fulfilling licensure renewal and continuing education requirements can be overwhelming at worst and frustrating at best for healthcare professionals at all levels. This article showcases five ways to rekindle a love of lifelong learning, and is part of a series on how to keep the process of staying up to date from taking over your life.

Lifelong Learning

The first time I heard the classic statement, "Nursing is a profession involving lifelong learning," I was incredibly inspired. I felt goosebumps and remember thinking, "Ooh, yeah, that's me-sign me up for nursing school!" I couldn't wait to get started.

Several months after graduation, though, I had a slap-in-the-face kind of reality-check. With my RN license, nurse practitioner board certification, and specialty credentials firmly in hand --and no job in sight-- I started to feel completely overwhelmed by the myriad requirements and significant financial and time commitments involved in maintaining all those letters behind my name. Panic started to creep in around the edges of my thoughts. Then, resentment. Then self-loathing. What had I gotten myself into? Keeping up with my professional credentials could take over my personal life!

Fortunately, that professional crisis of consciousness helped me discover some incredibly useful guiding principles and practical tools that are helping me maintain a true love of lifelong learning while keeping my professional license and credentials up-to-date.

The top five things that helped rekindle my love of lifelong learning are posted below. Please feel free to share your own ideas, successes, and strategies in the comments section, and stay tuned for more articles on the topic of keeping current.

1. Cultivate a Positive Mindset

Cultivating a positive mindset toward lifelong learning allows you to fully embrace the concept and integrate it into your lifestyle instead of resisting and pushing against it. Constant resistance virtually guarantees that lifelong learning will become a source of stress for you. And who needs more stress? Two specific actions have helped me embrace a positive mindset:

Give yourself permission to NOT know it all. Some sources claim that knowledge in our digital age doubles every 12 hours or less. That's a breakneck pace no human keep up with. So, stop trying! You don't need to know everything, you just need to know enough to practice safely. You'll build your expertise at your own pace over time.

Reframe requirements as opportunities. Nip negative thoughts in the bud by reframing them in a positive way. Whenever you catch yourself thinking of your continuing education requirements as a hassle, or a burden, try looking at the situation through the lens of opportunity. What new areas of interest would you like to explore? What new skills are you interested in developing? How might you benefit from networking with likeminded others?

2. Create a Viable Master Plan

If you want to keep your continuing education requirements from taking over your life, establish a viable master plan. A well-designed plan changes according to your personal and professional needs and desires, and serves to keep you focused in a way that allows you to make stress-free decisions about your continuing education over time.

To get started building your personal plan for lifelong learning, you'll need to consider the specific renewal requirements for each of your individual licensing and credentialing organizations. Then, compare them to the requirements and of your current employer and your aspirations for professional growth. Planning is a complex process, but well worth the effort, because it simplifies decision-making in the long run.

3. Identify Your Preferred Continuing Education Providers

There are literally hundreds of different ways to earn continuing education (CE) credits these days. From employer-based in-service trainings, web sites offering instant mini-courses, tele-classes and online seminars, subscription-based journals and newsletters with earn-as-you-read CE credits, professional organizations ad conferences, to academic courses, there are myriad options to suit your budget, learning style, and timeframe needs.

Ironically, the sheer number of options available for earning CE credits can be overwhelming in and of itself-another argument for why you should having a master plan in place for your continuing education. It's worth noting here that a thorough engagement in the planning process will also help you identify and eliminate sources of CEs that that are not recognized by your state or credentialing body, saving you time and money.

4. Track Your Progress

Keeping a running total CE count during your license's active period is only part of the picture, you'll also need to maintain proof of having earned the CEs in case of an audit (yes, CE audits do happen). And some credentials will count other activities beyond CEs for renewal, include hours of practice, publications, or time spent precepting students, all of which must be documented per the requirements of the certifying organization.

The key to keeping track of everything is to put a system in place that works for you. The system that works best for you is the system you will use regularly. You can set up a customized spreadsheet, notebook, or folder on your own, or you can use one of many available digital apps for your tracking your continuing education progress.

5. Follow Good Advice

Pay attention to, and actually follow, the good advice that comes your way about continuing education. Your professors, mentors, colleagues, and more experienced co-workers may drop hints, make suggestions, or offer outright advice. While some of the things you hear will be right for you and others will not, the fact remains that if you don't take action on the good advice you receive, you'll suffer the consequences.

I hope some of these ideas have helped you rekindle your love of learning. Please share your thoughts below. What do you love or hate most about lifelong learning? What is your favorite way to earn CEs and keep track of them? What is the best advice you've ever received about lifelong learning over the course of your career?

Sources and Resources

Knowledge Doubling Every 12 Months, Soon to be Every 12 Hours - Industry Tap

Lane Therrell is a family nurse practitioner and health empowerment coach in California. She is an adjunct instructor in the nurse practitioner program at Samuel Merritt University. She blogs at

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