My Path to NPD

Cathy Gage, MHA, RN-BC is a Professional Development Coordinator at UNC Hospitals
in Chapel Hill, NC. 


I have been in Nursing Professional Development for about 8 years, before that management had been my life. When I graduated nursing school I knew I would end up in education (we did not call it professional development at that time), but my career path seemed to take me down the management road.  Even when I went back to school for my masters, I assumed I would stay with management, but the more I learned the more I realized management was not my passion, nursing education and professional development was.  Once I completed my masters I watched and waited for the perfect job to appear.  I’m not sure I knew what that perfect job was, but knew I would know it when I found it. That perfect opportunity came my way a year after I finished my masters, being the smart woman my mother raised, I immediately applied.  The role was Professional Development Coordinator; in this position I would supervise the program component of Nursing Practice and Professional Development Department but I would also serve as Liaison to the schools of nursing as well as coordinate several professional development programs. My role still involves management, as they say- once a manager always a manager, but as a Professional Development Coordinator I have been able to embrace my passion for education and professional development as well. 

My use of the terms education and professional development together is not to imply they are the same thing, they are not.  I use them together because my role enables me to have a hand in both education and professional development. 

Education to me means new knowledge and concepts.  As I work with schools of nursing in their placements and regulatory requirements I have opportunity to do guest lectures/education about professional development and leadership.  Interacting with nursing students is energizing and it gives hope for the future of nursing; they are so eager to learn everything.  Observing them comprehend nursing as an art, adopt evidence-based practices, and participate in research is exciting.  Their enthusiasm is inspiring.

Teaching our nurses how to teach is another component of education.  Nurses teach every day; from patient education to precepting, coaching, and mentoring.  Unfortunately, teaching is not necessarily a natural skill for everyone.  Providing education for charge nurses so they may embrace and apply the concepts of leadership, communication and collaboration, and financial understanding of the impact of their decisions they must make is rewarding. 

Providing education for preceptors, coaches, and mentors in adult learning and teaching principles is crucial for nurse satisfaction and retention. We, as Nursing Professional Development Specialist (NPDS), understand the importance of a good beginning for a new employee and the impact it has on retention, and the importance of developing a nurse's leadership skills as their career develops and changes.

I view Professional Development as expanding their base knowledge and understanding of nursing concepts. My role in the hospital as a professional development coordinator allows me to assist nurses in their pursuit of lifelong learning, maintaining competency, and enhancing the professional practice environment.  It is amazing to follow someone as they progress from a new graduate to a fully confident, competent nurse. 

I don’t know of another role in nursing that impacts so many areas of an organization. We impact patient outcomes, nurse satisfaction and retention, patient satisfaction, as well as organizational reputation and financial stability - just to name a few.  The Nursing Professional Development Specialist (NPDS) role is crucial, how we each operationalize the role in our organizations may vary, but the impact we make is beyond measure. I am proud to be an NPDS!I found the Nursing Professional: Scope and Standards of Practice a good foundation to define the role of an NPDS.  Our department has used this guide as the basis for our core behaviors and structure. This model defines why I chose to go into Professional Development,  I look at the outcomes and see “goals not met”  and desire to help our staff meet the goals and have an impact. 

Cathy chart.JPG

All this leads to the discussion, what are your views of education and professional development? How valuable do you see your role and what impact are you making? Ask yourself, "Why did I go into Nursing Professional Development?”


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