ANPD believes no matter your role in the practice of NPD, you belong in our community. That’s why our Specialty Spotlight series is highlighting members furthering NPD goals in unique and invaluable ways.
We begin this series by highlighting a pivotal role in nursing professional development: the Professional Development (PD) associate. The PD associate is defined as "an individual who contributes to the overall functioning of a continuing education or professional development department in a substantive, measurable way" (ANPD, 2017). Typically a position not held by an RN, the PD associate provides support in achieving educational and professional development goals in creative ways both autonomously and as a member of the NPD team.
Caroline Baughman, BS, began her career in middle-grade education but found her path as a PD associate after working in an administrative role for her state’s nursing association. There, she met a colleague near retirement who was a PD associate. She trained Caroline to follow in her footsteps. Today, Caroline runs her own company, which offers assistance to organizations providing continuing education.
Can you tell us about your company and why you started it?
I started my own company because I recognized the need. In my last position, my work primarily was with an accredited approver unit, so I was working with providers all over the country, and I was seeing a lack of knowledge, without time to learn nursing continuing professional development planning from some of our individual activity applicants. The desire was present to award contact hours, but they didn’t know how to get started or what details made quality continuing education.
I wanted to help elevate that work with educational design and criteria-based details, executing logistics so they could focus on their content. They were the content experts, but to have someone as part of their team to help streamline those processes makes it better. I have an experienced nurse planner on staff, and we work with groups who deliver conferences and education. They come to us with great ideas and have strong content, and benefit from our effective managing of the education planning side.
Our involvement and role can vary drastically by project. Sometimes, we may build and develop online content, or we may help bridge gaps within a collaborative partnership endeavor. Other times, we’re helping groups complete the final stages of a project.
What does your role look like day to day?
It’s a lot of logistics and process management. I field a lot of questions, noticing processes that can be improved, helping to organize and plan meetings and identify needs. I’m getting the ball rolling on different projects and then ensuring project execution.
A nursing professional development practitioner may come to us and say, “We want to do this education or this activity. We think nurses need to know x, y, and z. So we think if we plan an activity centered around that need it would be helpful.” I start by asking probing questions related to logistics, begin building documentation files, and then they can focus on the content details. It’s a lot of administrative and project management, but I also do a lot of education as part of my role. My goal is to make professional development projects feel attainable and remove the assumption that it’s too much paperwork or extra work. I help by educating teams and NPD practitioners about the why and how, so the logistics feel easier.
I think it's really important for PD associates to know and understand the professional development education criteria they’re working within to abide by the accrediting body’s requirements. Part of that is to be competent and able to translate information into a language everyone can understand. So, I often think of myself as an interpreter, because many members of a project’s team may not have the professional development planning background to know all the terminology or purpose behind specific details. There may be misunderstandings and misconceptions about what needs to be done for professional development initiatives. Much of my job is bridging some of those gaps and helping those who’ve never done education planning to understand those details.
What are some of the challenges that this position presents you?
I would say the biggest challenge is having to tell people no sometimes, or having to direct people down a different path.
People really want an accreditation or approval statements to go with their work, and it's just not always appropriate, or they can't demonstrate why it's valuable, or they just can't meet criteria for a variety of reasons. And that's a hard part of my job because I like to help people make their project goals a reality. So when I know the projects or initiatives won’t meet standards, it's hard to communicate that sometimes, but it has to be done. It's really important to uphold integrity consistently.
What are the most rewarding parts of your job?
Making things feel doable that felt really cumbersome before. I love being able to look at people and say, “We can scale back. You don't have to do all this if you don't want to, and you can put that time into better content development. You can put that time into doing your job better as opposed to spending a ton of time on little stuff that isn't needed.”
My favorite part is just helping people see that it's easier than they thought it was, and educating them on why.
What values does a PDA bring?
I would say certainly efficiency — just having another set of eyes, somebody on the team who can focus on systems is really helpful. And then, having a partner. I’m expected to be an active part of planning and developing, and because I have an education background and I’m working with NPDs or content developers who often have a nursing background, I can help with some of that education design and framework.
PDAs can add freshness. The NPD practitioner has a partner to bounce ideas off of, and we solve problems together using the framework of established NPD principles. Then, the NPD isn’t weighed down with everything on their shoulders alone.
The hard part of our role is not necessarily advocating that there should be someone, period, but advocating why a PD associate is not solely focused on administrative tasks, and why it is an independently functioning, competency-based position.
Luckily, we have organizations like ANPD that work hard to communicate that and help give us tools to do so.
What advice do you have for someone interested in becoming a PDA?
Take a seat at the table. Don't be afraid to really listen and take part in the discussions and absorb information and get involved. I wouldn't be where I am today without being part of ANPD and becoming immersed in the world and getting to know my colleagues, learning and growing through those connections in that network.
To learn more about the PD Associate role, see a variety of PD Associate resources offered by ANPD.
Association for Nursing Professional Development. (2017, November). ANPD formalizes “new” role in professional development. TrendLines, 28(11), 2–3.