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Information literacy: a changing mosaic of skills, knowledge and attitude

Much has been written about the importance of "lifelong learning" to the nursing profession. In the whirlwind transformation of the health care system now underway, the demand has intensified for nurses trained in leadership, patient education, case management, and health care delivery across a variety of acute care and outpatient settings. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, nurses holding bachelor of science in nursing (B.S.N.) degrees are the only nursing graduates prepared to practice in all health care settings — critical care, outpatient care, public health, and mental health — and they cite a recent National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice recommendation that two-thirds of the nation’s basic nursing workforce hold baccalaureate or higher degrees in nursing by the year 2010.

Obtaining a B.S.N. degree can offer nurses many important advantages. Apart from developing new skills and knowledge, research has shown that the level of intellectual effort, work and commitment involved in securing a baccalaureate helps graduates develop self-reliance, flexibility, resourcefulness and the ability to share knowledge with others — all important skills in a health care environment in which nurses are frequently called upon to fill positions other than those for which they have traditionally been educated. And, as health care services are increasingly shifted from acute inpatient care to outpatient care, nurses with baccalaureate degrees and advanced practice preparation will be required in growing numbers in ambulatory care, managed care, public health, and home care settings.

But even as health care agencies raise the standards for job placement, educators are realizing that even the best and most comprehensive degree program cannot anticipate and include all the changes that are likely to occur within the span of the average career. One study states that the estimated half-life for a nursing course is under five years. Add to that the rapid advances in information and communication technologies, the focus on non-traditional, community-based services, the increasing international links in education and practice, and the trend toward multidisciplinary health care delivery, and one begins to understand the complexity of issues involved in "just keeping up."

In this issue of Connections we focus on the many ways that the School of Nursing at the University of Washington is meeting the challenge of nurturing both the motivation to learn and the ability to acquire new knowledge and skills whenever the need arises. We interview faculty for whom basic nursing has been a jumping-off point for learning and career development over a lifetime. We hear from nurse administrators from major health care agencies about the demands of the current market and its links to nursing education. We present some of the students whose commitment to lifelong learning is changing the face of nursing. Finally, we examine the global nature of our nursing program and the ways that students and faculty are bringing international knowledge and new understanding to the nursing profession.

CAPTION: Doctoral student Pam Talley identifies a vein for B.S.N. student Sara Cheung as part of a lesson on initiating intravenous therapy.