How Lifelong Learning in Nursing Facilitates a Culture of Health

Lessons from Google Hangout with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Posted by Shanna S. RN, BSN on November 13, 2013

When it comes to maintaining and expanding your nursing practice, developing the ability to take advantage of new and novel ways of learning is essential. As nursing professionals, we are often called upon to educate ourselves, in order to adapt to the ever changing practice environments within healthcare.

I stumbled upon The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's first Culture of Health Google Hangout, a panel discussion on what we can do to create a culture of health in our communities. The video discussion featured public health professionals who are already well on their way to applying the principles of change and collaboration to improving the health of our communities. As a Registered Nurse and proponent of healthcare quality and improvement, I was both excited and curious to see how interaction among healthcare professionals on Twitter and Google Plus could further my own abilities to support and improve public health initiatives.

Photo Credit: RWJF

According to Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Culture of Health collaborative can be seen as "a perfect opportunity…to create that more perfect health care system and community that allows people to be healthy" (RWJF, Feb 2013).

I believe nurses play a vital role in creating those systems and communities. I believe our levels of interconnectedness can aid in identifying the collaborative relationships and changes that are needed to bring improved health to our communities. We, as individual nurses, must expand our education and embrace lifelong learning, just as we must, as communities and a nation, embrace the same attitude, using the resources at hand to create the changes we want to see.

The panel, which consisted of Jewel Mullen, Muntu Davis, Karen DeSalvo, and Michael Meit, and which was moderated by Paul Kuehnert, collaborated to share their own resources, as well as the roadmaps they have used to reach their goals. Each panelist had the opportunity to share insights into the programs they had implemented in their own communities that have resulted in improved health outcomes for the population, and have led to the expansion of a culture of health. While video streaming, tweeting, live posting and an engaged, yet completely separated user base are not your traditional public health tools, they turned out to be quite effective.

Some of the key ideas panelists shared as effective are featured below. These ideas were presented in a way that can be described as virtual note taking. The engaged audience tweeted, re-tweeted, favorited and 1+'ed the key points, demonstrating a new way to learn and share information. Incorporating video streams, live discussions, and social media tools into public health may not be traditional, but it appears to be quite effective.

Lifelong learning, indeed, adapted to the changing media environment, and demonstrating a solid degree of collaboration, between virtual friends and strangers.

Key Considerations to Create a Culture of Health

  • "Health is much more than just medical care."
  • "Collaborating is the key."
  • "Collaboration requires ego control, shared measures and transparency."
  • "Engage the young people in communities."
  • "Instead of doing more with less, do different with less."
  • "The more we understand the connection between health and community, the more opportunities we have to improve it."
  • "Using data shines a light on what's going on."

"Collaboration will be less like a Symphony and more like Jazz"

- Panelist Karen DeSalvo, paraphrased

One of the key features of effective lifelong learning, in my opinion, is the ability to ingest information and then to disseminate it to those who can also benefit. Taking the opportunity to share knowledge with others, in the hopes of enhancing health and wellness, is part of what I love about being a nurse. Spreading some of the key messages I learned from this educational opportunity is a part of promoting a Culture of Health.

For, if nurses do not educate patients, the public, and other healthcare professionals, then that which is learned is lost.

Think of how many times you may have been called upon to teach yourself something new, with little or no instruction. Perhaps you have had to learn a new way of performing a procedure, based upon a change in supplies or nursing policies. Maybe you have learned how to present patient education in new ways as a result of short staffing or cost cutting at your facility. Researching a new medication, learning about a specific disease process, and incorporating evidence based practice into your nursing are all examples of lifelong learning.

Consider the rapidly changing landscape of healthcare itself, ever evolving as a result of reform, revision, and cost reduction.

In the midst of staying abreast of your patients' needs, educating them about how to regain and retain their health, you have likely had to learn how to utilize new technology, including documentation programs, handheld devices, apps and online resources. While these changes can be frustrating and difficult to adapt to, within them may lie hidden gems that can help you to develop your abilities as a lifelong, self-directed learner, key characteristics of professional nurses.

According to a joint report, created by The Association of American Medical Colleges and The American Association of Colleges of Nursing on Lifelong Learning, it is possible to realize the vision of a well educated inter-professional pool of healthcare providers. The report states that a key understanding of, and support for, both change and collaboration is what is required to transform that vision into reality (Macy Report, 2009).

Effective lifelong learning can be achieved when we, as nurses, understand that both change and collaboration are integral to the process.

As a nurse who has learned to adapt to many different practice settings, I now find myself in a completely new setting, albeit one that holds the potential for great things. I am trained as a nurse, hold a deep passion for education, and am engaged in helping to create and unite the resources that can bring cohesive, collaborative and constructive change to the profession. Adapting to, and even embracing change is one of the most important catalysts to much of what I've learned as nurse. Now, I am teaching myself how to take the changes I see and turn them into collaborative opportunities.

An educated nurse is a powerful thing, and our nursing education does not end when we graduate a program or earn a degree.

As nurses, we are called upon to be self directed, lifelong learners, incorporating all the changes we experience in healthcare, into how we actually care for health. Building strategic partnerships, whether at the individual level of nurse to patient, or on a larger scale, is an essential skill to improving health. One such example of what can be achieved by learning how to incorporate both change and collaboration into our health efforts, is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) Culture of Health initiative.

The Google Hangout organized by RWJF afforded the opportunity to ask questions in real time, spread the word to other professionals, and to listen in on the panelists whose strategies spread a culture of health to their communities. As a lifelong learner, I realize that these outcomes would not have existed, were it not for change and collaboration.

To view an archive of the Google Hangout you can follow this link: Culture of Health: Public Health Departments Transforming Community Health. Take what you learn and share it with your nursing colleagues, your public health team, and with your community. Let us all take "the opportunity to…learn from each other and create a movement for change" (Lavizzo-Mourey, Feb 2013). A culture of health is possible. To learn more about it, explore #cultureofhealth on Twitter, and take advantage of the many learning opportunities available from The RWJF, including the wealth of information on their website.

In the continuous endeavor to maintain and expand my nursing knowledge, I find that one of my best resources is the ever expanding realm of social media, interactive web tools, online learning, and the opportunity to professionally network at the speed of light. The amount of knowledge that can be gleaned in one day of exploring hashtags on Twitter is astounding. While I was initially wary of the quality of educational resources I might find in such a setting, I now believe that embracing the changing ways in which we can learn and teach is paramount to improving health and disseminating important information.

Shanna Shafer RN, BSN is driven by the impact nursing, and nursing education, can have on the health of our patients, families, communities, and nation. She has almost ten years of nursing experience in a variety of settings, and currently serves as the Managing Editor at