Promoting Professional Development: Three Phases of Articulation in Nursing Education and Practice

Article excerpt


In this article the authors present the evolution of career ladders in nursing education and practice and discuss their development, maturation, and institutionalization in three phases over a span of forty years. In phase one, academic career ladders were spiral staircases, complex, confusing, and poorly articulated entry and exit pathways. Phase two saw the maturation of career ladders across all levels of nursing education and practice. In phase three, academic and clinical career ladders, built upon theoretical perspectives, have enriched academic programs and clinical practice and increasingly are being integrated into the curriculum, clinical advancement programs, and the magnet hospital movement. The authors conclude by discussing continuing questions, such as the amount of clinical experience needed in an educational program and the amount of clinical practice needed before seeking an advanced degree. They highlight the need for more research and dialogue about the amount, type, and measurement of clinical work and argue that these studies are needed to better inform decisions about professional legislation, accreditation, certification, education, healthcare outcomes, and future-oriented career ladders.

Citation: Donley, R., Flaherty, M.J., (Sept. 30, 2008) "Promoting Professional Development: Three Phases of Articulation in Nursing Education and Practice" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing; Vol 13 No 3 Manuscript 2. Available:

Key words: articulation, career ladders, clinical ladders, nursing education, professional development

This article presents the emergence and maturation of career ladders in nursing education and practice over a period of forty years. It advocates for research to determine the amount, type, and measurement of clinical experience that is essential for progression along academic and clinical career ladders.

Career ladders developed in the United States (US) as a seminal response to "the war on poverty," a social and political movement of the 1960s. The War on Poverty was launched in the US by President Johnson in 1964 as a showcase program of the Great Society Era. It expressed the cherished American dream, namely, that education could help people rise from poverty. President Johnson spoke of the war on poverty as giving underprivileged young Americans "the opportunity to develop skills, continue education, and find useful work" (Halsall, 1998, p. 1). Reissman and Popper (1968), sociologists of this period, described how ordinary people could combine education and job progression to achieve their economic and professional aspirations. Because of the opportunities presented by career ladders, there would be "no dead end" careers, or as Ramphal (1968) expressed it, no "stunted professional nurses" (p. 1236). It was expected that these career ladders would offer, to those nurses whose early educational choices made it difficult to use education as a mode of career advancement, new opportunities to build on their past learning and experience. This possibility re-awakened the "rags to riches" myth and appealed to diverse publics: politicians, industrial leaders, employers, and the general public. In these discussions, career ladders were envisioned as planned, coordinated, and well-articulated academic programs designed to help people move up the academic hierarchy in a step-like manner. The metaphor of a ladder emphasized that each step would provide new, not repetitive, knowledge and skills. Although the career ladder concept could have been applied initially at any level of the academic hierarchy, it found a first and welcoming home in community colleges.

Politicians and leaders in state and local governments saw community colleges' emphasis on career ladder programs as attractive academic opportunities for many disciplines. …


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