Linking Liberal & Professional Learning in Nursing Education

By Hermann, Mary L. | Liberal Education, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Linking Liberal & Professional Learning in Nursing Education


Hermann, Mary L., Liberal Education


THE SPIRIT OF THE HUMANITIES has been present in the delivery of nursing care since its beginning. But it was not until the turn of the twentieth century that nursing educators mandated that nursing education would include distinct courses from the liberal arts and sciences. From this time period, nursing facliberal arts and sciences faculty to teach and enlighten nursing students taking courses in their disciplines. This viewpoint is mainly rooted in the philosophical belief that learning in the liberal arts and sciences is essential to prepare critically thoughtful, reflective, humanistic professional nurses. Contributions of the various liberal education courses have provided a powerful and enriching antidote to the mechanistic and reductionistic methods that have historically prevailed in both medical and nursing education.

However, despite the belief that liberal learning is a necessary component of the professional nursing student's education, the scientific focus has held prominence in nursing education (Valiga and Bruderle 1997). In the twenty-first century, thoughtful linking of liberal learning to professional nursing education takes on renewed urgency.

As early as the 1970s, nursing education literature asserted that when the liberal arts are taught in discrete curricular courses, the connections between these courses and the learning needs of the professional nurse remain unrecognized. In an effort to address this disconnect between liberal learning and professional nursing courses, some general and nursing educators have argued that efforts should be directed at methods to integrate liberal learning within nursing courses (Newell 1989; Valiga and Bruderle 1997).

A new century poses daunting challenges that stem from myriad factors such as scientific advancements, growing clinical knowledge, expanding technology, increased client diversity, market-driven policies, ethical and justice issues, and global awareness. Integration of the humanities has been described as one curricular approach that supports the growth of critical thinking within a humanistic perspective as well as the personal and professional development of the nursing student. Expanding societal and health care complexities demands that professional nursing education be tailored to prepare nursing students as informed, responsible, democratic citizens as well as empowered, competent, compassionate professional nurses.

Given the multitude of conflicting influences, the value of liberal learning continues to hold promise as the best preparation for students to meet the challenges imposed by these competing variables. The literature in higher education has recommended the adoption, of interdisciplinary approaches to guide curricula that foster integration (AAC&U 2002; Dressel 1978). The Association of American Colleges and Universities' Greater Expectations urges all university and college faculty, administrators, and stakeholders in higher education to engage in thoughtful planning as to how their institutions can reinvigorate the mission of liberal education for all students. Several effective plans have been described in the literature. Crucial to the achievement of liberal learning goals is not just the content, but also how the content is delivered (AAC&U 2002; Darbyshire 1995). In the discussion of how the content is handled, the significance of a critically reflective educator joined with varied teaching-strategy expertise warrants attention (Brookfield 1987; Paul 1993).

Over the past thirty years some nursing educators have described the implementation of their ideas concerning integrating the humanities components of the liberal arts within their nursing courses. In reviewing the literature, some positive anecdotal evidence on the educational value of including such learning activities has been found. However, research on measuring the achievement of the liberal learning goals linked to these humanities strategies is lacking. …

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