We Must Focus More on Lifelong Learning in Healthcare

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

We interviewed Trisha Coady, VP, Clinical Staff Development at HealthStream, about the importance of lifelong learning in healthcare.

Why do you think lifelong learning is so important for healthcare staff?

The concept of lifelong learning is particularly important in healthcare for a number of reasons. First, lifelong learning was one of eight recommendations in the 2010 IOM report that stated, “Significant barriers must be overcome if the shortage of nurses is going to be offset and more advanced and expanded nursing roles are going to be filled. Having enough nurses with the right kinds of skills will contribute to the overall safety and quality of a transformed health care system.”

What are some of the problems that focusing on lifelong learning could help solve?

Healthcare evolves very rapidly, and it’s simply not reasonable to expect that leaders could identify learning gaps in each and every employee in a timely fashion. Creating a culture of self-directed learning and providing access to information empowers our direct care providers to make more confident, informed decisions at the bedside. Also, engagement of most healthcare professionals is lower than the average US workforce, with turnover costing billions of dollars annually in an environment with significant margin pressure. Nearly one in four nurses (24%) are currently actively disengaged, compared to only 16% of the U.S. working population (http://www.gallup.com/poll/6004/nurses-may-satisfied-they-engaged.aspx). Deploying creative opportunities for new or reinforced learning, as well as motivating creativity among staff has never been more paramount.

How could lifelong learning benefit patients and outcomes?

Nearly 70% of the healthcare workforce is in some way involved in direct patient care. That’s 3.1M of HealthStream’s 4.5M subscribers as an example, and they complete over 1M courses each week. If each of those healthcare professionals could prevent harm or death for only 5 people in their lifetime as a result of their acquired knowledge, over 15 million lives would be saved. Establishing and nurturing a culture of lifelong learning inherently promotes employee engagement. “Using standardized mortality and complication indexes, from more than 200 hospitals and including staffing and other variables such as nurse engagement, showed a significant relationship between engagement and outcomes,” (Blizzard, 2005).


Blizzard, Rick, D.B.A., “Nurse Engagement Key to Reducing Medical Errors,” Gallup.com, December 27, 2005, accessed at http://www.gallup.com/poll/20629/nurse-engagement-key-reducing-medical-errors.aspx.