Sep 03, 2019
By Crystal McLeod

Finding time for continuing nursing education: #FOANed

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Takeaway messages:

  • #FOANed, available across a variety of social media platforms, offers free access to continuing education for Canadian nurses.
  • Designed to deliver educational content quickly, nurses can use #FOANed to integrate continuing education into their personal lives with minimal interference.
  • Quality of #FOANed outlets can vary, so nurses should evaluate #FOANed content for accuracy, and speak to a nursing leader before implementing new practices.

Time is the most commonly reported reason for nurses falling short on aspirations of continuing education, followed by financial constraints and poor institutional support. Employers no longer make time to educate staff at work, transferring the commitment of continuing education to off-duty hours (Witt, 2011). Inversely, as employers cut education hours at work, the need for continuing education among nurses rises with changing technologies and research. Meeting these growing demands while leading a healthy personal life is often a difficult juggling act for nurses (Carroll, Bruno, & vonTschudi, 2016; Witt, 2011).

Further, the continuing competence and quality assurance programs of Canadian nursing colleges, which mandate continuing education standards for nurses, can be ambiguous about time requirements. Unlike other regulators of health care professions in Canada, the minimum number of hours for continuing nursing education to maintain professional competence is not specified. Certainly, having the freedom to pursue educational goals at any pace is excellent, but deciding how to structure and prioritize those goals among other responsibilities can be daunting.

Facing these challenges in my own life, I was excited to discover Free Open Access Nursing Education (#FOANed) within the first years of my nursing career. Becoming familiar with the convenient modes of content delivery and vast array of subjects covered, I started using #FOANed for continuing nursing education in my daily life. It has developed my nursing knowledge and career greatly by guiding me to new people, interesting ideas, and unique learning.

What is #FOANed?

#FOANed was developed shortly after Free Open Access Medical Education (#FOAMed), a physician-driven initiative, gained popularity in 2012. The original conceptualization of #FOAMed, which created a foundation for #FOANed, was using social media platforms to create accessible content for medical learners unable to afford higher learning opportunities, such as journal subscriptions or conference fees. Today, both #FOAMed and #FOANed have grown beyond a collection of student resources to a community of trusted educators, researchers, and specialists all willing to share knowledge. #FOANed especially has become a rapid way to learn more about nursing, connect with experts or peers, participate in discussions, and develop critical thinking (Carroll et al., 2016; Patterson Stevens & Nies, 2018).

#FOANed encompasses Twitter articles, YouTube videos, podcasts, blogs, Instagram photos, and more. Whatever social media platform you use, I guarantee an outlet for #FOANed learners is there. This means that continuing nursing education can be accessed from any electronic device with social media capabilities at any time, anywhere. Even during a 30-minute lunch break, using my phone to access #FOANed outlets, I have messaged with a gastroenterologist regarding questions about obesity management, learned from nurse leaders in #nursesinspirenurses, and reviewed a journal article in #Paperinapic.

#FOANed is potentially life-changing for nurses with reduced access to mainstream learning. Working in rural and remote communities, I know the frustration of being too far away to attend a conference or course. Using #FOANed, rural and remote health care professionals can avoid long travel days and costs to access education. From within their community, rural and remote health care professionals can learn from tertiary health care facilities or connect with other community health care professionals on issues unique to rural and remote health (Leeuwenburg & Parker, 2015). Availability of educational content has also expanded in terms of language. Nurses can now access #FOANed in a wide range of languages, from a variety of countries around the globe, and are no longer restricted to English-only content.

#FOANed favourites

Being a learner and contributor in #FOANed for several years, I have many favourite #FOANed and #FOAMed sites. FreshRN, a site created by American nurse Kati Kleber, offers a blog and podcast discussing every and any nursing issue. Initially a site for new nurse graduates, FreshRN now has content for nurses of all experience levels. Don’t Forget the Bubbles is an Australian blog and podcast that specializes in pediatric topics; you can find discussions of critical pediatric illnesses, as well as funny and lighter issues, at this site. Louisville Lectures, a lecture series and YouTube channel supported by the University of Louisville School of Medicine, offers deep dives into disease processes and shares the secrets of health care leadership. My Canadian favourite is a tie between Emergency Medicine Cases (EM Cases) and The Skeptics Guide to Emergency Medicine (SGEM). EM Cases, supported by University of Toronto’s Emergency Medicine Division, offers eclectic blogs and podcasts that review new research, discuss interesting cases, break down complex illnesses, and challenge emergency policies. The SGEM is grounded in critical appraisal of new and upcoming research that pertains to emergency medicine, and as such, is a great resource for reviewing how to evaluate nursing research. EM Cases and the SGEM are based in #FOAMed but collaborate extensively across health care disciplines and draw on a variety of topics beyond emergency medicine.

Criticisms of #FOANed

Despite my praise, several criticisms of #FOANed have been made in academic literature. One is that content posted to social media is too brief and fails to fully teach a topic (Carroll et al., 2016). In response, I would argue that if readers want to continue learning beyond a social media post, then they may simply follow the links surrounding the post or search for another #FOANed site with similar content. Links within #FOANed social media posts typically give access to either more #FOANed content from a blog site, or free journal articles related to the subject, providing a deeper understanding of the topic. Other criticisms of #FOANed include too much focus on popular topics, such as emergency nursing, and too much content development by novice nurses, as older nurses struggle to navigate social media (Carroll et al., 2016; Dzara, 2017). I would argue that these points should not discourage nurses from using #FOANed, because keeping up to date on popular nursing topics and fostering new nursing leaders will ultimately allow us, as one united profession, to shape the future of nursing.

My personal critique of #FOANed is that some of the content, though based in research and intriguing, has not become clinical practice. Reasons for this shortcoming may be either insufficiency of the research or the failure to translate it into practice (Leeuwenburg & Parker, 2015). If you are interested in incorporating #FOANed content into your practice, I recommend speaking with a nursing leader at your workplace first. If your idea is substantiated by research, you could be the spark of change for nursing policy, practice, and patient outcomes at your workplace.

Using #FOANed

Not every site, article, video, podcast, blog, photo, or social media post found at #FOANed is accurate and reliable (Dzara, 2017). As with other Internet sources, you need to verify and judge the accuracy of the content being provided to you. Look for referencing with up-to-date, peer-reviewed academic journals, consider the credentials of the content author, and determine whether the source has academic affiliations, which may be evident from the URL (University of Edinburgh, 2017). As well, consider the intended audience for the content, whether the content infringes on privacy laws or professional standards, and how the content might play a role in your practice (University of Edinburgh, 2017).

So with #FOANed content literally at your fingertips, and most of it consisting of easy and brief reads or listens, what’s stopping you from finding time for continuing nursing education? Anywhere you have access to social media can now become your classroom, so subscribe to a few well-trusted #FOANed sites and try listening to or reading about topics that interest you. For example, listening to a podcast during a gym session could bring you closer to understanding tropical disease; scrolling through your Facebook news feed while waiting for your child’s school bus may teach you a less painful method of giving injections; and watching a YouTube video on new bedside technologies while cooking dinner may make you more passionate and optimistic about the work you’re doing today!


References

Carroll, C. L., Bruno, K., & vonTschudi, M. (2016). Social media and free open access medical education: The future of medical and nursing education? American Journal of Critical Care, 25(1), 93-96.

Don’t Forget the Bubbles. (n.d.).

Dzara, K. (2017, August 3). An education purpose for social media in medicine. Lean Forward.

Emergency Medicine Cases. (n.d.).

FreshRN. (n.d.).

How to evaluate website content.

Leeuwenburg, T. J., & Parker, C. (2015). Free open access medical education can help rural clinicians deliver “quality care, out there.” Rural and Remote Health, 15(3), 3185.

Louisville Lectures. (n.d.).

Patterson Stevens, K. P., & Nies, M. A. (2018). Transforming nursing education in a 140-character world: The efficacy of becoming social. Journal of Professional Nursing, 34(1), 31-34.

Skeptics Guide to Emergency Medicine, The. (n.d.).

Witt, C. L. (2011). Continuing education: A personal responsibility. Advances in Neonatal Care, 11(4), 227-228.

Crystal McLeod is a MScN graduate student at Western University, Ontario.
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