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Overview and Summary: Professional Pathways in Nursing: Options to Seek, Start, and Sustain a Career

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Sister Rosemary Donley, PhD, ANP-BC, FAAN
Sister Mary Jean Flaherty, SC, PhD, RN, FAAN

Citation: Donley, R., & Flaherty, M.J. (September 30, 2008) "Overview and Summary: Professional Pathways in Nursing: Options to Seek, Start and Sustain a Career" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol 13 No 3, Overview and Summary.

DOI: 10.3912/OJIN.Vol13No03ManOS

This OJIN topic looks at the varied career patterns in nursing education and practice across time and across cultures. If readers of OJIN were to Google ‘career ladders,’ they would find websites describing a multitude of workplace and career advancement programs, and, in the case of nursing careers, programs such as clinical ladders. These programs of upper mobility are now used as recruitment strategies in nursing.

Raines and Taglareni give a snapshot of contemporary entry points into professional nursing in an era where further articulation is a fact of career planning and academic life. Their article presents a detailed and comprehensive discussion of the many entry gates and progression modes that are currently available in the United States (US). It provides an overview of the various nursing programs from beginning levels of practice to advanced practice models. Raines and Taglareni discuss the use of creative approaches to recruit more nurses as one strategy to address the nursing shortage. They suggest that improved status, and especially increased salaries, make baccalaureate and higher degree programs very attractive to diploma and Associate Degree in Nursing graduates, and to persons whose degrees are in other fields.

Moving onward from first professional degree programs, Donley and Flaherty chronicle the development of articulation patterns which began in the US in the early 1960s and continue into the millennium. This article provides a summary of the historical evolution of career ladders in nursing in the US. It describes this evolution in three phases of development that have responded to the political, social, economic, and professional demands of the healthcare milieu during the past forty years. In phase one, academic career ladders were spiral staircases, poorly articulated entry and exit pathways. Phase two expressed the maturation of career ladders across all levels of nursing education and practice. In phase three, career ladders were built upon theoretical perspectives that enriched academic programs and clinical practice. The article concludes with a discussion of the value of clinical experience in educational programs and the value of clinical experience prior to graduate education, calling for more research and dialogue about the amount, type, and measurement of clinical experience to better inform legislation, accreditation, and healthcare outcomes.

Penn, Wilson, and Rosseter discuss a new career pathway for clinicians as classroom teachers, researchers, and/or clinical instructors. This article, designed to help experienced professional nurses transition into faculty roles, presents a very detailed, comprehensive description of academic nursing. In this article Penn, Rosseter, and Wilson identify the skills and the educational preparation needed for teaching roles and outline the responsibilities of teachers. The authors discuss the various types of faculty appointments available to experienced nurses ranging from clinical to non-tenure-track to tenure-track appointments. The material is presented in an informal manner and the reader is given steps to be taken in order to be successful in the attainment and enactment of their new educator role. The authors present a detailed chart of the attributes deans and chairs of nursing education programs look for as they search for new faculty; this chart provides a blueprint for success for all faculty.

An Eastern view of career mobility and educational advancement is presented by Chiang-Hanisko, Ross, Boonyanurak, Ozawa, and Ling-Chun Chiang. This article describes the pathways to professional nursing education in the three Eastern countries: Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand. The pathways are described and then presented as diagrams that show the various routes to professional or registered nurse status and advanced practice roles. The three Asian models of educational pathways are similar to curriculum models found in Western countries. The professional concern expressed by nurses in Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand today is similar to that expressed in the US when schools of nursing were developing, namely, too much reliance on physicians to provide the content of nursing courses.

The nursing shortage, the renewed interest in nursing as a career, and the complexity of healthcare delivery across settings provides the backdrop for this issue. Common to each article is the theme of development and advancement as nurses, and their teachers, struggle to ease and quicken students’ progress, educate them for leadership in practice, and increase the level of education among nurses. The journal editors invite you to share your response to this OJIN topic addressing Professional Pathways in Nursing either by writing a Letter to the Editor or by submitting a manuscript which will further the discussion of this topic which has been initiated by these introductory articles.


Sister Rosemary , PhD, ANP-BC, FAAN

Sister Rosemary Donley is an Ordinary Professor of Nursing and Director of the federally funded Community/Public Health Nursing Advanced Practice Programs at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., and First Councilor of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill. Sr. Rosemary Donley received a diploma from the Pittsburgh Hospital School of Nursing, and holds a B.S.N. degree from St. Louis University and M.N.Ed. and Ph.D degrees from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a certified adult nurse practitioner. Her clinical and research interests include health policy, clinical decision making, and healthcare literacy.

Sr. Rosemary has served as Executive Vice President (1986-97) and Dean of Nursing (1979-86) at The Catholic University of America. She is past President of the National League for Nursing and the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, and past Senior Editor of Image: The Journal of Nursing Scholarship. She has also served as a member of the Secretary of Health and Human Service’s Commission on Nursing, and as a consultant to the U.S. Army and Navy Medical Commands. Sr. Rosemary is currently co-chair of the NLN think tank on Expanding Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Diversity in Nursing Education and a member of the Institute of Medicine. She has numerous publications and is a frequent presenter throughout the United States and abroad. In 2006, she was named a living legend by the Academy of Nursing.

Sister Mary Jean Flaherty, SC, PhD, RN, FAAN

Sister Mary Jean Flaherty is an Ordinary Professor of Nursing at The Catholic University of America (CUA), Washington, D.C. She received a diploma from the Pittsburgh Hospital School of Nursing and holds a B.S.N. degree from Duquesne University and a M.S.N. degree along with a PhD in Curriculum and Supervision from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a maternal-child clinical nurse specialist. Her research interests are grandmothers, post-partum care, breast-feeding, and mentorship. Her work has been funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, The Catholic University of America, and Sigma Theta Tau International.

Sister Mary Jean has served as Dean of Nursing (1992-2000), Director of the Doctoral Program (1988-1990), and Chair of the Graduate Program in Nursing of the Developing Family at the CUA, where she also served as Associate Director of Education, National Center for Family Studies. Sister Mary Jean has also been a World Health Organization nurse consultant, and an educational consultant and a program evaluator for the National League for Nursing (NLN). Additional roles include being a member, Vice Chair, and Chair of the Board of Review, Baccalaureate and Higher Degree Programs for the NLN. Sister Mary Jean has been a member of several college and health system boards, the National Commission on Nursing Implementation Project, the Committee of Graduate Nursing Education for the China Medical Board, and an evaluator for the Middle States and Southern Regional Colleges and Universities.

© 2008 OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing
Article published September 30, 2008