Strategies for continuing professional development among younger, middle-aged, and older nurses: A biographical approach

Inge A. Pool*, Rob F. Poell, Marjolein G. M. C. Berings, Olle ten Cate

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: A nursing career can last for more than 40 years, during which continuing professional development is essential. Nurses participate in a variety of learning activities that correspond with their developmental motives. Lifespan psychology shows that work-related motives change with age, leading to the expectation that motives for continuing professional development also change. Nevertheless, little is known about nurses' continuing professional development strategies in different age groups.

Objectives: To explore continuing professional development strategies among younger, middle-aged, and older nurses.

Methods: A qualitative study using semi-structured interviews, from a biographical perspective. Data were analysed using a vertical process aimed at creating individual learning biographies, and a horizontal process directed at discovering differences and similarities between age groups.

Participants: Twenty-one nurses in three age groups from general and academic hospitals in the Netherlands.

Results: In all age groups, daily work was an important trigger for professional development on the ward. Performing extra or new tasks appeared to be an additional trigger for undertaking learning activities external to the ward. Learning experiences in nurses' private lives also contributed to their continuing professional development. Besides these similarities, the data revealed differences in career stages and private lives, which appeared to be related to differences in continuing professional development strategy; 'gaining experience and building a career' held particularly true among younger nurses, 'work-life balance' and 'keeping work interesting and varied' to middle-aged nurses, and 'consistency at work' to older nurses.

Conclusions: Professional development strategies can aim at performing daily patient care, extra tasks and other roles. Age differences in these strategies appear to relate to tenure, perspectives on the future, and situations at home. These insights could help hospitals to orientate continuing professional development approaches toward the needs of all age groups. This should be particularly relevant in the face of present demographic changes in the nursing workforce. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)939-950
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2015


  • Age differences
  • Continuing professional development
  • CPD strategies
  • Learning biography
  • Learning activities
  • Motives
  • Nurses
  • Workplace learning


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