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The One Thing Every Nurse Educator Must Do to Develop Critical Thinking

By January 25, 2018February 1st, 2019No Comments

To develop the critical thinking of students, there is one thing that must be done ASAP… put your content on a diet and eliminate “infobesity.”


Because according to a recent study, A Crisis in Competency: The Strategic and Ethical Imperative to Assessing New Graduate Nurses’ Clinical ReasoningTMI in nursing education is one of the primary reasons most new nurse graduates (77%) are unable to meet entry-level expectations of clinical reasoning and think like a nurse (Kavanaugh & Szweda, 2017).

As a result of drowning in a sea of information and thousands of pages of textbook pages and readings, novice student nurses are unable to use knowledge and apply it to practice. (Check out last week’s blog for more on this must-read article for nurse educators!)

Lessons from an ED Nurse

I work in the emergency department (ED) in clinical practice. Everything done in this setting requires the nurse to triage continually and identify my current priority. If there is only one thing I must do, what is it? Then I do it.

Similarly, nurse educators must think like an ED nurse.


Instead of triaging patients, triage your content. What content is most significant? Identify essential content then teach it! Let the rest go.


Absolutely. But I am in good company. The subtitle to Dr. Patricia Benner and coauthors book on the current state of nursing education was Educating Nurses: A Call for RADICAL Transformation (emphasis mine).

Let’s get radical. Here’s why.

Critical Thinking Defined

What is critical thinking? Though there are numerous definitions in the nursing literature, there is one that makes the connection between infobesity and the inability to use knowledge crystal clear. This is the current problem that needs to be remedied in nursing education!

According to Potter and Perry (2012), critical thinking is a commitment to think:

  • Clearly
  • Precisely
  • Accurately and…
  • to ACT on what you KNOW about a situation

Did you catch that?

A graduate nurse or any nurse in practice will not critically think and recognize the need to ACT or do something unless they understand and KNOW the content.

When students memorize loads of content, there is only so much that can be meaningfully retained before it is quickly forgotten after the test and unavailable to be used at the bedside where it matters most.

This is why infobesity is enemy #1 in nursing education and nurse educators must do whatever is needed to put your content on a diet and slim it down at all costs! This is the ONE THING that every nurse educator must do to develop critical thinking.

Dieting Principles

When I meet with nurse educators, they inherently recognize that content load is out of control, but how do you put it on a diet? Have you ever been on a diet? I have, and it’s not easy, but it can be done!

Use these principles to successfully lose weight and apply it to curriculum/content infobesity:

1. Remove the fat (excess content)

What type of patient problems will a nurse generalist see over one year of practice? This is what you focus on. Take a close look at what content you include in your PowerPoint that you have rarely or ever seen as a nurse. This is fat. Take a knife to it, and remove it and don’t look back!

One word of caution…don’t use the PowerPoint presentations that textbook publishers include as a service to educators. They are not your friend. They merely regurgitate infobesity textbook chapters into infobesity lectures.

2. Eat healthily (emphasize need to know content)

Stick to the bread and butter of all that you teach. Triage your content or concepts and determine which ones are most important and relevant to first-year generalist practice. Filter everything you teach and use the principle of clinical reasoning to capture the ESSENCE of what is the one thing students must take away and never forget to think like a nurse.

For example, I expected my students to know only one thing about pharmacology and the meds they passed in clinical. State the mechanism of action in your own words.

If a student could do this, they also would be able to act on what they know and tell me the most common side effects and nursing indications without looking at their drug handbook!

3. Discipline (just do it and be consistent!)

Just like dieting, change is hard for most educators. But the essence of discipline comes down to choices. Will I choose to do what is needed and change to strengthen student learning?

Or will I dig in my heels, stick with what is comfortable and continue to read endless slides each hour of lecture thinking that students who are writing equal students who are learning?

I beg you, please don’t be THAT educator!

In Closing

Take a minute to review your next presentation. What is the BMI? Is it lean and right where it needs to be or is it overweight? Or truth be told, are you guilty of infobesity?

I have good news. Regardless of where your content load is today, you have complete power and control to do something about it! Embrace this responsibility and do what is needed to put your content on a diet using the principles discussed.

Like dieting or going on a journey of a thousand miles, you are in a marathon, not a sprint. Take this one step at a time once you know where you need to eliminate the fat and you will be part of the solution.

You will then no longer be just an educator, but a needed radical transformer of nursing education!

Comment Question:
What have you done to put your content on a diet and emphasize what is most important?
 Comment below and let the conversation begin!

RELEVANT Past Blogs on Today’s Topic


  • Kavanagh, J. & Szweda, C. (2017). A crisis in competency: The strategic and ethical imperative to assessing new graduate nurses’ clinical reasoning.  Nursing Education Perspectives, 38(2), 57-61.
  • Potter, P. A. & Perry, A. G. (2012). Fundamentals of nursing. (8th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Mosby–Elsevier.

A New Resource to Help Nurse Educators

Today’s blog is derived in part from my new book for educators TEACH Students to THINK Like a Nurse.

Filled with numerous best-practice strategies and time-saving tools to teach students to think like a nurse in the class and clinical settings!


How to Help Your Students

e-book-cover2015My student text THINK Like a Nurse: Practical Preparation for Professional Practice has been endorsed by Dr. Patricia Benner and has been successfully adopted by dozens of programs across the country!

Contact me if you are a nurse educator and would like a faculty eBook preview copy to see for yourself how this text can help your students get practice ready and think more like a nurse!

Why Todays Nursing Students are NOT Prepared for Practice

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