Nurses across the Midwest think it's time to bring the classroom and the clinic together.

Nearly 200 nurses from across the region filled the Peachtree Catering & Banquet Center on Thursday and Friday, to attend a popular conference on nursing education, featuring prominent nurses and work sessions on nursing education.

Conference organizer Shirley Farrah, assistant dean of MU’s Sinclair School of Nursing, said the conference had a waiting list.

“I guess we could have rented out the Mizzou Arena, but we couldn’t have afforded that,” Farrah said.

The conference aimed to bring nursing teachers in the classroom and in the clinic together. Traditionally, nurses learn in a classroom-based environment and then learn in clinical settings while they’re employed.

“It’s time we stopped talking about each other and started talking to each other,” Farrah said. “That’s one of the unique things about this conference.”

One of the appealing factors of the conference was Friday’s keynote speaker, Patricia Benner, a professor at the University of California School of Nursing in San Francisco. Benner recently co-authored the book “Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation,” the first national nursing education study in 30 years. She presented the study at the conference.

Some of the findings Benner discussed were the need to integrate clinical experience and classroom teaching, switching from critical thinking to a clinical reasoning emphasis and grounding teaching in reflections on particular situations.

Nursing education also needs to provide more guidance in ethics and civic responsibility, she said.

“Students are jazzed if you can introduce clinical experience in that first quarter of a semester and help them integrate and situate their learning. … That's a powerful curricular reformation,” Benner said. “Compared to taking abstract classes, applying real work skills soon, helping real patients right now. ... That's exactly that early formation you want to affect.”

Farrah said nurses need more education than ever. In addition to learning nursing and the sciences, nurses have to know about health care financing and policies and how to get along with people. Students are also confronted with major issues they might not have experience with, like patients who are homeless, dying or have chronic pain.

“I graduated from nursing school in 1966, and it’s so much more complex now,” Farrah said. “We’re continually encouraging people to gain more education and get higher degrees.”

Registered nursing degrees are offered anywhere from an associate to a Ph.D. level.

Tonya Eddy, from Missouri Valley College in Marshall, said it was her first time attending the conference, and she hoped to get teaching insights from it.

“We’re supposed to learn to integrate case studies into didactic teaching so that lectures are more like learning activities,” she said.

Another nurse, Christy Fornal from St. Luke’s College of Health Sciences in Kansas City, Mo., said she came to see Benner speak and had Benner sign a book.

“I think she (Dr. Benner) had very valid points that we can take from here and bring back to students to enhance their learning,” Fornal said.

In the end, nursing education isn’t about educators or even the students, Benner said.

“How well did you learn to care for the patient? That’s the goal,” Benner said. “It doesn't cut it anymore to go through the textbook and make Powerpoints — it shouldn’t have ever cut it. That's an awful experience for the student."

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