As defined by McHugh (2013), a curriculum is a systematic arrangement of the total abridgement of experiences that are outlined by a school or any given institution for a specific group of people to help them achieve aspirations of a certain program. Therefore, a curriculum is a general framework that outlines goals and activities to be attained at the end of a particular educational program. In the nursing sector, a curriculum encompasses both learning activities such as clinical practices and experiences and learning prospects that are outlined by the teaching staff so as to assist nursing students to achieve their specific goals in a specific timeframe. Current essay seeks to define the nursing curriculum together with its components, as well as identifying its stakeholders and the relationship between institutional and college mission and vision statement in the nursing curriculum. Besides, the paper will discuss various philosophical theories that are used in the nursing curriculum and the strands and threads in the nursing curricula.
Definition of Nursing Curriculum and its Components
The concept and definition of a curriculum can be traced back to the late 17th century as depicted in the work of the French Sisters of Charity (King, 2006). These individuals together with Florence Nightingale introduced a curriculum in the nursing field that was based on the development of thirteen functions and skills and twelve personal characteristics. Besides, the curriculum stated that for one to become a qualified nurse, they had to go through one year of training, a period that was referred to as a probationary period, and had then to serve for three years as a nurse. This curriculum was first applied in Scotland and later adopted in the United States. Initially, it meant knowledge passed from one generation to the next. Though the scope and interpretation of the curriculum have expanded due to many definitions by different scholars, the term maintains its original definition of a guideline for achieving pre-determined goals. Furthermore, diverse definitions and conceptions acknowledge that the nursing curricula are implemented with the intention of ensuring that learning takes place.
Keating (2011) elucidates that every nursing curriculum is composed of various aspects and among them is the vision and mission statement that defines the role of an institution as well as some expectations of its graduates. The mission and the vision contain beliefs, values, and attitudes of nursing that are stated by the faculty that designs the curriculum. Besides, the institution’s philosophy also includes beliefs about the learning and teaching process that mainly focus on the learner subject and their critical thinking development that enables students to make clinical judgments and decisions. Besides, a curriculum also defines the organizational framework that serves as a logical way of imparting knowledge to learners and ensuring that no concept is omitted during the teaching and learning process. The organizational framework also states requirements for setting objectives, instructional design, and selection of the content for the organizational program.
The nursing curriculum can be evidence-informed, context-relevant, or unified. In this regard, the nursing curriculum is defined as the summation of curriculum goals, theoretical methods, course pre-requisites, content outlines, course schedule, course description, an overall implementation plan, definition of learning activities, resources and policies, and evaluation methods. The curriculum includes all matters within the school’s authority and it affects progression and learning of nursing learners. An evidence-informed curriculum for nursing is based on systematically and resolutely collected facts about the context of the subject matter presented, learning, students, teaching, nursing education, teaching, practice, and responses of clients on health situations.
A unified curriculum for nurses contains components that are reasonable and theoretically, visibly, and cohesively related. Theoretical methods, professional abilities, and curriculum notions are evident in curriculum goals. Curriculum goals are used to define learning objectives of the course. Moreover, in a unified curriculum the course title reflects both practical and learning strategies of educational methods.
A context-relevant curriculum for nursing is responsive to current and future societal, community, and health circumstances of nursing learners, as well as present and future fundamentals of the nursing profession. The curriculum also aligns with the viewpoint, mission, and goals of the nursing faculty. These characteristics of the curriculum must be feasible within the veracities of the community as well as institutions. Moreover, a context-relevant nursing curriculum is characterized by forces that influence the health care system, society, the faculty of nursing, and nursing students. Though the nursing curricula of various schools are similar, those that are context-based appear to have some distinct features that reflect on their community circumstances.
Stakeholders of the Nursing Curriculum
There are various stakeholders that are involved in a nursing curriculum in an attempt to reduce the gap between demands of stakeholders and practicing professional nurses. That is because stakeholders of the nursing curriculum ensure that nursing students are educated appropriately so as to meet demands of their profession. One of the stakeholders of the curriculum for nurses is the nursing faculty or the nursing school. The nursing faculty utilizes the curriculum directly and it also influences it in various ways. For instance, the school’s mission, culture, and philosophical approaches greatly affect development and implementation of the nursing curriculum (Iwasiw, Goldenberg, & Andrusyszyn, 2009).
Additionally, nursing learners are also key stakeholders of the curriculum. The reason is that they are influenced by the curriculum since their future profession depends on it. As a result, curriculum developers must consider needs of nursing students during the development and implementation process. The nursing council is another stakeholder of the curriculum since it regulates the nursing career through legislation and offers self-regulatory powers to nursing licensing bodies. Besides, it establishes and maintains professional, educational, and practice standards for all nurses.
Moreover, the government and the Ministry of Health are other major stakeholders. They regulate and control the national health care scheme and all its agencies. Practicing healthcare providers and nurses are also stakeholders of the curriculum and are mostly referred to as ‘Frontline’ employees since they work directly with their patients. Patients are a part of the stakeholder group since they are beneficiaries of the system and contribute to the nursing practice.
Relationship between Institutional and College Mission and Vision Statements
In general, all nursing schools are required to have a mission and a vision statement by accrediting entities. The mission statement communicates both internal and external goals of the school. A nursing school’s mission statement plays a critical role in the development of the nursing curriculum and the content offered. An efficient mission statement brings ample success to a nursing faculty. The mission statement of the nursing school should create proper strategies and teaching approaches, align with its values, and address rapid changes in the society. Besides, the mission statement should aim at steering the nursing school towards achieving its goals through creating a vehicle that brings the staff together. The viewpoint, mission, and conceptual framework of the nursing faculty should reflect present professional nursing values and entry requirements and qualifications as stated by the nursing council. According to Parcells and Baernholdt (2014), the mission statement must be clearly stated so as to serve as a foundation for improving and developing the nursing curriculum, evaluating the program, and setting goals. The mission should also be reviewed and revised regularly to reflect societal healthcare changes at the societal, national, and global levels.
Goals and objectives of the nursing curriculum should be compatible with the vision and mission statements of the nursing institution. That means that at the end of the teaching and learning process learners must achieve the institution’s mission. Furthermore, curriculum objectives and goals also influence the school’s culture, as well as learning approaches. Therefore, learning approaches, school’s mission, and institutional culture are the basics of an educational structure for the implementation of the nursing curriculum. The curriculum goals express some work of nursing students who will qualify after completing the course.
Learning Theories/ Philosophical Approaches
Nursing is an ever-changing discipline due to the intricacy of perceptions of patients. Due to these changes, the nursing curriculum has changed from relying on specific philosophical approaches to having a general metaparadigm. This approach allows the education program for nurses to achieve content standards as outlined by the nursing council. Some of the standards provided include: continuing education, emphasis on professional values, and use of the EBP that concentrates on general roles of nurses. This, therefore, provides room for metacognition of the curriculum development based on some constructivism hypotheses.
The metacognitive theory that is employed in the development of the nursing curriculum is viewed as a tri-part construct that comprises self-evaluation, self-knowledge, and applicable knowledge. Studies have shown that a failure to practice self-evaluation results in lower literacy abilities; thus, nursing students should be taught metacognitive skills to enable them transfer and implement their self-evaluation in their profession and future (Billings & Halstead, 2010). Besides, the critical reflective theory is also employed so as to give the nursing curriculum a theoretical structure that enables them to meet requirements of the nursing education. Critical reflexivity enables a nursing practitioner to connect with predispositions of the postulation that influences their decision-making process during their practice. Furthermore, the critical theory offers an opportunity for the incorporation of the nursing profession into its curriculum.
Constructivism theory is another hypothesis used in the nursing curriculum. The theory states that nursing students can comfortably link their newly gained knowledge with their past experiences. Then, students connect knowledge with their nursing practices, thus improving their performance. It is, therefore, apparent that a good nursing curriculum implements the three theories and philosophical aspects.
Strands and Threads in a Curriculum
As stated by Mastrogiannis (2013), a thread or a strand in the nursing curriculum refers to a consistent theme that is studied in any course offered irrespective of its content. In the nursing curriculum, threads can be grouped into two classes: vertical and horizontal threads. Both threads converge to form the subject matter of the nursing curriculum. Though not all courses integrate the two threads, most of them apply the horizontal thread since it presupposes concepts taught in all courses. Some institutions call them themes of the semester since they are related and only defer due to circumstances or situations. Horizontal threads include: nursing process, caring, culture, and client. The nursing process is a procedure that has five steps. It is mostly used to guide nursing practices. Caring, in turn, is the act of looking after the needs of patients. Culture consists of customs and practices that govern the nursing community, while a client is the beneficiary of nursing services such as families, individuals, and the community.
Vertical threads refer to the content of nursing courses that becomes complex as the level advances. Generally, vertical threads are academic ideas of a nursing course that is studied in a semester. Vertical threads include: critical thinking, communication, health, and professionalism. This thread employs the concept of critical thinking where learners are assessed through their ability to make knowledgeable decisions. Communication refers to techniques employed during the exchange of information between a client and a nurse. In turn, health is the steady change in the well-being of people throughout their lifetime. Finally, professionalism refers to abilities and competencies of a nurse practitioner to provide care to his or her client.
In conclusion, a curriculum is a systematic arrangement of the total abridgement of experiences that are outlined by a school or any given institution for a specific group of people to help them achieve aspirations of a certain program. A nursing curriculum can be categorized as a context-relevant, evidence-informed, or unified curriculum. During development and implementation of the nursing curriculum, stakeholders are very important. They include the nursing school, patients, nursing council, the government, and nursing students. It is also apparent that the process of curriculum development is influenced by the institution’s vision and mission. The curriculum employs various theories such as metacognitive and constructivism during its development. It also has threads that are categorized into horizontal and vertical strands.