Do your orientees need help with critical thinking skills? Try concept mapping

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After reading this article, you will be able to:

  • Describe how concept mapping can be used to enhance critical thinking skills
  • Recognize how to utilize concept maps to meet various education needs

Helping nurses develop and enhance their critical thinking skills is part of the staff development specialist’s role. But it can be challenging when working with orientees who are newly licensed RNs or are RNs who are assuming new responsibilities. A way to help facilitate critical thinking skills is to use the process of concept mapping.

Concept mapping is an innovative critical thinking approach to planning, implementing, and evaluating patient care. A concept map is a written diagram or graph of assessment findings and interventions, and the evaluation of the effectiveness of those interventions. Nurses must think critically when preparing a concept map. They must prioritize patient needs and identify how patient findings, interventions, and evaluation are linked to promoting desired patient outcomes.

A concept map can assume a variety of shapes and appearances (see a sample map on p. 2). For example, suppose a patient has an elevated potassium level. The nurse must think about the factors pertaining to the patient that influence potassium levels, such as diet, cardiac status, and medications. The nurse will then identify the medications, their side effects, and what influence such medications may have on potassium levels so he or she can decide on the actions to be taken and evaluate interventions.

Concept maps can be quite detailed as the nurse documents findings and visually links them to patient problems.

Jobeth Pilcher, RNC, BSN, MS, neonatal ICU (NICU) nurse educator at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, has initiated the use of concept maps as part of her orientation program with very positive results.

As part of her pursuit of a doctorate in education, Pilcher studied various problem-based learning strategies, of which concept mapping was one.

“I sought out more information, read articles, and the more I read about concept mapping, the more excited I got,” says Pilcher. “One of the really big things about concept mapping is being able to see what someone really knows.”

She decided to use concept mapping to help orient new graduates to the NICU.

Historically, Pilcher used multiple-choice pre- and posttests to assess knowledge acquisition. But she feels that concept maps give a better estimation of both baseline knowledge and knowledge acquired.

“Orientees told me that they guessed when they took pre- and even posttests,” she says. “But you can’t guess when you write a concept map. I get a true feeling for what their knowledge actually is. I started adding concept maps to orientation about three years ago. And there is actually an increase in their knowledge acquisition at the end of orientation. There was a 29% gain in knowledge as measured with pre– and post–multiple-choice tests. But there was a 97% gain in knowledge when measured with pre– and post–concept maps.”

Pilcher’s success has inspired some of her colleagues to initiate the use of concept maps as well. When a physician came to talk to the transport team members about patient care during transport, the educator present drew a concept map to help the learners comprehend the presentation. Another colleague has begun to use concept maps in the adult critical care area, and still another has used concept maps as part of brainstorming and team-building activities.

“There are endless opportunities for concept map use,” says Pilcher.

Pilcher has shared her success with colleagues on a national basis. She presented her findings at the July 2009 National Nursing Staff Development Convention in Philadelphia and has written an article for publication that will appear in early 2010 in The Journal for Nurses in Staff Development.