Measuring the Return on Investment for Professional Development

Measuring the Return on Investment for Professional Development

Research leads to a project addressing the economic effect of staff education.

What started as a response from the Association of Nursing and Professional Development (ANPD) to a needs assessment survey of over 2,000 professional development specialists led Cathleen Opperman and her peers to an award-winning article and a variety of education opportunities. The assessment revealed several themes.

“One of the things survey respondents were constantly asking about is ‘how do we justify professional development activities, how do we show the return on investment, and how do we show the economic sense of educating our staff,’” said Opperman, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, CPN, nursing professional development specialist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “We decided to do an evidence-based practice project and find out what the literature says about best practice for how to justify these activities.”

The initial write-up

Opperman and her colleagues found 11 articles that addressed the topic of justifying professional development activities and included calculations of economic impact. “Measuring Return on Investment for Professional Development Activities: A Review of the Evidence” provides an overview of the content of these articles. With the review of literature done, Opperman said the project felt incomplete.

“We knew there was more to this than just what’s in the literature,” she said. “Our participants wanted to know how they could calculate the economic effect of professional development activities so they could have a stronger case for why we need to do these things.”

This led to the second article, “Measuring the Return on Investment for Professional Development Activities: A Review of the Evidence,” which serves as a “how-to guide” for calculating the financial effect of professional development by providing formulas, examples and scenarios.

The highlight, Opperman said, was the “Known Cost Table,” which showed the calculations found in the literature review for the cost occurrences such as turnover of a nurse, bloodstream infections, a fall and others incidents.

“By giving these professional development nurse specialists that Known Cost Table, it makes them start to think of the effect their education has on the economics of what we do,” she said. “That’s the standout in this, is making nurses look at the economic impact and realizing that when we’re keeping our staff competent and teaching nurses to do something better, we prevent adverse outcomes. That tells us that professional development is a smart thing to do.”


Both articles were published in the Journal for Nurses in Professional Development in 2016, the first in Issue 3 and the second in Issue 4. ANPD staff later requested permission to submit the articles to the American Society of Healthcare Editors (ASHE) Awards.

Despite the honor of receiving a Bronze Award in the Best How-To category, Opperman said she was far more excited about the contribution she had helped make to the industry.

“As we got into it, we all are educators, and we could see the value of this project. We knew it was going to be well received in our industry, our specialty. Of course, the award is very exciting, it’s nice just to know that the publishers recognized what we saw as a very valuable publication.”

Additional applications

After publishing the articles, Opperman and her colleagues hosted a four-hour pre-conference workshop at the ANPD convention in July 2017. They had over 50 attendants and received such positive feedback that the organization requested they host another one at the next conference.

In addition to providing a framework for how organizations could calculate the value of professional development, Opperman said she hoped to see this become standard in future research and presentation.

To combine progress on both goals, educating professionals on how to perform calculations and gaining more data for future reference, the team has developed an Economic Impact Calculator program that prompts users for data and generates results without the need for manual calculations.

“It’ll spit out your benefit-cost ratios, your return on investment, your cost per participant, and the beauty of it is it’ll cue you on exactly what numbers to plug in,” Opperman said.

The program is currently in beta-testing, with a planned release in 2018  . It will likely be available in the form of an app to ANPD members first, and others at cost. Users will be able to keep their personal results, and ANPD will receive the data anonymously.

With every new development, she said the goal has remained the same, to provide applicable information to professionals across the health care industry.

“This whole project was done by people in five different states, in all different types of settings: big, small, adult, peds, academic, private institutions in varying roles,” Opperman said. “That diversity is a big part of the richness of the whole journey, why it has been so fruitful and not a narrow-minded approach.”

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