Relevant Math For Nurses

Creating Mathematics Consistency and Relevancy in Nursing Programs


Name: Joan Zoellner
Role: Higher Ed Course Program Specialist
Years with Dana Center and/or in this field:
2.5 years at the Center; 11 years in education


Can you give a brief overview of Math for Nurses?

The High-Quality Mathematics Education for Nurses Task Force, supported by Dana Center, the Mathematical Association of America, and Quality and Safety Education for Nurses, was formed in 2017 to build partnerships between the math and statistics education, nursing education, and nursing professional organizations.

Members of the Task Force have published briefs, presented at conferences, facilitated webinars, and held a convening in 2019 to identify strategies to realize the vision that “all students in nursing programs will gain the mathematical and statistical knowledge, skills, and attitudes to promote and provide safe, high-quality health care.” The collaboration between the communities in question is still young, and the Task Force has identified more questions than solutions at this point in our work, but we have identified several areas which need further study in the overlap between mathematics, statistics, and nursing education.

Why does Math for Nurses provide more equitable opportunities for students?

There is a shortage of registered nurses in the United States, and as a result, nursing programs around the country are often over-enrolled and difficult to get into—students know that they will be able to find a job as a nurse, so it is a popular program.

Due to this pressure, some institutions are implementing mandatory assessments prior to nursing program entry in an attempt to preemptively measure proficiency in mathematics and other academic skills. These entry tests are not necessarily a good measure of a student’s potential as a safe and effective nurse and can create an unnecessary barrier to admission. Additionally, many nursing programs require a single quantitative course, sometimes prior to admission and sometimes in the first year of the program. In some cases, the math course acts as an additional “weed-out” barrier to prospective nurses rather than providing instruction in the specific quantitative skills necessary for nurses. Quantitative skills are needed throughout the program and are often implemented in ways that do not match the decontextualized instruction from the single mathematics- or statistics-specific course.

Combined with annual high-stakes quantitative exams for nursing students, the lack of ongoing contextualized quantitative instruction for nursing students can prevent students from completing their degree. The Task Force recommends that members of the nursing, mathematics, and statistics education field collaborate to better identify a default quantitative course for nursing programs, and/or explicitly provide embedded quantitative instruction throughout the nursing courses, as well as not relying on high-stakes quantitative assessments either for entry or progression through the program. These changes would increase the equity of the nursing program for students, both within and between programs at different institutions.

What issues in education is Math for Nurses meant to address?

There is currently a lack of clarity and consensus from nursing education and licensure organizations about the mathematical and statistical content knowledge that students need to learn to ensure safe practice. There is a lack of consistency between how quantitative topics are taught and assessed in programs, as well as between how the skills are taught and how they are used in practice. There are no nation-wide norms about which courses (quantitative reasoning, statistics, college algebra, etc.) nursing students should take, how to structure the mathematics instruction within the nursing program, or how and when to assess students’ quantitative skills as they apply to safe practice.

The Task Force identified that nursing, mathematics, and statistics educators should engage in structured conversations related to following 7 recommendations:

  1. Identify the quantitative skills and competencies necessary for quality and safe nursing practice.
  2. Investigate the most appropriate sequencing of mathematics, statistics, and nursing educational offerings to ensure students acquire essential quantitative skills and competencies for quality and safe nursing practice.
  3. Incorporate recommendations and best practices in nursing, mathematics, and statistics education in the design of learning outcomes, instruction, materials, and assessments.
  4. Integrate learning experiences throughout the nursing curriculum that provide learners an opportunity to develop sound quantitative reasoning, data reasoning, and clinical judgment.
  5. Include an ongoing analysis and discussion of ethical and effective communication of mathematical and statistical data, results, and recommendations.
  6. Incorporate assessment measures that reflect changing licensure/certification requirements, integrate quantitative and data reasoning with components of clinical judgment, and provide learners the opportunity for continuous improvement (rather than serving only as a high-stakes benchmark for academic progression).
  7. Inform the community through collaborative engagements and professional development opportunities that integrate best practices from nursing, mathematics, and statistics education.

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