The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is pleased to announce the adoption of a new model and framework for preparing registered nurses, advanced practice nurses, and nurse specialists. On April 6, deans from the nation’s schools of nursing affiliated with AACN approved The Essentials: Core Competencies for Professional Nursing Education, which delineates competency expectations for graduates of baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs. This historic and bold move will transform how nurses are educated for entry-level and advanced roles.
“Academic nursing is taking this great step forward to champion competency-based education, which will help to clarify the significant and unique contributions that nurses make to health and health care,” said Dr. Susan Bakewell-Sachs, Chair of the AACN Board of Directors. “We believe this approach to nursing education will strengthen our professional identity and set the standard for graduates of baccalaureate, master’s, and Doctor of Nursing Practice programs to demonstrate their ability to lead change and achieve optimal outcomes across the continuum of health care. We are committed to the opportunities that moving to this new model of nursing education presents, including the need to address the social determinants of health and health inequities.”
As the largest segment of the healthcare workforce with nearly 4 million providers, nurses play critical roles in maintaining patient safety and ensuring access to lifesaving and health-sustaining services. The new Essentials provide a blueprint for how to prepare nurses to thrive in a continually evolving and complex healthcare environment. The document outlines competency expectations in 10 domains that are central to nursing practice, including:
- Knowledge for Nursing Practice
- Person-Centered Care
- Population Health
- Scholarship for Nursing Practice
- Quality and Safety
- Interprofessional Partnerships
- Systems-Based Practice
- Information and Healthcare Technologies
- Personal, Professional, and Leadership Development
In addition to the domains, eight foundational concepts associated with professional nursing are integrated throughout the Essentials, including Clinical Judgment; Communication; Compassionate Care; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Ethics; Evidence-Based Practice; Health Policy; and Social Determinants of Health. This competency-based approach to preparing nurses involves a system of education based on students demonstrating that they have learned the knowledge, attitudes, motivations, self-perceptions, and skills expected of them as they progress through their program of study. The new Essentials Model of Nursing Education outlines how to prepare nurses at entry and advanced levels, including how to move nurses seamlessly across the educational continuum. Click here to review the new Essentials.
The re-envisioned Essentials were developed by an expert task force, convened by the AACN Board of Directors in 2018, which includes a 7-member leadership team, 28 representatives from academia and practice, and senior AACN staff members. Using an iterative and inclusive process involving hundreds of academic and practice leaders, faculty, students, and other stakeholders, the task force spent nearly 3 years developing and refining the Essentials based on feedback received. The final model and framework represent academic nursing’s best thinking on how to prepare nurses using a competency-based approach to education, which is similar to how physicians and other healthcare providers are prepared. Voting to endorse the final version of Essentials was conducted from March 23-April 6, 2021, which culminated in a strong majority of AACN’s member schools endorsing the new document.
Engaging the Practice Community
Preparing nurses with a consistent set of identifiable competencies will help employers and the public understand what to expect from new nurses as well as how to distinguish nurses with baccalaureate and graduate preparation from other providers. Throughout the development of the new Essentials, AACN was intentional about involving practice leaders in the work to infuse innovation into nursing education. AACN engaged a variety of practice leaders in this effort to ensure that nursing education remains in sync with the current and future needs of the healthcare system.
“Practice leaders engaged in and informed the process of re-envisioning the Essentials and AACN listened, proposing a model that will foster competency standards and align academe and practice expectations and partnership. Our practice colleagues consider these new Essentials to be transformational,” said Dr. Deborah Trautman, President and Chief Executive Officer of AACN. “We have seen great support for moving to competency-based education and for having consistent expectations for our graduates in terms of their knowledge, skills, and abilities.”
Facilitating the Transition
AACN recognizes that this groundbreaking shift in how nurses are prepared in the U.S. will take 3 years or more to fully implement. Organizations that accredit nursing education programs, certify nurses in specialty areas, and license nurses for practice will need time to respond and adapt to the new Essentials, which will impact their operations.
AACN is committed to facilitating this transition and providing support to assist schools of nursing in meeting the new expectations. The association is planning to appoint an implementation advisory task force to facilitate change, identify issues that may arise, and develop materials to support programs in transition. In keeping with AACN’s commitment to providing learning opportunities for deans and faculty via webinars, conference sessions, online resources, and workshops, AACN will focus our programming on moving to the new Essentials and addressing related concerns. Resources currently available include:
- An online resource housing information and helpful tools for schools of nursing to adapt their programs, including key documents, references, videos, and updates on upcoming training opportunities.
- A brief guide, titled Understanding the Re-Envisioned Essentials: A RoadMap for the Transformation of Nursing Education, which explains how the transition to the new Essentials will occur, the timeline for implementation, and suggested steps that schools can take to begin this important work.
- A Frequently Asked Questions document that addresses many issues and includes insights from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, the nation’s leading accreditor of baccalaureate and higher degree nursing programs, on when the new Essentials might be required for accreditation reviews.
- Sample Resources from the Essentials Implementation Tool Kit, including two sample domains and course descriptions. When complete, the tool kit will provide recommendations and examples of learning strategies, resources, content, and assessment strategies for each of the 10 Essentials domains.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is the national voice for academic nursing representing more than 840 schools of nursing nationwide. AACN establishes quality standards for nursing education, influences the nursing profession to improve health care, and promotes public support of baccalaureate and graduate nursing education, research and practice. For more information, visit www.aacnnursing.org.
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