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Rounds With Leadership: Artificial Intelligence

Published November 28, 2018

Welcome to Rounds with Leadership, a forum for AACN’s Board Chair and President/CEO to offer commentary on issues and trends impacting academic nursing.

November 28, 2018 - Artificial Intelligence: A Catalyst for Innovation in Pedagogy and Practice

As leaders in academic nursing, we are acutely aware of the need to re-envision how we educate the next generation of nursing leaders to thrive in a health system undergoing rapid change. To remain relevant, we must prepare now for fundamental and irreversible change in health care and higher education. Technology will be the main driver of change in pedagogy and practice and, in the long run, we will neither need nor want professionals to work as they did in the 20th century or prior.  As British economist John Maynard Keynes said, the difficulty lies not so much in generating new ideas, but with escaping from the old ones.

For example, one change agent shaping the future of nursing education, research, and practice is artificial intelligence or AI. Simply stated, AI uses computers and algorithms to perform tasks that typically require human intelligence (Derrington, 2017).  Because computers can instantly synthesize data from a wide variety of sources, AI has proven effective at enhancing clinical decision-making, recognizing patterns (predictive analytics), empowering student learning and faculty effectiveness, and harnessing the power of Big Data to improve the overall quality of healthcare services and educational activities.

Health profession schools increasingly are using systems augmented by artificial intelligence – including simulation, virtual reality, gaming, AI reflection, and other forms of educational technology – to prepare tomorrow’s clinicians and caregivers. We as nurse educators must take a leading role in preparing ourselves and our graduates to be comfortable using technology in education, research, and clinical care to better meet patient needs. We share an obligation for readying tomorrow’s workforce to understand how to leverage AI with “strong nursing judgment to make the proper decisions for enabling the right nurse to provide the right care, at the right time, for the right patient” (Carroll, 2018).

Looking ahead, we recognize that AI and other technological advances will not replace the need for nurses or faculty, nor decrease the demand for humanistic, compassionate interaction with students and patients. Still, a move in this direction will require a new skill set from today’s nursing school graduate who must be well versed to co-design the algorithms and utilize the tools and technology that are redefining how faculty teach and nurses practice.

In a recent editorial in the Journal of Nursing Education, Dr. Teri Murray, who serves on AACN’s Board of Directors and leads the School of Nursing at Saint Louis University, urges academic leaders to educate nurses to thrive in settings that reflect contemporary standards and expectations. Dr. Murray states that “the continued emergence of new, interactive, and engaging technologies has created an inflection point in nursing education, demanding a change in the usual way of conducting the business of nursing education. This inflection point has created a window of opportunity to reflect on our past practices and transition toward newer ways of engaging students” (Murray, 2018, p. 575).

Let’s move beyond the idea that AI replaces faculty and clinicians, and unlock the unlimited potential of AI to stimulate innovation in nursing education and practice. AI does not replace the human brain; rather, it augments by serving as a “peripheral brain.” Our students must be encouraged to lead the way as co-designers of the tools that will be powered by AI and other emerging technologies. As AACN works to update the Essential documents that shape how nurses are prepared in baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral programs, we look forward to hearing your views on how best to integrate education and skill development on artificial intelligence and other innovations into nursing curricula.


Carroll, W. (July 2018). Artificial Intelligence, Nurses and the Quadruple Aim. Online Journal of Nursing Informatics (OJNI), 22(2).

Derrington, D. (December 2017). Artificial Intelligence for Health and Health Care. (JSR-17-Task-002), The MITRE Corporation: McLean, VA.

Murray, T.A. (October 2018). Nursing Education: Our Iceberg Is Melting. Journal of Nursing Education, 57(10): 575-576.

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