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Rounds With Leadership: A Legacy of Risks and Rewards

Published September 25, 2019

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.

September 25, 2019 - A Legacy of Risks and Rewards

For our 20th anniversary in 1989, AACN published The Vision and The Reality, an anthology of the association’s history up to that point, which featured an exploration of the opportunities and challenges facing the fledgling organization. In this document, author Shirley H. Fondiller highlights some key cultural issues impacting society at the time of AACN’s founding: health care as a top political issue, the rise of the women’s liberation movement, and a surge in political activism. For nurse educators, the focus was on maintaining quality standards in baccalaureate and graduate programs, building bridges with associate degree programs, and preparing nurses for expanding clinical roles. It’s interesting to see how 50 years later, the country’s cultural, political, and educational landscape is still being shaped by these issues.

Dr. Fondiller writes that the organization’s mission was “to advance the quality of baccalaureate and graduate nursing education, promote nursing research, and provide for the development of academic leaders.” To this day, these foci remain relevant to AACN. Though it is necessary to evolve and advance as an organization, it is also important to look back and remember the risk-taking and ingenuity that propelled AACN forward.

Above all, AACN has worked over the last five decades to advance nursing education and adapt curriculum standards to meet the needs of nursing practice. In 1979, AACN published its first set of standards: Guidelines for Baccalaureate Education in Nursing for Registered Nurse Students in Colleges and Universities. This was followed in 1986 by The Essentials of College and University Education for Professional Nursing, which laid the foundation for the Baccalaureate Essentials and, subsequently, the Master’s Essentials. Later that same year, AACN published the Quality Indicators for Doctoral Nursing Programs to provide guidance to PhD-level programs. With updates to these seminal documents issued over the years, AACN’s commitment to refining the Essentials continues with the current re-envisioning of these guidelines focused on transitioning nursing to competency-based education and assessment.

Of course, we cannot reflect on AACN’s history of advancing nursing education without referencing the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Since its establishment by membership vote in 1996, CCNE has worked tirelessly to create the standards for baccalaureate and graduate nursing education and accredit schools nationwide. Since accrediting its first schools in 1999 and being officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Education in 2000, CCNE has accredited over 1,852 programs with the help of thousands of volunteers. CCNE has grown to accredit DNP programs in 2008, Nurse Residency programs in 2009, and Post-Graduate APRN certification programs in 2014. The Commission’s work has raised nursing education standards and helped develop a higher caliber of professional nurse.

In the government affairs arena, AACN has been effective at amplifying the voice of academic nursing on Capitol Hill from our earliest days to the present.  From the first “dean’s march on Washington” in 1971, to the establishment of the National Institute of Nursing Research in 1993, to the release of the Nursing Coalition’s landmark consensus document on healthcare reform in 2009, AACN has played a central role in advancing public policy on nursing education, research, and practice. AACN is recognized as a leader in securing sustained federal support for nursing education, including Title VIII Nursing Workforce Development programs; shaping legislative and regulatory policy affecting nursing schools; and sustaining federal investments in research to elevate the role of nursing science in healthcare innovation and application.

Championing nursing research always has been an important ingredient in AACN’s recipe for success. This vital work is both internally focused (e.g., collecting data from academic institutions) and externally focused, which includes advocating for increasing federal support for NINR and other agencies focused on research. AACN first launched a national data bank, called the Institutional Data System, back in 1978. Our first-ever Annual Survey of Enrollment and Graduations was published in 1982, with 263 member schools participating. Since then, our reach in respondents has expanded to 1,022 member and non-member schools of nursing. AACN’s data is in high demand and universally respected, and we now collect data for three annual survey reports on enrollment and graduations and salaries of deans and faculty in baccalaureate and graduate programs in nursing. AACN’s contributions to nursing research accelerated with the introduction of the Journal of Professional Nursing in 1985. As we move forward, we anticipate that our contributions to research will flourish as we initiate faculty research funding in 2020.

AACN’s focus on professional development for academic nursing leaders began with our first member conference in 1976, the genesis of AACN’s Summer Seminar. Over the years, our conferences for faculty teaching in baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral programs have become a primary source for networking, resource sharing, and professional growth for more than 3,000 deans and faculty members annually. A special emphasis in our work to provide enrichment experiences to members has been leadership development.  AACN is the preferred education provider for deans and faculty at all levels, from top administrators to those beginning their leadership journey.  Building on the success of the Leadership for Academic Nursing Program introduced in 2002 and the Wharton Executive Leadership Program, which debuted in 2012, AACN has grown its robust menu of leadership development programs under the banner of AACN LEADS. Professional development has been, and will continue to be, a cornerstone of AACN’s programming and a top member benefit.

Upon closer reflection, our work was not always singular.  Over the years, AACN has realized the importance of collaborating with colleagues, which was critical in forming the Tri-Council for Nursing in 1981, endorsing the American Nurses Association’s advocacy statement on Nursing’s Agenda for Health Care Reform in 1991, and creating the Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC) with five other national health professions organizations in 2012. In 2014, AACN commissioned a report on the power of academic-practice partnerships to serve as a catalyst to systemwide change titled Advancing Healthcare Transformation: A New Era for Academic Nursing. Today, AACN leverages its many relationships to magnify its impact, including steering the 62 members of The Nursing Coalition to shape health policy; collaborating with the Global Alliance for Leadership in Nursing Education and Science to elevate nursing worldwide; convening the 55 members of the Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Group to promote inclusive learning environments; and joining with the American Organization of Nurse Leaders to strengthen ties between academia and practice.

AACN always has been a beacon for academic nursing, a place where nurse educators can come together to address emerging trends, deliberate on the challenges facing our profession, and be vigilant in our efforts to address them. Over these last 50 years, AACN has been a pillar of the nursing education community, due largely to the efforts and drive of our members. We are looking forward to celebrating our collective success at the upcoming Academic Nursing Leadership Conference in Washington, DC on October 19-22.