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Rounds with Leadership: First Steps Toward Implementing the Essentials

Published August 25, 2021

Susan Bakewell-Sachs AACN Board Chair and Deborah Trautman AACN President and CEOWelcome to Rounds with Leadership, a forum for AACN’s Board Chair and President/CEO to offer commentary on issues and trends impacting academic nursing.

August 25, 2021 - First Steps Toward Implementing the Essentials

Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.

William Pollard, Business Leader and Scholar

When AACN’s members voted to approve the AACN Essentials last April, they forever changed the horizon for academic nursing. The bold decision to move toward competency-based education sparked a new era of innovation that will require fresh approaches to teaching, student assessment, clinical learning, and engagement with our partners in practice.

A change of this magnitude will take time, particularly because a variety of stakeholders, including accreditation, certification, and regulatory bodies, are being asked to adapt their processes to reflect the new competency expectations. AACN recognizes that the pathway to fully implementing the revised Essentials will be an extended process that may take three years or longer to complete.

AACN is hearing from members schools who have initiated the work to adapt their programs to meet the Essentials. Some recommended early steps, after reading the entire Essentials document carefully, include:

  • Mapping the current curricula used for individual programs of study with the Domains, Competencies, and Sub-competencies outlined in the Essentials.
  • Collaborating with practice partners to strategize, plan, and implement the 2021 Essentials.
  • Engaging faculty in discussions on how degree pathways currently do or do not align with the new model for nursing education.
  • Encouraging faculty to brainstorm and create ways to assess competency using current or alternate learning activities.
  • Sharing AACN resources on competency-based education, including the upcoming webinarsvideos and references, with those engaged in the transition process to stimulate their thinking and to generate ideas.
Facilitating Essentials Implementation

AACN is committed to supporting the transition to the new Essentials and providing guidance and resources to make the implementation a reality. Currently, we are forming the Essentials Implementation Steering Committee and a variety of working groups charged with leading specific elements of this work, including transitioning to competency-based education and assessment, tool kit resource development, stakeholder engagement, and faculty development. Members of the Steering Committee and the working groups will be announced in September.

In addition, AACN recently announced a new webinar series and upcoming conference sessions for deans and faculty, which are focused on key aspects of  Essentials implementation. These sessions will feature practical strategies and insights shared by thought leaders with experience in competency-based learning and assessment.

AACN is also featuring the Essential Update in our newsletters and on the website to spotlight training sessions, tool kit resources, journal articles, and engagement opportunities for members and constituents working to transform nursing education. We also want to hear from you and what your school is doing to transition your programs and move toward a competency-based education. Please send any information regarding your school’s efforts to implement the AACN Essentials to, and we will share your efforts with the larger academic nursing community.

We are confident that moving toward this model of nursing education will strengthen our professional identity and set a new standard of excellence for graduates of baccalaureate, master’s, and Doctor of Nursing Practice programs. Together we will meet this moment and co-create the future of academic nursing.


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