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AACN Reaffirms Support for Full Implementation of The Essentials: Core Competencies for Professional Nursing Education

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is committed to achieving the preferred future for nursing education outlined in the 2021 Essentials and to communicating the fundamental "WHY" behind the importance of fully embracing this call for transformation. This framework for nursing education was developed in response to the need for nurses who are well-equipped to navigate today's complex and rapidly evolving healthcare landscape. Developed with input from practice and academic leaders over a consensus-building, two-year period, the Essentials received overwhelming support through a vote from AACN's national network of more than 875 member schools of nursing.

Variability across nursing education programs impacts the practice-readiness of new graduates and impedes our ability to ensure that all nurses can thrive across healthcare settings. Ensuring consistency in the skills and competencies of new nurse graduates is a recurring request from practice stakeholders, which is addressed by the Essentials framework. Strong agreement exists across the profession that preparing nurses with the competencies and sub-competencies delineated in the Essentials will help to address gaps that currently exist in the healthcare system. A critical component of this framework, the sub-competencies are the behaviors that when demonstrated, serve as indicators of competency attainment, essential for maintaining uniformity across graduates.

Moving to competency-based education (CBE) promotes equity and is crucial for reaching diverse learners, thereby broadening our workforce to provide the best care for the patients we serve. CBE centers on the individual by fostering active learning, motivation, and increased engagement. Moreover, this pedagogy aligns with the evolving trends in K-12 and higher education, which is important for future nursing students as they will increasingly have prior education in a CBE model. Competency-based education is not a checklist of skills, but an approach that allows students to practice, reflect, and demonstrate specific knowledge, attitudes, and skills, which fosters a more personalized and effective learning experience through connections to real-world practice to better prepare students for what lies ahead.

Pursuing nursing program accreditation through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) is an important step on the journey to implementing the 2021 Essentials. The newly revised CCNE accreditation standards call on nursing schools with baccalaureate, master’s, and Doctor of Nursing Practice programs to address how curricula encompasses the domains, competencies, and concepts contained in the Essentials. To fully implement nursing’s professional standards, the 2021 Essentials, nursing programs must also transition to competency-based education, demonstrate how the sub-competencies are achieved, and meet other criteria specific to entry-level (i.e., clinical experiences across the four spheres of care) and advanced-level nursing programs (i.e., NTF Standards for Quality Nurse Practitioner Education). Developing programs based on the nationally recognized consensus framework for curriculum development, which is rooted in preparing nurses for contemporary practice, is significantly different from developing curricula solely to meet minimum accreditation requirements. AACN stands firm in its commitment to quality nursing education and as such, believes it is imperative that schools of nursing utilize professional nursing standards, endorsed by the larger academic community with full support from our colleagues in practice.

A majority of the nation’s nursing schools with baccalaureate and higher degree programs are forging ahead with the implementation of the Essentials in their entirety, including the transition to CBE. AACN remains steadfast in its commitment to supporting these efforts and moving toward a nationally recognized consensus framework for curriculum development, grounded in the preparation of nurses for today's increasingly complex healthcare environment.


Jean Giddens, PhD, RN, FAAN, ANEF
Chair, Board of Directors

Deborah Trautman, PhD, RN, FAAN
President & Chief Executive Officer


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