April 12, 2011 - In a bold move to transform nursing education at the graduate level, nursing schools affiliated with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) voted at the Spring Annual Meeting to endorse The Essentials of Master’s Education in Nursing, a set of national standards for preparing nurses to have a high impact in the healthcare environment. These Master’s Essentials, an update to an earlier version adopted in 1996, reflect current and future nursing practice at the master’s level, which demands expert application of evidence-based practices, quality improvement methods, outcomes measurement, systems knowledge, and leadership skills. The adoption of the new Essentials comes at a time when leading authorities, including the Institute of Medicine, are calling for educational innovations to enhance the preparation of nurses for contemporary practice.
“Healthcare delivery has changed dramatically in the last 15 years, signaling the need for a new conceptualization of master’s nursing education to better serve the patient care needs of the nation,” said AACN President Kathleen Potempa. “Nursing’s academic leaders have met this challenge by evolving core competency expectations used to prepare master’s program graduates to assume increasing accountabilities, responsibilities, and leadership roles across healthcare settings.”
The Essentials of Master’s Education in Nursing identifies the necessary curricular elements and frameworks required of master's programs. The document delineates the core knowledge and skills that all master's-prepared graduates, regardless of focus, major, or intended practice setting, should acquire in nine foundational areas:
• Sciences and Humanities
• Organizational and Systems Leadership
• Quality Improvement and Safety
• Translating and Integrating Scholarship into Practice
• Informatics and Healthcare Technologies
• Health Policy and Advocacy
• Interprofessional Collaboration for Improving Outcomes
• Clinical Prevention and Population Health
• Master’s-Level Nursing Practice
Nurses who obtain the competencies outlined in the Master’s Essentials will possess the advanced knowledge in the discipline and leadership skills needed to improve health outcomes in a number of current and emerging roles.
The development of the new Master’s Essentials began in September 2008 when the AACN Board of Directors convened a task force comprised of expert nurses in academia and practice. Chaired by Dr. Joanne Warner, dean of the University of Portland School of Nursing, the task force used a national consensus-building process to derive the new standards, which included holding numerous Webinars and four regional forums to collect stakeholder feedback in Baltimore, Chicago, San Diego, and New Orleans. Several drafts of the Essentials were published on the Web for review, with each iteration reflecting new comments contributed by a broad constituency. The AACN Board of Directors endorsed the Master’s Essentials in January 2011, and the document was officially adopted by the AACN membership at the business meeting held in Washington, DC on March 21, 2011.
Commencing this new era in master’s nursing education addresses the national calls to transform health professions education. In a 2003 report titled Health Professions Education: A Bridge to Quality (2003), the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found that nurses and other clinicians are not adequately prepared to provide the highest quality and safest care possible. The authors concluded that "education for the health professions is in need of a major overhaul." In addition, Dr. Patricia Benner and her colleagues at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching stated in her book Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical
Transformation that “profound changes in nursing practice call for equally profound changes in the education of nurses and the preparation of nurse educators.” Most recently, the 2010 IOM report on The Future of Nursing, initiated by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, calls for transforming graduate nursing education by developing a “unified, competency-based approach with the highest possible standards.”
“By moving to the new Master’s Essentials, nursing has taken a proactive step toward preparing a future workforce able to flourish amid the changing dynamics in care delivery,” added Dr. Potempa. “Today’s nurse practices in a variety of new and different capacities given the rise of accountable care organizations, primary care health homes (medical homes), nurse managed health centers, retail clinics, community health centers, and in other care models. Preparing nurses with the skills needed to provide leadership in adapting to these new systems is critical to meeting the needs of a diverse patient population.”
The task force charged with developing the new Essentials took care to ensure that the expectations for master's level nursing practice are distinct from those required for the baccalaureate degree (entry-level) and those for the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree (advanced specialty practice). Master’s program graduates possess broad knowledge and practice expertise that builds on entry-level competency. This preparation provides graduates with a fuller understanding of the discipline of nursing, which is necessary to engage in higher level practice and leadership roles. For those nurses seeking a terminal degree, the new competency standards prepare graduates to move seamlessly into research or practice-focused doctoral programs.
To access the Essentials documents developed for baccalaureate, master’s, and DNP programs as well as related resources, see http://www.aacn.nche.edu/Education/essentials.htm. To facilitate integration of the new Master’s Essentials into nursing curricula, AACN is preparing an online tool kit for faculty and planning a series of Webinars, regional meetings, and informational resources to help schools adapt their master’s programs to meet the new standards.