Since 2010, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the American Organization of Nurse Leaders (AONL), formerly the American Association of Nurse Executives (AONE), have partnered to develop and support a national committee, which provides a forum for practice and academic nursing leaders to address urgent needs facing the profession. Leaders from both national organizations are united in the view that the best way to address some of nursing's most pressing concerns, including resolving workforce shortages, introducing new models of care, and preparing more highly educated nurses, is to work together and leverage our respective strengths.
Shortly before the release of the Institute of Medicine's report The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health in 2010,1 the AACN-AONE Steering Committee released its 1st set of resources and collaborative milestones,2 which illustrated success in
- elevating the dialogue to the national level on the need for best practices in academic-practice partnerships;
- developing a systematic and thorough review of the state of the science;
- developing guiding principles for academic-practice partnerships, which provide advice in establishing and sustaining such partnerships;
- conducting the 1st national survey of academic and practice leaders to catalog existing partnerships; and
- developing an online tool kit for nurse leaders to navigate the establishment of their partnerships.
The Institute of Medicine report clearly delineated that in order to meet the recommendations targeted to strengthen nursing as a profession to lead change and advance health, nursing leaders must partner to create a well-educated workforce prepared to meet the demands of a rapidly changing healthcare milieu. This work has continued to today, framed by the guiding principles identified early in our work together, including: 1) establishing formal relationships at the senior level that extend to all levels of the organization; 2) clearly articulating a shared vision and goals for the partnership; 3) setting mutual goals with set evaluation periods; and 4) fostering respect, trust, open communications, frequent engagement, mutual investment/commitment, and transparency.3 Based on this early work, we are pleased to report the following accomplishments:
- development of a Partnership Expectation and Outcomes Matrix to assist academic and service partners with goal setting and impact exemplars;
- establishment in 2012 of the AACN Academic-Practice Partnership Award with dozens of exemplars featuring award recipients; and
- an AACN-AONE Day of Dialogue focused specifically on joint strategic planning, recommendations for aligning the workforce to meet individual and population health needs, identification of potential collaborative innovations, and the need to build and enrich relationships based on trust and respect.
The 2016 report on Advancing Healthcare Transformation: A New Era for Academic Nursing4 addressed how schools of nursing can amplify their role in improving health and healthcare at the local, state, and national levels. One of the report's principal recommendations—“academic nursing should partner to advance new clinical models and promote accountable care”—helped to coalesce support for continuing this important partnership. As a result, the 2 organizations (AACN and AONE) committed to further evolving our collaboration by establishing an ongoing Advisory Committee comprised of 7 AONE member chief nursing officers (CNOs) and 7 AACN member deans. This committee has been meeting since the spring of 2017 and is cochaired by Deb Zimmermann, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, representing AONL and Judy Beal, DNSc, RN, FNAP, FAAN, representing AACN. Robin Begley, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, CEO of AONL, and Deborah Trautman, PhD, RN, FAAN, president and CEO of AACN, serve as ex-officio members of the committee.
AACN-AONL Advisory Committee Work to Date
The mission of the newly reconstituted AACN-AONL Advisory Committee is “to unite practice and academia to cocreate models of care, workforce readiness, and a lifelong continuum of learning to optimize the impact of nursing on health and wellness.” In May 2018, the group reached consensus on 2 strategic priorities:
- develop and implement a campaign for nursing leaders from academia and practice to influence appropriate leaders so they will partner to address expected workforce shortages (models of care and of learning); and
- encourage and facilitate academic and practice leaders to identify opportunities and challenges in forging effective partnerships.
To meet these priorities, the 2 organizations hosted their 1st Joint CNO-Dean's Meeting in October 2018 during AACN's annual Academic Nursing Leadership Conference in Washington, DC. This successful convening was repeated at the AONL Annual Meeting in San Diego in May 2019. A national call for action was issued at both events, which outlined the need to
- create opportunities for joint forums between deans and nurse executives at the state level;
- engage leaders from academic health centers and other clinical settings to establish or strengthen a shared vision for practice and academic nursing;
- enhance the clinical practice of nursing with residencies and fellowships at both undergraduate and graduate levels;
- invest in collaborative research; and
- partner in the development of new models of care and consider solutions for workforce shortages.
In response, Maryland became the 1st state to fund and require new graduate nurses to complete a structured 12-month transition into practice residency. This exciting development was accomplished through the efforts of academic and practice leaders joining forces under the Maryland Organization of Nurse Leaders and the formation of the Maryland Nurse Residency Collaborative. This partnership has increased the number of acute care hospitals in Maryland using the Vizient/AACN nurse residency program from 2 in 2011 to 40 in 2018.5 These residencies, a model for other states to consider, strengthen new graduate transition into practice, and build nursing leadership skills among new clinicians.
In addition, leaders from the Virginia Organization of Colleges of Nurses and the Virginia Organization of Nurses Executives and Leaders held a statewide summit in August 2019 that targets the alignment of workforce and population health needs. Together, clinical and practice leaders will address workforce shortages, collaborate on strategies to tackle top state health issues, and consider new models for enhancing access to care.
The convergence of academic and practice priorities at the local level is yielding results. When Emory University Health System in Atlanta needed to expand bed capacity and build a new inpatient tower, CNO Sharon Pappas, PhD, RN, FAAN, turned to her academic partner Linda McCauley, PhD, RN, FAAN, FAAOHN, dean and professor at Emory, to develop a collaborative plan of action. These leaders developed a creative strategy to fund and meet the health system demand by expanding university enrollment by 100 students. Last October at the AACN conference, the partners shared with an audience of deans and CNOs that working together maximized their impact. Collaboration yields results.
Throughout the nation, increasing collaboration among academic and practice leaders is helping to enhance patient care and improve the practice environment. For example, leaders with the Indiana University (IU) School of Nursing and IU Health, based in Indianapolis, are working together to promote a climate of rigorous inquiry, which is needed to develop new knowledge and translate evidence into practice. Together educators and clinicians are assessing the health system's evidence-based practice (EBP) infrastructure and cocreating train-the-trainer programs and online training modules to enhance education in EBP. The long-term impact of this important work will increase patient access to the latest innovations in nursing science while influencing how nurses throughout the IU system are educated and how they practice.
The AACN-AONL Advisory Committee continues to meet monthly and hosted a 2nd invitational Day of Dialogue in October 2019. This national level academic-practice partnership is modeling the guiding principles identified in our early work since our priorities are based on a shared vision, mutual respect, and commitment to addressing pressing issues. The calls to action delivered at recent AACN and AONL meetings have been effective, and we are cataloging exemplars, which may be accessed online by all those with an interest in this collaborative work. Building on our Day of Dialogue work, we have the momentum, inspiration, and an even stronger sense of commitment to collectively advancing our strategic priorities. Whether local, statewide, or national, academic-practice partnerships are vital to positioning nurses to lead change, spark innovation, and enhance the health and well-being of those we serve.