Jean Giddens smiling and wearing a blue blazer and a black blouse
Jean Giddens, Ph.D., professor and dean of the VCU School of Nursing

Nursing dean leads effort to reshape the future of nursing education nationwide

Jean Giddens, Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Nursing, co-led a revision of the education standards that students need to know when they graduate from nursing schools across the country.

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As the country’s nearly 4 million nurses comprise the largest sector of the health care workforce, they are crucial to maintaining the safety of patients and ensuring they can receive lifesaving care.

Schools of nursing have a responsibility to graduate nurses who are well prepared for the current and future health care environment, said Jean Giddens, Ph.D., professor and dean of VCU School of Nursing.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing released its latest version of the “Essentials” in 2021, which will guide the future of nursing education for more than 850 member nursing schools across the country. Giddens was the co-chair of the national task force that revised educational standards for bachelor’s, master’s and clinical doctoral nursing programs — the competencies for what students should know and be able to do upon graduation.

The task force, with input from faculty, deans and nursing practice leaders nationwide, developed a new model and framework for nursing programs to ensure students are best prepared for the real world.

VCU News caught up with Giddens to find out more about how the revised standards will help nurses and, in turn, the patients they serve.

What led AACN to revise the Essentials?
Over the past decade, there have been multiple changes in all areas of our society – including population demographics, advancements in technology, new research discoveries – all of which have had impacts in higher education and in health care.  The revised Essentials reflect the knowledge and skills needed by nurses now and into the future.

What does this transformation in nursing education look like?
The biggest change represented in the Essentials is the transition to competency-based education, which focuses on the knowledge, skills and abilities required for clinical care.  This change will require a more intentional assessment of the knowledge, skills and attitudes of our students and should provide greater consistency among graduates.

How is the VCU School of Nursing implementing the new Essentials?
The VCU SON has formed an Essentials implementation task force – known as NETForce – comprising committed faculty who teach in undergraduate and graduate programs. Their goal is to redesign the curriculum in alignment with the new Essentials – including a robust competency-based assessment process – by September 2023, with hopes of implementing the revised curriculum by in academic year 2024-25.

What impact do you anticipate these changes will make on the nursing workforce in the near future?

For years, there have been challenges with an academic-practice gap, meaning that students who graduate from nursing schools require significant onboarding and orientation during the first year of practice. This practice readiness phenomenon is a concern raised by employers across the country, with both new nurses for practice and nurses prepared at the graduate level. We expect that the Essentials competencies will closely align with the knowledge and skills needed to enter practice. Students taught under this new framework will be ready to practice sooner, which will be key in addressing the ongoing shortage of health care professionals.

What impact do you anticipate these changes will make on patients down the line?
The robust education offered by the revised Essentials should lead to a nursing workforce that is better prepared to meet the needs of patients in our ongoing quest for care that is safe, patient-centered, high-quality, effective and promotes health equity for all.