Completing the Candidacy Process as a Graduate Program
Written by Thanee Kaewthummanukul, PhD, RN, Dean at Chiang Mai University Faculty of Nursing
In early December 2021, the Chiang Mai University Faculty of Nursing (NurseCMU) spent eight days with ACEN Directors Dr. Nell Ard and Dr. Suzette Farmer for a virtual consulting visit: three to review evidence submitted to the ACEN Document Repository and five for the virtual consulting visit. We were pleased to have the opportunity to share our programs with Drs. Ard and Farmer and feel proud that they have recommended us for ACEN candidacy. As a nursing education institution based outside of the United States, we wanted to share our experience with others to help demystify the process and encourage others to pursue accreditation with the ACEN.
In the 60 years since our founding, we have grown from a small domestic nursing program to an international faculty of nursing, offering training at the certificate, baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral levels with alumni from over 60 countries. From the beginning, NurseCMU has fully embraced its role as a pioneer in nursing education and has sought to continually improve upon existing programs while keeping pace with international standards. We are affiliated with both the World Health Organization and the Joanna Briggs Institute, and our experts regularly collaborate with partner institutions. This commitment to excellence has translated into NurseCMU becoming the first nursing education institution to receive the Thailand Quality Class Award as well as high first-time nursing licensure pass rates, high rates of employment for graduates, and a regional reputation for research and technical expertise. Therefore, NurseCMU leadership felt that ACEN accreditation was the next logical step.
For international nursing programs, there are four steps in the ACEN accreditation process: 1) the Candidacy Eligibility Application (which differs for the United States/its territories and for international programs), 2) the Candidacy Presentation, 3) the consulting visit, and 4) the site visit. Pursuing ACEN accreditation is a big undertaking and as a foreign nursing educational institute, this was a particularly challenging task. A lot of information and data from several departments across NurseCMU were needed. The key to our success in the ACEN process thus far is that the NurseCMU administration appointed a faculty member as the point person and coordinator of the application process, and she has one dedicated staff member to assist with the application writing and coordination.
The three stages that we have progressed through thus far have been very involved, and there have been two aspects of the process that have been especially helpful: Dr. Nell Ard, a ACEN Director and our liaison, and the resources available on the ACEN website. International programs should consult both the ACEN Accreditation Manual and the ACEN Accreditation Manual Supplement for International Programs. Both documents provide step-by-step guidance on what is expected at each stage and also reference other documents on the ACEN website that will provide useful information during the application process. Once you have passed the candidacy eligibility stage, the ACEN assigns your institution a primary contact, and we have been very fortunate to work with Dr. Ard.
We feel that the ACEN has a genuine interest in helping international nursing programs become accredited, and this has been apparent at every step of the process. As our contact, Dr. Ard has been an endless source of information and has answered our questions promptly. The purpose of the Candidacy Eligibility Application is to ensure that the educational institution and nursing program are eligible, saving those who are not ready for accreditation a lot of time and expense in the later stages of accreditation.
The application process is intensive, yet each step builds upon the previous step to reduce duplication of effort. The candidacy application helps establish that the institution and nursing program meet local accreditation standards and has appropriate, qualified leadership. General background information also gives evaluators a sense of teaching philosophy, methodology, and faculty-to-student ratios. We submitted our International Candidacy Eligibility Application in April 2020 and received approval by April 23, 2020.
The ACEN evaluates institutions based on six standards: 1) Mission and Administrative Capacity, 2) Faculty and Staff, 3) Students, 4) Curriculum, 5) Resources, and 6) Outcomes. The Candidacy Presentation requires that the nursing program submits a subset of these standards to ensure that the institution is sufficiently prepared for candidacy status. The ACEN Accreditation Manual and the ACEN Accreditation Manual Supplement for International Programs are invaluable for the Candidacy Presentation; the supplement in particular highlights the requirements for international nursing programs, which are somewhat different from those for U.S. nursing programs. The report is limited to 100 pages (150 for multiple programs) before addition of the appendices. The ACEN provides detailed bullet points for each section to highlight the type of information required, and we suggest answering each bullet one by one to ensure that all questions are addressed. We also recommend taking the time to write your answers as clearly and succinctly as possible as this will keep the Candidacy Presentation below the page limit and maximize understandability. We submitted our Candidacy Presentation five months after eligibility approval and received approval for the consulting visit within a week.
The consulting visit is a step reserved only for international nursing programs to ensure that they fully understand the steps involved in the accreditation process. We had originally planned for this visit in July 2021, but given Thailand’s strict COVID-19 quarantine measures, it was rescheduled for December 2021 and changed to a virtual visit, consisting of a four-hour online meeting each day. An in-person visit would have been preferable, as we would have had the pleasure of meeting Drs. Ard and Farmer in person. There is also the convenience in the ability to walk people around campus and to pull open drawers at will to share documents during the review of the evidence. While the virtual visit reduced the financial costs associated with the consulting visit, it meant that more work was required to scan documents for review, to conduct translations for documents that would have been explained in person, and to create multiple videos to showcase the campus, teaching and learning activities, clinical practice, community practice, and more.
While there was certainly anxiety associated with the consulting visit, we were greatly relieved (and pleased) to experience the collegial manner in which Drs. Ard and Farmer conducted each meeting. They truly tried to understand the nature of our program and to identify weaknesses in how we presented our candidacy. The objective of the visit was to support, to provide valuable feedback, and to promote our success during the final process of the accreditation.
We feel that pursuing ACEN accreditation is well worth the effort. We look forward to continuing to work with Drs. Ard and Farmer as we prepare for the final site visit. We encourage interested international nursing programs to pursue accreditation and recommend that they carefully study the ACEN’s six standards for accreditation to determine when they have met the majority of the criteria prior to initiating the process.