11 – Graduate-level Accreditation across States

Graduate-level Accreditation across States

Written by John D. Lundeen, EdD, RN, CNE, ANEF, MSN Program Director/Professor at Galen College of Nursing – Louisville

Galen College of Nursing – Louisville Campus

Galen College of Nursing (Galen) was established as a prelicensure practical/vocational nursing (PN/VN) program in Louisville, Kentucky; San Antonio, Texas; and Tampa Bay, Florida, in response to a severe national nursing shortage denoted by the Humana Integrated Health System Sciences Institute three decades ago. Since its inception, Galen has continued to evolve to meet the needs of the communities it serves by offering higher levels of education. Galen established a prelicensure associate degree nursing (ADN) program in 2005, an RN-to-BSN program in 2014, a prelicensure baccalaureate of science in nursing (BSN) program in 2016, and a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) program in 2019. In addition, Galen has expanded access to nursing education by opening new instructional sites or campuses in Cincinnati, Ohio; Hazard, Kentucky; Miami, Florida; Austin, Texas; and Nashville, Tennessee, with plans for future expansion.

One challenge of offering multiple programs in different states is that it requires the college and its campuses to be continuously peer evaluated by external bodies such as our regional accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, by programmatic accreditors like the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, by our state boards of nursing, and by higher education coordinating boards. In addition, Galen has benefitted by having our online courses certified by Quality Matters and engaging in the Best Places to Work program, of which all our eligible campuses are recognized.

Galen College of Nursing Vision Wall

To help meet the needs of the faculty shortage and the shortage of nursing leaders, Galen created an MSN program with two options to help address this need. The nurse educator option prepares nurses for the specialized, advanced role of the nurse educator. The curriculum integrates core master’s-level concepts and education-focused courses reflective of competencies developed by national nursing organizations. Comprehensive, individualized practicum experiences provide students the opportunity to collaborate with an experienced nurse educator preceptor in an academic or healthcare setting. Program graduates are prepared for nurse educator positions in schools of nursing or healthcare institutions and will meet the eligibility requirements for certification in the academic nurse educator role.

The nursing and healthcare leadership option prepares graduates to lead nursing practice in the delivery of safe, high quality, efficient, compassionate, person-centered care. Graduates are prepared for current and emerging leadership roles with a focus on quality and safety in a variety of settings across the healthcare continuum to improve the patient care experience and health outcomes. Graduates will lead change and implement strategies to reduce healthcare costs, advocate for nursing practice and the profession, work in full partnership with members of the interprofessional healthcare team in the co-creation of innovative and collaborative healthcare models, and help improve the work life of healthcare providers and environments. The program culminates in intensive leadership experiences in which students work with a nursing leader in a healthcare setting.

Our history with the ACEN is longstanding as our first undergraduate program was granted initial accreditation in 2015; however, graduate education and its accreditation was new to us. The personalized support we received from the ACEN during the entire process substantially informed our thinking and greatly facilitated our success. Our work toward candidacy for accreditation began in 2019 along with program and curriculum development. Support in the form of online resources, webinars, and live assistance by the ACEN Directors and Staff was plentiful, and each was used in our journey of program development and toward candidacy. One of the most regularly referenced tools was the ACEN Glossary, which provides greatly needed clarity via operationalized definitions of the essential components of a quality nursing program. The availability of the ACEN Directors and Staff, who walked us through questions, challenges, or concerns, proved to be instrumental in our success.

Following our successful candidacy application and just prior to the national shutdown in 2020 caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACEN provided an in-person self-study workshop in Atlanta, GA, which provided helpful insights, tips, and recommendations for programs seeking initial or continuing accreditation. This workshop guided participants through every step of the application process. In addition to explaining the general application process, each criterion was addressed in detail with emphasis on key components to be addressed, common mistakes and omissions, and meaningful examples of appropriate support for each criterion. The information gleaned from this workshop was used by the faculty and team to develop our own Candidacy Presentation and Self-Study Report. Multiple online resources provided by the ACEN additionally supported our process, including the Guidelines for Written Reports and the Written Report Instructions.

One important lessoned learned for us during this process was recognizing a key difference between the undergraduate and graduate applications; specifically, the inclusion of unique outcomes at the graduate level. In initial program planning and development, we anticipated there would be separate program learning outcomes for each program option. While a few would be the same core outcomes used across each program option, our plan was to include unique outcomes for the individual options. However, during the application process, it was discovered that the ACEN requires the identification of role-specific professional competencies. These are unique outcomes that are applicable to graduates of a specific program option and must be uniquely identified as such in the curriculum and accreditation documents. In addition to the overall graduate end-of-program student learning outcomes are the identified role-specific professional competencies for each graduate program option. The collaboration and assistance from the leaders and staff at the ACEN served as valued support throughout the application process from candidacy to initial accreditation. Expectations were clear, and a high level of quality was evident during each interaction with the ACEN team. There was a true sense of teamwork and collegial support during each phase of the process. Since our initial accreditation, we have had the opportunity to work with the ACEN again through the review and approval of a post-master’s nurse educator certificate. We look forward to a continued professional relationship with the ACEN, and will use the ACEN Standards and Criteria to guide our thinking as we develop our doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) program.

Written by John D. Lundeen, EdD, RN, CNE, ANEF, MSN Program Director/Professor at Galen College of Nursing – Louisville

John D. Lundeen, EdD, RN, CNE, ANEF, MSN Program Director/Professor at Galen College of Nursing – Louisville