Frequently Asked Questions

COVID-19

As you know, we are experiencing uncertain times as our country and the world grapples with COVID-19 and its impact. So much has changed in a short period of time, and circumstances continue to rapidly evolve. This is challenging for all of us. Your ACEN Staff know that the nurse leaders and faculty continue to be consumed with addressing the challenges the virus has caused. The faculty continue learning to use new and old strategies for educating our next generation of nurses.

The ACEN Staff has also adjusted and embraced ways to continue serving you. To those of you who have reached out with questions, thank you for seeking guidance. As your supportive partner, we are here to assist you. Thus, this FAQ was developed based on the most frequent questions received and will be updated as needed. Keep your questions coming.

Note: Some of the answers below refer to “temporary implementation.” Per recent guidance from the United Stated Department of Education, “temporary implementation” means through December 31, 2020 or until the end of the Federally declared emergency related to COVID-19, whichever occurs later. Consult ACEN Policy #14 Substantive Changes for guidance.

Question: My college is closed due to COVID-19 and will remain closed for the foreseeable future. We moved to online education for lecture and are using other online methods for clinical. Is this acceptable to the ACEN?

Answer: This plan is consistent with the guidance provided by the ACEN about a program’s response to COVID-19, as posted on the ACEN website (www.acenursing.org). Please make sure this plan is acceptable to your State Board of Nursing and any other state or accrediting agency that has jurisdiction over your program. Please note, per the United States Department of Education, the use of distance education is not available for clock-hour courses that lead to licensure if the licensure body (e.g., board of nursing) will not accept distance learning courses or hours or give credit for them toward the number of hours a student must complete. Additionally, temporarily implemented distance education does not need to be reported as a substantive change.

Question: Due to the pandemic, we are considering waiving (did waive) the capstone course, allowing the students to graduate, and take the NCLEX examination. Is this acceptable to the ACEN?

Answer: The ACEN does not proscribe or prescribe any particular number of credit/quarter/clock hours in a nursing education program. Per Criterion 4.8 “The total number of credit/quarter/clock hours required to complete the defined nursing program of study is congruent with the attainment of the identified end-of-program student learning outcomes and program outcomes, and is consistent with the policies of the governing organization, the state, and the governing organization’s accrediting agency.” Additionally, Per Criterion 3.3 “Changes in policies, procedures, and program information are clearly and consistently communicated to students in a timely manner.” If there is a change in graduation policy, please ensure you have documentation regarding the change being approved (even if only a temporary change) and that students were notified of the change in a timely manner. Additionally, waiving the capstone course is not a substantive change.

Question: I want to request an extension to our upcoming site visit.
Answer: The ACEN is conducting virtual site visits and is not granting site visit extensions or delays at this time. Further information and instruction regarding upcoming site visits will be communicated directly to the nurse administrator for the nursing program. Therefore, please continue preparing for your upcoming site visit and ensure your contact information in ACEN records is current.

Question: We are considering changing (did change) the grading scale used for courses or using a different grading scale such as pass/fail or satisfactory/unsatisfactory; waiving the admission/exit examinations; or adjusting course points/requirements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Is this acceptable to the ACEN?
Answer: The ACEN does not proscribe or prescribe any particular grading policy, admissions/exit examinations, or course requirements and changing these policies is not a substantive change. Per Criterion 3.1, policies for nursing students should be congruent with those of the governing organization as well as the state, when applicable, and are publicly accessible, non-discriminatory, and consistently applied. Differences in program policies should be justified by the end-of-program student learning outcomes and program outcomes. Per Criterion 3.3 Changes in policies, procedures, and program information are clearly and consistently communicated to students in a timely manner. If there is a change in policy, please ensure you have documentation regarding the change being approved (even if only a temporary change) and that students were notified of the change in a timely manner. Please make sure this plan is acceptable to your State Board of Nursing and any other state or accrediting agency that has jurisdiction over your program.

Question: We are going to utilize (did utilize, are utilizing) virtual simulation when, or if, our students are no longer able to attend clinical. Is this acceptable to the ACEN?
Answer: This plan is consistent with the guidance provided by the ACEN about a program’s response to COVID-19, as posted on the ACEN website (www.acenursing.org). Ensure that simulation when used as a form of clinical/practicum learning experiences is consistent with the definitions and the Standards and Criteria (especially 4.8 and 4.9).

NOTE per ACEN expectations, simulation cannot be the sole form of clinical experience obtained throughout an entire program of study and some state boards of nursing do not allow the use of simulation for clinical/practicum hours. We do not know what your state board of nursing does or does not allow. You should reach out to the state regulatory agency (e.g., Board of Nursing) regarding what that agency requires or may need from you, especially if consideration is being given to using distance education and simulation for clinical/practicum learning experiences. Make sure you have documentation that any adjustment is consistent with Criteria 4.8 and 4.9 and if a waiver was needed from your governing organization, the state (e.g., Board of Nursing), and the governing organization’s accrediting agency that you maintain documentation of the waiver.

Review the following definitions in the ACEN Glossary.

  • Simulation: High-fidelity simulation, Mid-fidelity simulation, Low-fidelity simulation, and Virtual simulation
  • Clinical/Practicum Learning Experiences

Review the Criteria following in the Standards and Criteria: 4.8 and 4.9

 

Question: Will my program’s accreditation status change if there is a decline in the licensure pass rate and program completion rate related to COVID-19?
Answer: We encourage programs to follow reporting procedures for substantive changes located in Policy #14 Reporting Substantive Change. Policy #14 outlines specific reporting procedures for each program outcome.

Question: Because of the time and energy spent converting face-to-face instructional methods/learning activities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were, or will be, late in analyzing some of our end-of-program student learning outcomes data and program outcomes data. How will this impact our program’s compliance with Standard 6?
Answer: These are unprecedented times, and we encourage faculty to ensure that students’ learning needs are met. Remember, the program’s systematic plan of evaluation (SPE) is a “working, in-progress” document. As such, the faculty could consider revisions to the timeframe of data analysis. In the SPE, the faculty could document why the data analysis was delayed. For more suggestions, please contact an ACEN Director.

Question: All of our nurse practitioner program options have more than 500 practicum hours, are we allowed to waive the additional hours and allow the student to graduate?
Answer: In order to be eligible to sit for the national certification examination, students must complete a minimum of 500 practicum hours. In accordance with the joint statement issued, the additional clinical hours required by the institution or a certification organization (above the minimum 500 supervised direct patient care clinical hours) may be completed as simulation, if students have completed the direct patient care clinical hours that are necessary and required for them to be fully prepared to practice as an NP in the population focus area. If students have not had the range of necessary clinical experiences needed to be fully prepared and practice competently as NPs, even if they have completed 500 supervised direct patient care clinical hours, the educational institution is responsible for making arrangements for them to complete their education. For some students, this may mean they will need to extend their education and postpone graduation.

Question: Can the 500 required direct clinical hours in the nurse practitioner program could include telemedicine visits?
Answer: Yes. The 500 required direct clinical hours in the MSN-FNP program can include telemedicine visits per the Commission Endorses Statement Regarding Nurse Practitioner Students and Direct Care Clinical Hours. Criterion III.E in the 2016 Criteria for Evaluation of Nurse Practitioner Programs states that “simulation is recommended to augment the clinical learning experiences, particularly to address the high-risk low-frequency incidents; however, simulation experiences may only be counted as clinical hours over and above the minimum 500 direct patient care clinical hours. Programs are encouraged to track the use of simulation to enhance the clinical experience.” Further, “clinical experiences and time spent in each experience are varied and distributed in a way that prepares the students to provide care to the populations served, which may include telehealth and international direct care experiences” (NTFC, page 12).”

MORE ACEN INFORMATION ON COVID-19