Five Tried and True Tips for a Successful Site Visit


By Susan Thornock, EdD, RN  |  Chair, Annie Taylor Dee School of Nursing  |  Weber State University
Bridges, Volume XIII – Issue 2, June 2019

Recent discussion with other healthcare programs in our Dumke College of Health Professions on the Weber State University Campus, in Ogden, UT led to comments laced with humor and expressions of sympathy when the topic of nursing accreditation was mentioned. Accreditation for our Annie Taylor Dee School of Nursing has become legendary at our mid-sized university.

Over the past 10 years, our Annie Taylor Dee School of Nursing has hosted peer evaluators several times—three were site visits and the others were focused visits for a new program, added location, or change of curriculum. We are beginning a Doctor of Nursing Practice program in Fall 2019 and will then be sure to have another visit within the next year or two. With each visit we learn something new, something to be applied to our continuing growth and progression in nursing education. Considering all that could be shared, and there are many tidbits, there are five main areas of focus that I would consider key to a successful visit.

Primary to everything else is to arm yourself, your faculty, and your campus administration with as much knowledge as possible. The ACEN makes this abundantly easy with a comprehensive website and open access to experts. There is always someone at the end of the telephone or readily available through email to respond to any questions. There is no question too stupid to ask, and you are always made to feel like you are brilliant and your questions are valid. Never hesitate to take advantage of this support. Becoming very familiar with the website and how to navigate through the information is crucial. This should always be the first source as almost all questions can be answered at this site.

Of equal importance is to create a team of faculty, make sure you include all faculty, and add students to that team. From my perspective as a chair, I consider this the biggest catapult to a successful site visit. Our site visit 10 years ago was one person trying to provide everything necessary for 40 faculty and several hundred students. The failure of that visit was due to the process, not the individual. Our most recent site visit had 60 staff and faculty armed with knowledge and with the expectation to be fully involved. The outcome of that visit was a successful visit, happy and engaged faculty, and a place on Maslow’s Hierarchy that could be nearing self-actualization.

The third suggestion to a successful outcome is to create your own experts. The best way to do this is to make sure all faculty are encouraged to become peer evaluators. Faculty that have been involved in a site visit as a peer evaluator are absolutely necessary in the refining process before the peer evaluators arrive, while they are there, and in the follow-up after everyone has gone home. Try not to disregard practical experience when it comes to accreditation. You can be assured that the ACEN will help with this endeavor and will welcome and train your faculty willing to become peer evaluators.

Fourth is finding your balance—what needs to be displayed or presented as opposed to what you want to present. There is some wisdom in understanding the difference in what the ACEN peer evaluators will want to see and what you might want to show them. An over-abundance of information, or information that is disorganized, will only confuse and frustrate your peer evaluators. A word of caution: if you are confused, they are too. A practice run with your faculty experts is always a good idea.

Last, it really does not matter how confident you feel, how well-prepared you think you are (or are not), your environment will be disrupted when your peer evaluators arrive. I am one to believe disruption does, in many instances, lead to good things. In my opinion, disruption is a cousin to the chaos theory, and with the right care, proper attention, and a good deal of teamwork, the outcome can help advance our desire to provide the best nursing education possible. That is after all, one of the objectives and a most desired outcome of the ACEN. Good luck with your next site visit!