Inside the Site Visit with Dr. Cynthia Maskey, Dr. Kim Cribb, Dr.Lisa Aymong, Dr. Angela Balistrieri, & Dr. LaNell Harrison

Preparing for a site visit takes teamwork and time and, if preparation was not started in advance, the process may seem daunting to some. A mantra at the ACEN is to verify, clarify, and amplify, not terrify! Below are some firsthand accounts from your colleagues. Take a deep breath as your team begins the accreditation journey, whether it’s your first time or your fifth

Inside the Site Visit with Cynthia Maskey, PhD, RN, CNE, Dean of Health Professions from Lincoln Land Community College, Springfield, Illinois

Inside the Site Visit with Cynthia Maskey, PhD, RN, CNE, Dean of Health Professions from Lincoln Land Community College, Springfield, Illinois

Nurses are my very favorite people! Nursing faculty and administrators are an exceptionally dedicated class of nurses. I see the opportunity to be a part of a nursing accreditation site visit as an honor; that is not an exaggeration.

I became a peer evaluator in 2003. This was a couple years after an accreditation site visit at my college (my first) in which the peer evaluators were not as collaborative or collegial as I would have anticipated. I remember thinking, “I do not think that is how it is supposed to be.” Being young and naïve enough to think I could do better, I completed the training to become a peer evaluator and have continued to happily serve ever since.

As a peer evaluator, we are invited in and given confidential information about the nursing programs we visit. We are with the programs at a very stressful time, just as when we are working as nurses at the bedside with our patients. As in caring for patients, as peer evaluators, we have an obligation to do our best and go above and beyond as nurses always do for their patients. I find completing a site visit requires as much passion and compassion as giving excellent patient care. Each site visit takes communication, preparation, leadership, and (above all) caring.

Serving as a peer evaluator is a lot of work, but the rewards are reaped by both the program and the peer evaluator. Each site visit, I enjoy the people I meet, I learn from my peers, I see best practices, and I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when the site visit is complete.

During the Spring 2021 cycle, I volunteered for a virtual site visit. I took off the first cycle of virtual site visits (the first cycle I can remember missing) in Fall 2020 because I became a grandmother! That is a wonderful story, but I digress. I think I benefitted from completing a virtual site visit in the second cycle of this modality because the ACEN had made changes and improvements based on feedback from the programs and peer evaluators who served during Fall 2020. The ACEN listens. Going into my Spring 2021 site visit, I did not have a high level of confidence in my personal technical abilities as the team chair; however, with the training, orientation, and available support, all went well. That being said, a virtual site visit is very different from being there face-to-face.

I, for one, am looking forward to the return to in-person site visits when it is safe. The virtual site visits are very effective due to the planning and support of ACEN. However, see above, nurses are my favorite people! I look forward to seeing the faculty, students, staff, administrators, and members of the community in their schools. Every program should get to show off the amazing things that they are doing! I have yet to go to a school where I have not seen amazing things happening.

Accreditation is a dynamic and noble process. Yes, I know, I said noble! Being a volunteer as part of this external-peer review process to improve the quality of nursing education is rewarding, valuable, and even enjoyable. I highly recommend it.

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Paying it Forward by Kim Cribb, EdD, MSN, RN, CNE, Chair of Health and Sciences from Thomas University, Thomasville, GA

Paying it Forward by Kim Cribb, EdD, MSN, RN, CNE, Chair of Health and Sciences from Thomas University, Thomasville, GA

As a new nurse educator in the early 1990s, my Nursing Dean took the mentoring role further than most. On many occasions, she would take me with her to attend state and national meetings and began pushing me to give podium presentations. Before I knew it, she convinced me to get my doctorate and accept the position of Nursing Chair. It was not long before she recommended me to become a peer evaluator with what was then known as the NLNAC (now known as the ACEN).

Looking back on these events now, I do not think that I would have been as engaged if she had not been my mentor. Like many new nurse educators, I was a mother of young children and working a part-time job in the hospital to supplement my teaching salary. She used to tease me and say, the rule is, “You can’t leave the department until you have mentored someone to replace you.”

As I reflect on my time as an ACEN peer evaluator, I am proud that I have carried on her requirement to mentor new educators to replace me. I have been participating in site visits and focused site visits and have served on ERP panels and one term on the Board of Commissioners. During this time, I have had the opportunity to work and mentor many new peer evaluators. I have travelled across the United States and to several countries. The work is time-consuming, but the rewards are worth it.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I realized how much I have missed face-to-face meetings with my colleagues. I have established lifelong friendships with many fellow peer evaluators, and I miss talking with them. While the virtual meetings have been a business success to get the site visits completed, the absence of that personal contact is felt. I miss seeing educators that I mentored sitting at the ERP conference table.

During Spring 2021, I had an opportunity to do a site visit with a peer evaluator that I helped to mentor years ago. She has become very active with the ACEN and even served a term on the Board of Commissioners. Several times during our virtual meetings, she would remind nursing faculty and clinical nurses to consider volunteering as an ACEN peer evaluator. She was passionate about recruiting new educators into the ACEN organization. This recruitment was validation to me that my passion to be a good mentor was a success. Not only I have I been able to pay it forward, but I feel that I have instilled that same passion in others to continue to support our future nurse educators.

Admittedly, becoming a peer evaluator can arouse some feelings of insecurity. People wonder if they are ready, whether they will carry their portion of the team assignment, and whether they have time to get everything completed. The simple answer is yes. The ACEN provides an excellent, self-paced tutorial to prepare peer evaluators, and the resources are always available. Team chairs work with new peer evaluators and support them throughout the process. In addition, one of the best resources is human: the ACEN Directors. While their email replies often state that they are away from the office, they always respond quickly.

Serving as a peer evaluator for the ACEN has been my way of paying it forward, a way to mentor new nurse educators and clinicians. I have enjoyed the comradery of my colleagues, having an opportunity to visit other nursing programs and most importantly, learning something new from every experience. If you have considered serving as a peer evaluator, take the next step. It will be a rewarding experience.

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Inside the Site Visit with Lisa Aymong, MPS, MSN, APN, Professor of Nursing from Suffolk County Community College, Riverhead, NY

Inside the Site Visit with Lisa Aymong, MPS, MSN, APN, Professor of Nursing from Suffolk County Community College, Riverhead, NY

COVID-19 changed our world in ways we could never have imagined. Our lifestyle changed dramatically along with our ability to travel. My last in-person ACEN visit was for an ADN program in Florida during the first week of March 2020. Little did I know this would be the last trip I took that year. The following week, Friday, March 13 (yes, Friday the 13th), the whole world shut down. Everything was closing. Schools and colleges were all transitioning to remote teaching. In my nursing program, we were switching to online classes. We were creating assignments, seeking approval from our accrediting bodies, getting all the students involved, and working 24 hours a day to develop this new way of learning. My colleagues on three campuses pulled together to work on a master plan with the guidance of our Dean, Dr. Cheryl Shaffer. She was the guiding force for us as we struggled through the first weeks of the pandemic. In the end, we succeeded.

We kept our nursing programs operational and our pass rates high. Students acclimated to the new way of teaching and to taking their tests online. Faculty had to be educated in these areas and attend courses offered by the college. Currently, I am completing my second part of an online course to become certified as an online faculty member. If not for the pandemic, I would not have been exposed to online teaching, which I now enjoy.

I became interested in becoming an ACEN peer evaluator after we had our accreditation site visit for our nursing program and after working with several faculty members on writing our Self-Study Report (SSR). I felt I wanted to learn more about the process. At that time, I was appointed the Outcome Coordinator for our nursing school. I was recommended by two administrators in my department and received my letter to become an ACEN peer evaluator in 2016. After serving as a team member for several years, I became a team chair in 2019. Several team chairs that I served under recommended me for this new role. This new position also came with more responsibilities, which I have embraced.

I found planning in-person site visits easier than planning virtual ones. Although there were some challenges—like speaking with the nurse administrator, picking the hotel, travel arrangements, reviewing the agenda, and meeting with numerous administrators, faculty, and students—in the end, they were manageable. The work was demanding, and the team would meet for breakfast to discuss the day’s agenda and for dinner to discuss our day. During after hours, we would work on the standards we were writing. After we departed, I stayed connected with some of the team members I had met during my visit. We’ve developed a strong nursing bond, and I’m pleased to call them my friends.

My first virtual site visit was during Fall 2020. It was for a PN program that was undergoing their reaccreditation review. I was a little nervous, as I was not sure how this visit was going to work—but like the nurse I am, I was up for the challenge. The ACEN had excellent training and gave me the tools that I could use. I had to learn about GoToMeeting, which I had never used before as the meeting tool. There were agendas with various meeting codes and passwords, documents that had to be reviewed virtually, virtual meetings with the nurse administrator, administration, faculty, students, and a team meeting. We had to view lectures, simulations, laboratories, etc. There was a lot of material to plan for, but the nurse administrator was wonderful. We helped each other, as we knew this was a new process for both of us. With the virtual site visits, you need to be very accommodating and flexible, especially if there is an internet issue, of which there were some. We were able to work through all these issues and produce a well-written Site Visit Report.

My second virtual site visit was a breeze. I knew how to utilize the ACEN tools, and the workload seemed easier. Again, the nurse administrator was very accommodating and helpful. My two team members were new to the virtual site visit process, and one was a new peer evaluator. We spent many evenings talking on the phone and emailing each other. I wanted to make sure they both felt comfortable with the ACEN Standards and Criteria, especially the new team member. The virtual site visit was challenging, since we were each in a different time zone, which was also noted on the agenda.

On the positive side, when visiting virtually, there is no travel to book, no hotel, no pickups or drop offs, no meals, etc. What I really miss is the one-on-one bond that is developed with my team members. We enjoyed working with each other in the conference room, discussing our standards, conferring on how our meeting went, and brainstorming issues. Most notably, we enjoyed the friendship that develops as we learn about each other.

In closing, I am truly honored to have become an ACEN peer evaluator and then a team chair. I will cherish all the friends I have made on the numerous site visits and look forward to when our paths might cross again.

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Inside the Evaluation Review Panel: An Opportunity for Professional and Personal Growth by Angela Balistrieri, DNP, RN, Director at UPMC Mercy School of Nursing

Inside the Evaluation Review Panel: An Opportunity for Professional and Personal Growth by Angela Balistrieri, DNP, RN, Director at UPMC Mercy School of Nursing

Greetings colleagues! I am excited to share with you my experiences as a peer evaluator and a member of the Evaluation Review Panel (ERP). I have been a peer evaluator for the ACEN since 2016. I thoroughly enjoy visiting nursing programs and witnessing all the creative and innovative strategies that support the ACEN Standards and Criteria. Through my time as a peer evaluator, I have discovered that we are all more alike than different, and there are common trends and issues nationwide. I grow and learn with every visit that I complete, as well as meet some great colleagues along the way.

In 2019, I had the opportunity to begin to serve on the Evaluation Review Panel. One great piece of advice I received from a mentor is to take all opportunities that come your way. We only grow as we move out of our comfort zones. I remember being very nervous about the workload, expectations, and process.

The goal of the ERP is to perform an independent review of the program’s compliance with the ACEN Standards and Criteria. As an ERP member, you are assigned to review approximately six schools. This requires review of the program’s report (e.g., Self-Study Report) and the peer evaluator’s team report (e.g., Site Visit Report) for each program. Prior to the panel, you complete this review and make your independent judgments on whether the program is meeting the ACEN Standards and Criteria.

This seemed very daunting when first given the assignment. However, the process is very organized. All materials are provided to you electronically at least six weeks before the scheduled date. If you have questions or need additional materials, the ACEN staff is very responsive in assisting you to obtain answers or materials. For each program, you prepare a summary report of the program’s compliance with all six accreditation standards.

The best part of this, as with all the opportunities with ACEN, is that you are not alone. During ERP, there are typically three peer evaluators assigned to each program as peer reviewers. These ERP reviewers present their findings and discuss where differences occur (if there are any differences). The entire panel participates in this discussion. This part of the process is one of the most collegial discussions I have ever experienced. These discussions are a learning opportunity for not only the program being reviewed, but an opportunity for group members to discuss what the expectations are for meeting each standard. Also, one of the ACEN Directors and a member of the Board of Commissioners participate in this discussion, which creates an amazing opportunity to discuss the issues with our leaders. The final recommendation is a group vote, and it ensures we are maintaining consistency in accreditation recommendations across all programs.

The other piece of the experience is the networking opportunities. There are networking breakfasts and lunches provided by the ACEN. In the evening, it is typical for a group of colleagues to have dinner together. Taking advantage of these opportunities builds a network of colleagues across the nation. You have the opportunity to meet the ACEN Directors, the ACEN staff, and members of the Board of Commissioners. Building these relationships makes you more comfortable reaching out when you have a problem or need clarity. They are all there to help us. It confirms that we are all in this together.

I have had the opportunity to participate in ERP virtually and in-person. While in-person always leads to a more robust discussion, the same collegiality happens in both environments. What I believe we miss most in the virtually environment is the networking.

Through my time as an ERP member, I have gained a wealth of knowledge. The process has truly made me more comfortable with the accreditation standards, a more confident peer reviewer and team chair, and a better program director. More importantly, it has taught me that while we are more alike than different, it is our differences that should be appreciated and celebrated.

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The Site Visit for Lubbock Christian University by LaNell Harrison, PhD, RN

The Site Visit for Lubbock Christian University by LaNell Harrison, PhD, RN

As the Director of Graduate Nursing at Lubbock Christian University, I had the opportunity to lead our team in preparing our Self-Study Report (SSR) and our site visit in Spring 2020. Our program is unique in that it is the only program in our region to offer hybrid classes. We continue to maintain that this form of education is valuable to student learning. We are student-focused and continue to maintain close relationships with our alumni long after graduation. For the Department of Nursing, reaccreditation is an ongoing process. Just about the time we complete one accreditation cycle, we are gearing up for another reaccreditation for another program. Over the years we have grown, and each time we feel a little more prepared for the work.

As we embarked on the journey of reaccreditation of our graduate nursing program, the key was to get organized! Three years prior to the site visit, committees were formed to review processes and to make sure each criterion had documentation in place. At the two-year mark, regular bi-monthly evaluation meetings took place in which the team reviewed the documentation thoroughly. At the one-year mark, we began writing the document. Faculty were assigned sections to review for clarity and content. We did hire an outside “reader” with expertise in accreditation to review the SSR along with the criteria. Over the course of seven months, the document was revised many times prior to completion. The only way we were able to be successful in the writing component was to calendar time each week for writing and reviewing. All faculty were involved in the process.

Upon completion of the document, additional committees were assigned to prepare for the site visit. This was such a critical component since we wanted the site visit to be as smooth as possible for the visiting peer evaluators. Meetings were held across campus to make sure that everyone involved in the site visit was informed and on board. Meeting dates and times were set. Hotel rooms for the site visit team were booked, and administrative staff jumped in to coordinate meals while on campus and transportation to and from airport and the daily shuttle from the hotel.

I will be honest; the site visit was very stressful. The visitors were kind and easy to work with, but the stress of knowing that the success of our reaccreditation rested on their review never left our minds. Once again, organization worked to our advantage. The document room was well-organized, and only a few key additional documents had to be retrieved. The peer evaluators were very complementary of our program and our university. They were impressed with the level of support from the community. It was really our time to shine. In the end, I would say that the process of reaccreditation is beneficial to programs. We have come away from this visit (and every other visit) a little more informed and with a vision for future improvement.

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