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Nursing News HighlightsNurses Leading Innovation

Ahead of the Curve: Nursing Leadership and Well-Being Education in the Classroom

group of nurses
Building well-being and leadership skills in nursing isn’t a new concept, but surprisingly, it hasn’t traditionally been a formal component of nursing education. As a result, many nurses enter the profession unprepared for what’s ahead. Beginning this winter, a new educational curriculum from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing will pilot a competency-based approach to developing the next generation of nurses at 10 nursing colleges nationwide, focused on empowering students with the skills needed to prioritize self-care, healthy behaviors and well-being in the healthcare work environment.

In today’s complex healthcare environment, leadership, self-care and wellness skills are essential to the role of a nurse. To be successful, nurses need to be able to balance the vital work of caring for patients while managing their own emotions, and the emotions of patients, and families, while finding a collaborative groove working within big, multi-disciplinary teams.

This is no small ask, and resiliency – the skills to process the ups and downs of the job in a healthy, sustainable way – benefits not only nurses’ well-being, but can also impact care delivery and patient outcomes, too.

Yet, for all the buzz around resilience and nursing, it’s not something typically taught in formal nursing education. As a result, many new nurses enter the workforce trained to care for patients – but under-prepared to manage their own self-care, and the experiences of stress, grief and exhaustion that they may face.

To empower nursing’s future workforce, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) spearheaded a two-year initiative to create a curriculum focused on developing essential skills in resilience. Called “A Competency-Based Approach to Leadership Development and Resilience for Student Nurses,” the project was launched with funding from the Johnson & Johnson Foundation in partnership with the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation. “Moving forward, nurse leaders will require new ideas and skills to help them prioritize their own self-care, healthy behaviors, and well-being,” says Joan Stanley, chief academic officer at AACN.

Dr. Joan Stanley, chief academic officer at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing
Dr. Joan Stanley

A Healthy Approach

The first of its kind, this curriculum is designed to fill critical gaps in nursing education, emphasizing skills that are essential both to nurses’ well-being, as well as their ability to care for patients.

“We looked at the complexity of the healthcare environment and how the nursing education curriculum needed to transform to better address the changes we saw happening,” says Dr. Stanley. “Nurses are adept at leading, guiding and evaluating the wellness of others. We wanted to offer strategies that help them focus on themselves as well.”

The newly developed program will be piloted at ten nursing schools representing a broad geographic distribution and diverse population:
- Adelphi University
- California State University-Chico
- Fayetteville State University
- Georgia State University
- Mount Carmel College of Nursing
- Nevada State College
- Rutgers University - Camden
- Samuel Merritt University
- University of Minnesota
- University of Texas Health Science Center-San Antonio

pair of nursing students

Updating Core Competencies

The recently developed guidelines include having nursing students learn how to evaluate the workplace to assess well-being, engage in guided and spontaneous reflection of their nursing practice, and demonstrate cognitive flexibility in managing change.

The pilot marks two big shifts in how the nursing profession is thinking about resiliency and leadership. First, the structured, competency-based curriculum acknowledges that these are skills that can be trained and practiced, and that nurse educators play a role in building them among the next generation of nurses. Second, the new guidelines illustrate that the skills are not just “nice to have,” but essential in an effective nursing practice.

What Comes Next?

In the next year, the ten pilot schools will test the new curriculum, assess the impact on students, and disseminate results to all nursing schools, with the opportunity for other academic institutions to integrate the content into their curriculum based on pilot learnings.

“Evidence shows that a high level of wellness and resilience increases a nurse’s ability to provide safe quality care while decreasing the chance of burnout,” says Dr. Stanley. “With this new curriculum, we hope nurses will learn leadership skills to help them transfer this to their patients, families, and peers.”


To learn more about the pilot program, click here. To find curated mental health and wellness resources, click here, and for more on resilience in nursing, check out the SEE YOU NOW podcast episode ‘Roots of Resilience’ here.

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