Working to Improve Nursing Education and Promote Academic Progression

Jul 25, 2014, 9:00 AM

Juliann Sebastian, PhD, RN, FAAN, is dean of the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing and president-elect of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. She is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellows program (1998-2001).

Juliann Sebastian, PhD, RN, FAAN

Human Capital Blog: Congratulations on your recent election as president-elect, and future president, of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)! What is your vision for the 2014-2016 term?

Juliann Sebastian: I am honored to have been selected by the members of AACN to serve in this role for an organization that is pivotal to the future of baccalaureate and higher degree nursing education. I support the president and the board in advancing our shared vision of excellence in nursing education, research, and practice.

I look forward to working with the entire board to address issues of concern to AACN’s member schools. Because AACN’s membership encompasses large/small, public/private institutions, we have the special advantage of incorporating diverse voices into shaping the organization’s vision. I am enthusiastic about deepening my opportunity to support the vision AACN has identified for itself and the profession.

  •  AACN’s own vision is: “By 2020, as a driving force for quality health care, AACN will leverage member schools in meeting the demand for innovation and leadership in nursing education, research and practice.”
  • AACN’s vision statement for the profession is: “By 2020, highly educated and diverse nursing professionals will lead the delivery of quality health care and the generation of new knowledge to improve health and the delivery of care services.”

HCB: What issues are at the top of your agenda?

Sebastian: As the president-elect and member of the board of directors, I am focused on the key priorities delineated by the full board. These include raising quality standards in nursing education programs and promoting academic progression for all nurses in keeping with the 2010 report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), called The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. Several key issues the board continues to address include advancing doctoral education in doctor of nursing practice (DNP) and PhD programs; further developing and expanding clinical nurse leader programs; addressing the nurse faculty shortage; enhancing diversity within the profession; promoting full scope of practice for all nurses; and promoting post-baccalaureate nurse residencies.

HCB: You have served in various leadership roles with AACN over the years. Why did you decide to run for president?

Sebastian: Public interest in health and health care has been heightened in part by the issues our country is facing in providing affordable, accessible, and quality care as the population ages and as the costs and complexity of care needs increase. I think the public and our interprofessional colleagues are eager to include the unique and important expertise that nursing brings to the table as together we redesign our health care system to include stronger emphases on health promotion, illness prevention, self-management of chronic conditions, and palliative care, to name a few key areas.

Nurse scientists generate the new knowledge to enhance these areas of emphasis, and nursing faculty educate new generations of nurses to lead care improvements for the future. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing is known for the bold and visionary leadership it has provided in moving academic nursing forward, and I was eager to be part of that in this new way.

HCB: You have expertise in a wide range of subjects, including care delivery systems, care for underserved populations, academic nursing practice, and nurse-managed health care centers. Do you think your expertise in these areas will influence your leadership of AACN and, if so, how?

Sebastian: We are each products of our own unique backgrounds and expertise. My hope is that my interests in the importance of partnerships, the value of understanding and changing systems, and the value that academic nursing brings to health care are helpful as AACN’s member schools collaborate to improve health and nursing care for the future. Whether we are engaged in academic-practice partnerships, interprofessional partnerships, or working with health systems, business, or the non-profit sector, I believe a focus on the inherent benefits of collaboration will yield better outcomes for the health of our nation and our world.

HCB: The IOM report on the future of nursing was released four years ago. Can you assess its impact so far and discuss what work remains to fully implement its recommendations?

Sebastian: The IOM report has been effective at mobilizing support for a more highly educated nursing workforce within all sectors of the profession. Since the report was published, AACN has seen a significant growth in baccalaureate nursing programs—particularly in RN-to-BSN degree completion programs—as well as in doctoral programs. To meet the 2020 targets set by the IOM (increase the proportion of nurses with baccalaureate degrees to 80 percent and double the number of nurses with doctorates), all stakeholders must focus on securing funding and federal support for baccalaureate and graduate nursing education programs.

HCB: What are the most pressing challenges facing nurse education? What kinds of solutions are out there to address those challenges?


  • Shortage of faculty and clinical sites are always at the top of the list when it comes to barriers to expanding capacity in schools of nursing. AACN convened summits in 2013 to address both DNP and PhD education, bringing together leaders from schools of nursing throughout the country to think through ways we can best prepare leaders for nursing education and practice in the future. AACN has created the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) Clinical Training Task Force to address some of these issues, as well as the DNP Task Force to look at concerns specific to advancing the DNP.  

  • AACN is committed to working collaboratively with RWJF and other stakeholders to address these issues and other challenges facing the profession.

HCB: You served in the inaugural cohort of the RWJF Executive Nurse Fellows (ENF) program from 1998-2001. Did that experience prepare you for this position and, if so, how?

Sebastian: The RWJF ENF program was invaluable to me in fostering a much deeper understanding of leadership—how it is embedded not only in specific professional contexts such as nursing but also how leadership is most effective when it is interprofessional, bold, and participatory in nature.

I learned much from the program about creativity and thinking through opportunities from new lenses, as well as using one’s strengths to facilitate change and serving from a position of authentic leadership. As a member of the inaugural cohort, I would say that we felt a special responsibility to serve the profession and the public, knowing that we had been given very unique opportunities for learning and developing spectacular cadres of colleagues and friends.

I am grateful for all I learned from this program and to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for its generous investment in the program for so many years. RWJF truly has invested in a generation of nurse leaders who are engaged in a wide array of leadership roles in nursing, health care, public health, and policy making. Many thanks to the ENF National Advisory Committee and the program staff at RWJF who made these opportunities possible and to our employing organizations who provided invaluable support to each of us as we did this important work!

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.