RWJF Alum Takes on New Role as CEO of Nurse Education Organization

Sep 5, 2014, 10:10 AM

Deborah E. Trautman, PhD, RN, is the new chief executive officer of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and executive director of the Center for Health Policy and Healthcare Transformation at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health Policy Fellows program (2007-2008).

Deborah E. Trautman, PhD, RN

Human Capital Blog: Congratulations on your new position as CEO of AACN! What are your priorities as CEO?

Deborah Trautman: AACN is highly regarded in health care and higher education circles for advancing excellence in nursing education, research, and practice. I am honored to have this unique opportunity to support the organization’s mission and move AACN in strategic new directions. As CEO, I will place a high priority on continuing to increase nursing’s visibility, participation, and leadership in national efforts to improve health and health care. I look forward to working closely with the AACN board, staff, and stakeholders to advocate for programs that support advanced education and leadership development for all nurses, particularly those from underrepresented groups.

HCB: What are the biggest challenges facing nurse education today, and how will AACN address those challenges?

Trautman: Nurse educators today must meet the challenge of preparing a highly competent nursing workforce that is able to navigate a rapidly changing health care environment. As the implementation of the Affordable Care Act continues, health care is moving to adopt new care delivery models that emphasize team-based care, including the medical (health care) home and accountable care organizations.

These care models require closer collaboration among the full spectrum of providers and will impact how health care professionals are prepared for contemporary practice. Nursing needs to re-envision traditional approaches to nursing education and explore how best to leverage the latest research and technology to prepare future registered nurses (RNs) and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Greater emphasis should be placed on advancing interprofessional education, uncovering the benefits of competency-based learning, identifying alternatives to traditional clinical-based education, and instilling a commitment to lifelong learning in all new nursing professionals.

HCB: How serious do you consider the nurse faculty shortage to be, and what steps should government, higher education, nursing and other sectors take to address it?

Trautman: By all accounts, the shortage of faculty continues to be a major threat to sustaining nursing education programs offered at all levels. AACN’s latest data show a national faculty vacancy rate of  8.3 percent in baccalaureate and higher degree nursing programs, with schools indicating the greatest need for doctorally prepared faculty. Through our work with the RWJF-funded Evaluating Innovations in Nursing Education program, AACN is working to discover facilitators and barriers to academic nursing careers with the goal of identifying an ideal set of strategies that schools can use to recruit new faculty, negotiate for needed resources, and retain seasoned nurse educators in teaching roles.

In addition, AACN is working collaboratively to address the faculty shortage by advocating for new federal legislation and increased funding for graduate level nursing education; coordinating scholarship programs that are helping to diversify the faculty population; hosting faculty development conferences and professional development opportunities for new nurse educators; collecting and publishing data to quantify the scope of the shortage and its impact on student enrollments; and identifying and disseminating long- and short-term strategies to address this critical issue.

HCB: The nurse education system has been called outdated and in need of reform. Do you agree and, if so, how should it change?

Trautman: In 2003, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that “education for the health professions is in need of a major overhaul.” Subsequent reports from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, RWJF, and other authorities have echoed this call and helped to coalesce widespread support for rethinking how nurses and other health professionals are educated.

AACN is at the forefront of this important work, and we regularly update the standards used to guide the development of nursing education programs. In addition, the AACN Board of Directors has charged task forces with exploring innovative approaches to clinical nursing education and implementing doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programs. The work of AACN’s Futures Task Force also is underway, with members surveying today’s health care and higher education landscapes to help identify what is needed to prepare the next generation of nursing professionals. The task force’s recommendations, which are due in 2015, will help us determine what the association’s priorities will be for the next decade. I look forward to working with this group to help guide AACN’s efforts related to nursing education reform.

HCB: How does nurse education need to change to meet the needs of an older and more diverse population?

Trautman: AACN is committed to preparing professional nurses with the skills needed to provide excellent care to an aging and increasingly diverse population. The association’s work with the John A. Hartford Foundation and the End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium (ELNEC) has helped set the standard for providing state-of-the-art care to older adults, including those needing palliative care.

Our work with the California Endowment to develop cultural competency standards for nurses prepared in undergraduate and graduate programs is helping to sensitize new nurses to the unique needs of racially and ethnically diverse patients with the goal of reducing health disparities that often exists within minority populations. I plan to partner with nurse educators and key stakeholders to magnify this important work and identify other avenues for advancing quality, patient-centered care.

HCB: More highly educated nurses have been linked with better patient outcomes, yet many nurses stop their education after earning the two-year associate’s degree. What can AACN do to encourage more nurses to earn baccalaureate and higher degrees?

Trautman: AACN is committed to working with academic and health care leaders to create more highly educated nurses who are able to thrive across practice settings. The association has long been the nation’s leading advocate for preparing more nurses in baccalaureate and graduate programs. We strongly believe that encouraging all nurses to advance their education is in the best interest of enhancing patient safety and improving the health of the public.

AACN encourages employers to foster practice environments that embrace lifelong learning and offer incentives for RNs seeking to advance their education in formal degree programs. We also encourage federal agencies, philanthropies, corporations, and other entities to provide scholarships, grants, and incentives to help reduce the financial barriers facing nurses looking to advance their education.

HCB: What impact has the IOM’s report on the future of nursing had on nursing? And in particular, what has been the impact of its recommendation that 80 percent of nurses in the United States have bachelor’s or higher degrees, and that the country double the number of nurses with doctorates, by the year 2020?

Trautman: The IOM’s Future of Nursing report has been embraced widely by leaders inside and outside of nursing who are interested in moving the profession forward. The evidence-based findings from the IOM present a clear argument for supporting national, state, and local efforts to advance the formal education of today’s RN.  

Since the release of the report in 2010, enrollments in baccalaureate degree completion programs have surged 53 percent, and enrollments in doctoral programs (due primarily to the widespread adoption of DNP programs) have increased 70 percent. Reaching the IOM’s workforce goals related to education will require innovative solutions and collective action among all parties engaged in the development of future generations of nurses. Now is the time for nurse educators, higher education administrators, employers, legislators, and other stakeholders to commit to marshalling resources and providing opportunities to enable all nurses to take the next step in their educational development.

HCB: In 2007 and 2008, you were an RWJF Health Policy Fellow in the office of Nancy Pelosi, then-Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. How did this experience shape your career and how, if at all, will it influence your work as CEO of AACN? 

Trautman: While on Capitol Hill, I had the unique experience of working with a wide array of constituents to address many challenges facing the health care delivery system. As part of my responsibilities, I met with concerned constituents and health care advocates who underscored the complexities of the issues at hand and brought forth possible solutions. In this environment, the policy recommendations that were presented demonstrated the passion and commitment to fixing the frayed system through various lenses, which were sometimes at odds. I was amazed by the ability of congressional staff to thoughtfully consider the implications of these sometimes-competing solutions as they related to access, cost, and quality. During this time, I also had the opportunity to work with coalitions and saw the value and direct impact of bringing groups together to support a common goal. As CEO of AACN, I look forward to engaging collaboratively with a wide network of nursing organizations, health care stakeholders, and non-traditional partners to advance a broader agenda for health.

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