The National League for Nurses Encouraging Excellence in Nursing Education

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When the National League for Nurses (NLN) established its Excellence in Nursing Education program more than a decade ago, the organization aimed at advancing the profession by highlighting nursing education as essential to practice. Today, the NLN has named a select number of nursing schools that exemplify the core elements of outstanding nurse education.

Nursing schools chosen as Centers of Excellence demonstrate dedication to providing quality education for students. The institutions work beyond the requirements of their state boards of nursing to the pinnacle of achievement. These facilities not only demonstrate innovation but also continually set higher standards for themselves. In 2015, when Duquesne University’s School of Nursing was named an NLN Center of Excellence for the third time, the school was lauded for creating environments that enhanced student learning and professional development.

For nursing students, the excellence in nursing education model provides advantages that include a well-rounded learning environment that focuses on evidence-based educational practices and research. The experience allows graduates seeking master’s in nursing (MSN) careers an opportunity to learn what is necessary to excel in the field and to work alongside some of the best and brightest.

NLN’s Core Elements of Excellence

In the early 2000s, the NLN released its Hallmarks of Excellence in Nursing Education to establish a foundation for nursing education programs. Each of the 30 hallmarks includes several indicators to help faculty and administration determine if they are achieving the goals. The hallmarks are intended to be relevant to all types of nursing programs and apply to a myriad of topics including research, curriculum, environment, and innovation.

From the hallmarks, the organization developed its Excellence in Nursing Education Model with core elements for nursing education success:

  • Clear program standards and hallmarks that raise expectations: The nursing program must be accredited and include best practices in nursing education.
  • Well-prepared faculty: Nursing institutions must employ faculty members who are academic leaders with expertise as clinicians and researchers. They must be skilled with evaluation methods.
  • Qualified students: Nursing students must meet admissions, progression and graduation standards, as well as engaging with professional organizations.
  • Well-prepared educational administrators: Nursing school administrators must be skilled in budgeting, planning and collaborating to develop a rigorous curriculum that encourages learning and research.
  • Evidence-based programs and teaching/evaluation methods: Nursing education programs must include priorities based on extant research utilizing meta-analysis and the nursing education minimum data set, or data collected to standardize nurse education.
  • Quality and adequate resources: Nursing education programs should provide resources that include staff education, technological support, and program development.
  • Student-centered, interactive, innovative programs and curricula: Nursing programs should prepare students to meet role expectations and employers’ needs. The programs should promote leadership, critical thinking and career commitment.

Recognition of Expertise

Nursing programs should be able to demonstrate expertise in the field through recognitions, certifications, awards and special appointments.

Overall, nursing schools recognized as a Center of Excellence have distinguished themselves as demonstrating ongoing evidence-based innovation, setting high standards and continuing quality improvements, among other criteria. For educational programs that seek a Center of Excellence designation, the NLN provides four categories of achievement:

Creating Environments That Enhance Student Learning and Professional Development

To meet this designation, the school must show that students are engaged in their educational endeavors. Educational institutions must provide evidence and outcomes that demonstrate excellence in student values and programs that prepare students for new roles and professional advancement.

Developing Environments That Promote the Pedagogical Expertise of Faculty

For this designation, the school must show that faculty members undergo continual development to support their academic roles. The institutions should ensure faculty are fully engaged in the development and implementation of the curriculum for professional nursing.

Forming Environments That Advance the Science of Nursing Education

The school must demonstrate that it has a commitment to utilizing research that will advance the science of nursing education.

Designing Workplace Environments That Promote the Academic Progression of Nurses

The school must show that it develops program partners with healthcare organizations to support an educated and diverse nursing workforce.

In addition, educational institutions that apply for the Center of Excellence designation undergo a rigorous application process, and those that are awarded the designation are expected to maintain the standard of excellence. The excellence designation has become more important as the healthcare landscape continues to change across the United States. Nursing students must receive the best education possible.

Excellence in Nursing Education Matters

The healthcare industry has been undergoing radical changes in the past decades with a shift in laws and regulations, the insurance market, associated technologies, and worldwide demographics. Today, nursing school students seeking MSN careers, including those enrolled in online master’s in nursing programs, must be able to navigate the healthcare system with ease while providing culturally competent, evidence-based care.

The standards addressed in the Excellence in Nursing Education model are intended to concentrate on the evolution of healthcare practice. For anyone seeking an MSN career, especially those considering a career as a nurse educator, understanding the standards is crucial.

Duquesne University has been designated a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education school since 2008 with a designation of Outstanding Achievements in Student Learning and Professional Development.

About Duquesne University’s Master of Science in Nursing Program

Duquesne University’s online master’s in nursing programs prepare RNs in all stages of their careers to become nurse educators, forensic nurses and family nurse practitioners. The university offers both MSN and post-master’s certificate programs in all three concentrations and provides one-on-one faculty support to encourage academic success.

Duquesne’s MSN in Nursing Education and Faculty Role prepares graduates for the Certification for Nurse Educators (CNE) exam.


Duquesne University, School of Nursing One of 12 Named NLN Center of Excellence
National League for Nursing, Centers of Excellence in Nursing Education Program, NLN Applicant Handbook
National League for Nursing, Core Elements (PDF)