The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) identified nine expected outcomes of master’s-level education in nursing. It is recognized that master’s-prepared nurses are expected to be able to translate their academic and scientific knowledge into clinical practice, to integrate scholarly findings of topical research into the operation of facilities in which they work, to effectively coordinate the work of nurses, to employ technologies with maximal usefulness, to communicate with other nurses, physicians, and facilities’ administrators, and to make contributions to the policy-making processes. These skills reflect a broad understanding of the profession and an extended framework of nursing care.
In 2011, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) published a list of essentials that describe what graduates of master’s nursing programs are expected to be able to do. The essentials are a list of desired outcomes of master’s-level nursing education that reflect “the profession’s continuing call for imagination, transformative thinking, and evolutionary change in graduate education” (“The essentials,” 2011, p. 3). There are nine essentials that deal with theory, practice, research, evidence-based approaches, and other aspects of the broad understanding of nursing care.
Background for Practice from Sciences and Humanities
It is expected that a graduate of a master’s nursing program is able to monitor the most recent findings of topical studies in the areas of nursing, medicine, biology, physiology, psychology, and any other areas that may be relevant to clinical practice. As they monitor these findings, graduates are expected to know how to apply new knowledge to their practice and the improvement of the quality of care.
Organizational and Systems Leadership
Nurses need to master leadership skills in order to promote more effective and efficient relationships within health care teams, to approach their decision-making more critically, to address ethical issues and dilemmas in their work more successfully, and to adopt a systems perspective. In this perspective, the operation of a health care facility is regarded as a complex system, and the role of every element should be appropriately explained and understood.
Quality Improvement and Safety
A significant part of the master’s education in nursing is dedicated to the notion of quality of care and to guiding future practitioners through the process of quality improvement. Graduates are expected to possess proper conceptual frameworks as well as practical tools that will allow them to continuously improve quality of care in the facility in which they will work. Safety is a major consideration in nursing care, and it should be ensured and continuously improved, too.
Translating and Integrating Scholarship into Practice
In this expected outcome, it is recognized that, under clinical conditions, a nurse should act as a change agent, constantly applying research results to his or her practice. It is expected that graduates will be equipped to solve practice problems effectively by means of integrating scholarly knowledge into their work. A nurse should also know how this knowledge can be spread, i.e. it is important for a nurse to learn how to communicate with other members of medical staff and facilities’ administrations.
Informatics and Healthcare Technologies
Technology is a major factor of change occurring in many professions, including nursing. Graduates’ mastery of technology is crucial in today’s practice, and it is expected that they will be able to make use of technologies, such as electronic health records systems, to improve the operation of health care facilities, to coordinate work processes more efficiently, and to communicate with higher effectiveness.
Health Policy and Advocacy
A master’s-level nurse is expected to actively participate in the policy development process, both in his or her facility and in the profession in general. This can be accomplished by either conducting studies and disseminating their results or submitting evidence-based recommendations. Advocacy is a debatable topic (Priest, 2013), but it is generally recognized that a nurse should act as an advocate for patients’ needs and interest and as a mediator between patients and physicians.
Interprofessional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes
In nursing, any practitioner faces the interprofessional characteristics of this work. Many specialists in different areas are involved in the delivery of care, and successful communication among them is a crucial factor in quality of care (Pfaff, Baxter, Jack, & Ploeg, 2014). Graduates are expected to know how interprofessional collaboration and communication are carried out between nurses and physicians, nurses and administrators, nurses and policy makers, and so on.
Clinical Prevention and Population Health for Improving Health
To operate at the level of population health, a nurse should be able to practice patient-centered care, engage families in the delivery of care, consider the role of communities and environment, identify the most important health problems existing in a community, and evaluate the outcomes of care and its impact on populations (Stanhope & Lancaster, 2015). Clinical prevention is a major component of nursing care, and it is expected that master’s-level nurses can plan, deliver, manage, and evaluate prevention initiatives.
Master’s-Level Nursing Practice
Master’s-prepared nurses should recognize that their practice is a form of nursing intervention that affects patients, communities, and facilities. The master’s degree implies that a nurse has a profound understanding of what nursing is and how far it can go in influencing actual health outcomes for individuals and populations and policy- and practice-related outcomes for systems of operation and the profession in general.
Major themes identified in AACN’s nine essentials are the ability of master’s-prepared nurses to translate their knowledge into practice, to collect data and use data collected by other researchers for the improvement of care, to adopt patient-centered care approaches with the engagement of families and communities, and to actively participate in policy- and decision-making within certain facilities as well as in the profession in general. With these essentials, nurses are expected to be sufficiently equipped for successful and transformative practice.
Pfaff, K., Baxter, P., Jack, S., & Ploeg, J. (2014). An integrative review of the factors influencing new graduate nurse engagement in interprofessional collaboration. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 70(1), 4-20.
Priest, C. (2013). Advocacy in nursing and health care. In D. J. Mason, J. K. Leavitt, & M. W. Chaffee (Eds.), Policy and politics in nursing and health care (pp. 31-38). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.
Stanhope, M., & Lancaster, J. (2015). Public health nursing: Population-centered health care in the community. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.