Promoting Nursing Honors Education Sustainability Through Best Practices

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Jennifer Wilson, DNP
The Houston J. and Florence A. Doswell College of Nursing, Texas Woman’s University, Dallas, TX, USA
Ellen B. Buckner, PhD
Ida V. Moffett School of Nursing, College of Health Scicences, Samford University, Birmingham, AL, USA
Carol L. Huston, DPA, MSN
School of Nursing, California State University Chico, Chico, CA, USA

Nursing honors programs provide faculty an excellent forum for developing and cultivating the next generation of nurse leaders, researchers, and scholars. In addition, with the guidance of faculty mentors, they equip nursing students with an early foundation for advanced practice. They also allow high-achieving students to gain early exposure to the roles and skills necessary to navigate contemporary healthcare challenges and to advance the nursing profession, in alignment with recommendations outlined in the Institute of Medicine’s Future of Nursing Report.

The challenges associated with effective nursing honors education, however, are complex, multifaceted, and widespread and a paucity of literature leaves leaders with limited guidance for developing or sustaining high-quality programs. In addition, nursing honors programs in the United States operate largely in silos, with few formal opportunities designated specifically for strategic collaboration among program leaders, which could significantly increase program success and scope of impact. In addition, while some programs thrive, many nursing honors programs struggle with sustainability.

This poster describes leadership strategies employed by a Scholar participating in the Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) Experienced Nurse Faculty Leadership Academy (ENFLA) to address these challenges. The nursing honors program highlighted, located in the southwest region of the United States, experienced rapid and significant expansion in student numbers over a three-year period, accompanied by an increase in the depth, breadth, rigor, and quality of honors work and requirements. As the program thrived and yielded meaningful outcomes, with tangible benefits to students, faculty, the University, the College of Nursing, and to community partners, university leaders and administrators recognized the value of continued investment in the program. However, as resources in higher education became increasingly competitive, resource allocation failed to keep pace with the program’s growth, thereby jeopardizing program sustainability.

This purpose of this Scholar’s ENFLA project was to develop a plan for sustaining the existing nursing honors program across the university’s three campuses. Current best practices in nursing honors education served as the foundation for the project’s strategic imperatives. Preliminary initiatives included a comprehensive review of the literature, a contextual evaluation of the existing honors program, and alignment of the program’s mission, vision, and values with the University Honors Scholar Program, the College of Nursing, and the university at large. The data from these activities provided a foundation for securing the buy-in from key program stakeholders. These preliminary processes also provided valuable insight into the benefit and plethora of potential opportunities for faculty to thrive professionally and increase scholarly productivity through active engagement in honors education. Therefore, the project approached program sustainability from the perspective of faculty empowerment, which served as a primary foundational principle threaded into the project’s initiatives.

The success of strategic initiatives to promote sustainability relied on assembling and coalescing a team of nursing faculty across campuses. Early project activities provided clarity that the nursing honors program’s sustainability relied on significant changes in the areas of faculty workload structure and recognition, ongoing faculty development, exploration of program funding sources, and the development of a new nursing honors curriculum. Specific program initiatives sought to promote efficient utilization of resources, increase productivity, and to yield increased mutually beneficial outcomes.

ENFLA project outcomes brought university recognition to the College of Nursing as successful strategic initiatives were adopted and integrated into the university’s honors scholar program. The project’s key concepts, strategies for promoting sustainability, project outcomes, and recommendations for other honors leaders are described. Looking to the future and ideas for strengthening nursing honors education are addressed, including the development of collaborative initiatives that provide resources and a supportive network to empower nursing leaders and students in honors education.