Leaders in Nursing Education

Dr. Eileen T. Breslin, American Association of Colleges of Nursing

Osmosis Team
Published on Aug 11, 2014. Updated on Invalid date.

Dr. Eileen T. Breslin is both the president of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and dean of the School of Nursing at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Her research has focused on improving the quality of nursing curricula, addressing the national shortage of nurses, and developing community partnerships. While at The University of Texas Health Science Center, Dr. Breslin has implemented a Clinical Nurse Leader Program to recruit competitive faculty members. She has also raised funds to develop the Center for Simulation Innovation, a simulated health care setting that provides hands-on experience for nurse trainees. We had the distinct opportunity to speak to her about her thoughts on nursing education.

What appealed to you most about a career in nursing?

Nursing is a dynamic profession that offers opportunities to practice, research, teach, and create. This great diversity has allowed me to pursue a variety of roles that appeal to my many professional interests. As a lifelong nurse educator, I personally enjoy the intellectual stimulation that comes from engaging academic and clinical leaders on initiatives that shape how nurses are educated and how they practice. Nurses are great leaders, collaborators, innovators, and patient advocates who are committed to providing the very best care possible to patients across settings.  I am proud to be counted among them.

I noticed that you have a personal interest in women's health and public health nursing. How did you become interested in these subspecialties? 

From my earliest days in the profession, it was clear to me that women are typically the primary influencers when it comes to making healthcare decisions. Keeping women healthy is the key to keeping families strong, which piqued my interest in specializing in women’s health. Further, my respect for some of the profession’s founding “mothers” like Clara Barton and Margaret Sanger inspired my passion for public health nursing. Caring for vulnerable individuals in need is uniquely rewarding and critically important. Sustaining healthy communities, however, multiplies the impact an individual nurse can have on a much wider scale.

As president of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, how do your foresee nursing education change over the next few years?

Today’s healthcare delivery system is evolving rapidly and creating new opportunities for nurses to step forward and help lead change.  Nursing education programs must adapt accordingly and re-envision how nurses are prepared with the clinical, technological, and leadership skills needed to practice in contemporary care settings. AACN is well positioned to help schools move their programs forward by providing guidance, resources, standards, and professional development opportunities for faculty interested in sharpening the expertise needed to effectively teach the next generation of nurses.

What do you believe are the biggest challenges for nurses pursuing higher education today?

Over the course of my career, I’ve spoken to hundreds of nurses who are interested in continuing their education, but opt to defer this goal until time permits. For many, this time never comes, and their formal education as a nurse begins and ends at the entry-level. With employers demanding more qualified nurses and preparation for advanced nursing roles moving to the doctoral level, nurses may no longer have the option of delaying their education if they wish to remain competitive. The best advice I can give to nurses considering higher education is to simply make the time and place a high priority on completing an advanced degree.

If you could change one or two things to improve the quality of patient care in the US, what would they be?

Adapting the healthcare delivery system to be truly patient-centered would go a long way towards improving the quality of care in the U.S. Nurses and all members of the healthcare team must adopt practice models that engage the patient as a full participant in their own health care. So often, the patient’s voice is not heard when clinical decisions are made. Engaging individuals and their families more deeply in their own care design and implementation will ensure that the health care provided is highly responsive to the patient’s preferences, values, and cultural norms.

In addition, the national dialogue about access to health care and primary care providers would change dramatically if all advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), including nurse practitioners (NPs), were allowed to practice to their full legal authority in all 50 states. The current restrictions on NP practice in 31 states should be removed since evidence shows that these providers are educationally prepared for their roles. Now is the time for lawmakers and other stakeholders to re-examine the regulatory environment at the federal and state levels to secure full practice authority for APRNs.