Hallmarks of Excellence

The National League for Nursing has unveiled a revised and updated version of its highly-respected Hallmarks of Excellence© in nursing education. The nearly 30 Hallmarks of Excellence© serve as characteristics or traits that define a level of outstanding performance or service that faculty can use to determine whether their programs are achieving that hallmark. This demonstrates to students that they are engaged in a high-quality program and institution.
Thanks to a national survey the National League for Nursing conducted of its membership and selected thought leaders in nursing education, the League has taken these Hallmarks of Excellence© to the next level to meet the needs of 21st-century nursing education. Among its findings, the survey confirmed the continued relevance of the hallmarks for today’s academic and health care environments but discovered evolving new areas of interest.

These areas — simulation as a teaching pedagogy, civility in nursing education, and interprofessional education — have now been incorporated, along with specific descriptors and benchmarks for faculty and administration to assess their integration into programming and instruction. In addition, the hallmarks have been streamlined, reduced from 10 to eight, each with its own subsets and indicators of achievement:

  • Engaged Students
  • Diverse, Well-Prepared Faculty
  • A Culture of Continuous Quality Improvement
  • Innovative, Evidence-Based Curriculum
  • Innovative, Evidence-Based Approaches to Facilitate and Evaluate Learning
  • Resources to Support Program Goal Attainment
  • Commitment to Pedagogical Scholarship
  • Effective Institutional and Professional Leadership

The Hallmarks of Excellence© is a proprietary NLN tool to help the nursing education community define a level of outstanding performance in education toward which they strive. Such expectations are relevant for all types of programs and institutions of higher learning. The NLN continues to take the lead in offering evidence-based best practices in curriculum and instruction to those responsible for preparing the next generation of nurses to provide patient-centered, culturally sensitive outstanding care to advance the health of the nation and our global community.

The survey that led to the updated edition of the hallmarks was distributed online in April 2019 to the entire NLN membership; fellows in the NLN Academy of Nursing Education; deans of schools of nursing designated NLN Centers of Excellence; and a Civility Action Group specially convened by the NLN to address the need to increase civility, inclusion, and tolerance in academic and clinical educational settings. A lack of civility and bullying on campus and in the workplace has been identified in recent years as a cause of burnout among nurses and a low rate of retention in the nursing workforce.

Download the NLN Hallmarks of Excellence


Competence: The application of knowledge and interpersonal, decision making and psychomotor skills in the performance of a task or implementation of a role.

Competency: A principle of professional practice that identifies the expectations required for the safe and effective performance of a task or implementation of a role.

Continuous Quality Improvement: A comprehensive, sustained, and integrative approach to system assessment and evaluation that aims toward continual improvement and renewal of the total system.

Creativity: A process that calls upon an individual's curiosity, inquisitiveness and ability to generate new ideas and perspectives that result in products and practices unique but useful.

Curriculum: The interaction among learners, teachers, and knowledge -- occurring in an academic environment -- that is designed to accomplish goals identified by the learners, the teachers, and the profession the learners expect to enter. It is more than a collection of courses or the sequencing of learning experiences, and it is more than an outline of the content to be "covered" during an academic program.

Empowerment: Enabling experiences that foster autonomy, choice, control, and responsibility and that encourage individuals to display existing abilities, learn new abilities, and continually grow.

Ethical Behavior: A system of moral conduct based on one’s personal beliefs, values, customs and character, as well as those of one’s profession.

Experiential Cultural Learning: Purposefully-designed learning experiences that help students gain greater understanding of, insight to, and sensitivity regarding (a) the practices and beliefs of people whose culture, history, and life experiences are different from their own, and (b) the meaning that people give to their life experiences.

Evidence-based Nursing Care/Practice: The provision of nursing care to individuals, groups and communities that evolves from the systematic integration of research findings related to a particular clinical problem. Intervention strategies are designed based on the evidence garnered through research, questions are raised about clinical practices that lead to new research endeavors, and the effectiveness of interventions are systematically evaluated in an effort to continually improve care.

Evidence-based Teaching Practice: Using systematically-developed and appropriately-integrated research as the foundation for curriculum design, selection of teaching/learning strategies, selection of evaluation methods, advisement practices, and other elements of the educational enterprise.

Excellence: “Striving to be the very best you can be in everything you do--not because some … ‘authority figure’ [demands it], but because you can’t imagine functioning in any other way. It means setting high standards for yourself and the groups in which you are involved, holding yourself to those standards despite challenges or pressures to reduce or lower them, and not being satisfied with anything less than the very best.” (Grossman & Valiga, 2000, p. 214).

Expertise: Having or displaying special skill, knowledge or mastery of a particular subject, derived from extensive training or experience.

Global Perspective: Knowledge about and critical understanding of global issues that enable an individual to (a) effectively address those issues; (b) acquire values that give priority to ecological sustainability, global interdependence, social justice for all the world’s people, peace, human rights, and mutually-beneficial processes of economic, social, and cultural development; (c) develop the will and ability to act as mature, responsible citizens of the world; and (d) develop a commitment to creating acceptable futures for themselves, their communities, and the world. Such a perspective is critical in light of the increasing connectivity and interdependence of the world’s social, economic, educational, and other systems.

Innovation/Innovative Practices: The adoption of new ideas, change in the core structure of systems and using unique approaches to manage familiar situations. In education, it refers to dramatic change in “the nature of schooling, learning, and teaching and how curricular designs promote or inhibit learning, as well as excitement about the profession of nursing, and the spirit of inquiry necessary for the advancement of the discipline” (National League for Nursing, 2003, p. 1).

Leadership: A “complex, multifaceted phenomenon [that involves the elements of] vision, communication skills, change, stewardship, and developing and renewing followers” (Grossman & Valiga, 2000, p. 11). Tasks assumed by the individual who chooses or agrees to “make a difference in the lives of others and in the directions of groups and organizations” (Grossman & Valiga, 2000, p. 18) include envisioning goals, affirming values, motivating, managing, achieving a workable unity, explaining, serving as a symbol, representing the group, and renewing (Gardner, 1990).

Partner/Partnerships: An alliance between individuals or groups in which all parties mutually develop goals, collaborate to achieve those goals, and benefit from the alliance.

Pedagogical Research: Systematic inquiry into all aspects of the teaching/learning process, including how students learn, effective teaching strategies, effective assessment or evaluation methods, curriculum design and implementation, program outcomes, learner outcomes, environments that enhance learning, and other components of the educational enterprise.

Preferred Future for Nursing: “What should happen or what we would like to see evolve … Creat[ing] the future we want and orchestrat[ing] events and situations to achieve the goals we set for ourselves and to fulfill the roles we envision for ourselves” (Valiga, 1994, p. 86).
Reward: Recompense made to or received by an individual for some service or merit. In the educational environment, traditional faculty rewards are tenure, promotion, and salary increase. Other types of rewards for faculty are those that derive from factors that motivate individuals to pursue the faculty role, including autonomy, belonging to a community of scholars, recognition, and efficacy (i.e., having an impact on one's environment).

Science of Nursing Education: An integrated, systematically-developed body of knowledge that “address[es] questions related to student learning, new pedagogies, graduate competencies, program outcomes, innovative clinical teaching models, effective student advisement strategies, recruitment and retention strategies, and other elements of quality nursing education” (Tanner, 2003, p. 3).

Socialization to the Role: A process whereby an individual learns about the intricacies of a new role she/he will assume. Those "intricacies" involve an historical perspective on the role, legal parameters related to the role, common issues regarding role implementation and projections about anticipated changes in the role, as well as the knowledge, skills and values required to successfully implement the role. Such socialization occurs through formal education, mentoring, on-the-job experiences and other means, and it occurs whenever an individual prepares to move into a new role (e.g., RN, nurse manager, faculty member, advanced clinician, researcher, etc.).

Spirit of Inquiry: A “yen to discover” (Van Bree Sneed, 1990, p. 36). “Asking questions to satisfy one’s curiosity” (p. 37).

Structured Preparation for the Faculty Role: “The nurse educator role requires specialized preparation… There is a core of knowledge and skills that is essential if one is to be effective and achieve excellence in the role. That core of knowledge and skills entails the ability to facilitate learning, advance the total development and professional socialization of the learner, design appropriate learning experiences, and evaluate learning outcomes. … It is critical that all nurse educators know about teaching, learning and evaluation; and nurse educators who practice in academic settings also must have knowledge and skill in curriculum development, assessment of program outcomes, and being an effective member of an academic community, among other things. … Competence as an educator can be established, recognized, and expanded through master’s and/or doctoral education, post-master’s certificate programs, continuing professional development, mentoring activities, and professional certification as a faculty member.” (National League for Nursing, 2002)

Student Support Services: Services that promote the comprehensive development of the student and help strengthen learning outcomes by reinforcing and extending the educational institution’s influence beyond the classroom. Such services include but are not limited to admissions, financial aid, registration, orientation, advisement, tutoring, counseling, discipline, health, housing, placement, student organizations and activities, cultural programming, childcare, security, and athletics.

Technology: The use of science and the application of scientific principles to any situation, often involving the use of sophisticated equipment and computers.

Traditional Approaches to Nursing Education: Teacher-directed, highly structured approaches that rely heavily on the delivery of content through lecture, the evaluation of learning through multiple-choice examinations, highly structures and relatively inflexible curriculum designs, and strict adherence to policies. The focus is on cognitive gain, “covering” content, a simple-to-complex approach, problem-solving and efficiency.

Values Development: The evolution of personal principles, character, and customs that provide the framework for making decisions about one’s daily actions. Values are the product of one’s life experiences, give meaning and direction to life, and are influenced by family, friends, religion, culture, environment, education and other factors.

Wonderment: “Awe, astonishment or surprise; something producing wonder; puzzlement or curiosity” (Webster’s II New College Dictionary, 1995, p.781 ).


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