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The Critical Elements of Effective Academic-Practice Partnerships: A Framework Derived from the Department of Veterans Affairs Nursing Academy

Dobalian, A., Bowman, C., Wyte-Lake, T., Pearson, M., Dougherty, M.B., Needleman, J. BMC Nursing. 2014; 13(36)

Background: The nursing profession is exploring how academic-practice partnerships should be structured to maximize the potential benefits for each partner. As part of an evaluation of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Nursing Academy (VANA) program, we sought to identify indicators of successful partnerships during the crucial first year.

Methods: We conducted a qualitative analysis of 142 individual interviews and 23 focus groups withstakeholders from 15 partnerships across the nation. Interview respondents typically included the nursing school Dean, the VA chief nurse, both VANA Program Directors (VA-based and nursing school-based), and select VANA faculty members. The focus groups included a total of 222 VANA students and the nursing unit managers and staff from units where VANA students were placed. An ethnographic approach was utilized to identify emergent themes from these data that underscored indicators of and influences on Launch Year achievement.

Results: We emphasize five key themes: the criticality of inter-organizational collaboration; challenges arising from blending different cultures; challenges associated with recruiting nurses to take on faculty roles; the importance of structuring the partnership to promote evidence-based practice and simulation-based learning in the clinical setting; and recognizing that stable relationships must be based on long-term commitments rather than short-term changes in the demand for nursing care.

Conclusions: Developing an academic-clinical partnership requires identifying how organizations with different leadership and management structures, different responsibilities, goals and priorities, different cultures, and different financial models and accountability systems can bridge these differences to develop joint programs integrating activities across the organizations. The experience of the VANA sites in implementing academic-clinical partnerships provides a broad set of experiences from which to learn about how such partnerships can be effectively implemented,the barriers and challenges that will be encountered, and strategies and factors to overcome challenges and build an effective, sustainable partnership. This framework provides actionable guidelines for structuring and implementing effective academic-practice partnerships that support undergraduate nursing education.

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