AACN: Essentials of Critical Care

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)

Essentials of Critical Care Orientation

Redesign approximately 60 hours of online critical care orientation curriculum for staff or bedside nurses working with acute or critically ill patients.



The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) needed to ensure that all acute and critical care nurses were fully competent to care for patients. It chose Enspire to create an experiential scenario-based online learning curriculum using patient case studies, allowing nurses to make real-time care decisions, and receive performance feedback through consequences determined by their decisions and actions.

This award-winning custom learning solution won two Brandon Hall Learning awards.

The Challenge

Critical care nursing is a highly specialized field. Dealing with severely ill and injured patients, critical care nurses need to possess and employ an enormous amount of healthcare knowledge, skills, and critical thinking in their work. From interpreting and acting upon subtle changes in a patient’s hemodynamic or blood lab values, to recognizing disease pathophysiology and worsening progression, nurses continuously monitor, assess, diagnose, plan, implement, and evaluate treatment responses.

To provide critical care nurses with necessary real-world experience, AACN sought to redesign their curriculum with a hands-on approach that reflected the pressures, pace, and complexity of every-day critical care nursing.

The Solution

Enspire created approximately 60 hours of online Essential Critical Care Orientation (ECCO) training, using case studies to drive a hands-on, scenario-based experience. Nurses care for virtual patients, make care decisions in real time, and receive immediate performance feedback through patient reaction to nurse decisions and actions.

Using the clinical judgment model as a foundation, the curriculum and instruction follow a learn-by-doing approach, assigning learners with new patient in each assignment.

Initial learning activities require handling the immediate care priorities of the patient. Through patient assessments and nursing decisions, learners apply critical care nursing knowledge and skills. Didactic content is dispersed throughout the patient scenarios. For example, as the learners consider diagnoses, they may explore the etiology and pathophysiology of related diseases and disorders before returning to the patient-care scenario and applying their new knowledge and skills.

Because critical care nursing requires access to a massive amounts of information, the program provides easy access to performance support resources and job aids. Drug lists, diagnostic normal values, treatment algorithms, and more are readily available in a handy resources section. A basic anatomy and physiology section, and an extensive medical dictionary, are also available for the nurse needing the definition of a new term or a refresher on a body system process. Necessary information is always an easy click away.

In hospitals, nurses new to critical care are coached and/or mentored by more experienced nurses called “preceptors.” To be as realistic as possible, ECCO features a virtual preceptor. By introducing patient scenarios or providing advice from an experienced clinical perspective, the virtual preceptor leads learners through case debriefs. The debriefs occur through branching conversation simulations. The virtual preceptor asks “what-if” and “do-over” questions.

ECCO won two Brandon Hall Learning awards: Excellence in Best Advanced Custom Content Learning, and Best Learning Team.

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