Nursing Continuing Professional Development & The NCPD Award

“What we’ve seen happen over the years is nurses are engaging in professional development even outside of licensing or board certification requirements.” 

Jennifer Graebe, MSN, Director of the NCPD and Joint Accreditation Programs, American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

Each year, the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) awards its Nursing Continuing Professional Development (NCPD) Premier Award™ to accredited organizations that demonstrate excellence in NCPD. Presented to one or more fully accredited programs each year, the award recognizes recipients for a two-year period. 

The American Nurses Association (ANA) was one of seven recipients in 2022; the class of 2023 honored seven new recipients: the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL); Avant Healthcare Professionals; Home Care Pulse, LLC; Med-IQ; New York Presbyterian; The University of Kansas Health System; and UCLA Health-Center for Nursing Excellence.

For new and aspiring nurses, the NCPD award is an opportunity to re-examine the evolution of continuing professional development, and the importance of an accredited system to support it. Those who view continuing professional development as merely a box to tick do themselves, and the nursing profession, a disservice. The NCPD of the future is diverse, innovative, and a net positive to nurses, healthcare organizations, and patients. For the NCPD award winners, that future is now. 

Continuing professional development is the key to a sophisticated, satisfied, and specialized nursing workforce. It’s also changed significantly over the years. Read on to learn more about continuing professional development for nurses and where it’s going in the future. 

Meet the Expert: Jennifer Graebe, MSN, RN, NEA-BC

Jennifer Graebe is the director of the NCPD and Joint Accreditation programs at the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). She received her MSN in leadership and health systems management from Drexel University, her baccalaureate degree in nursing from Villanova University, and a certificate in healthcare management, accounting, and economics from Johns Hopkins University. She is a DrPH candidate in education and public health and a co-investigator with the Global Strategic Operatives for the Eradication of Human Trafficking.

Graebe serves as the vice-chair for the Competency-Based Education Network board of directors (BOD), is a BOD for the Academy for Forensic Nursing, and is the chair of the Alliance Board of Director Nominating Committee. She is part-time faculty at Capella University in the School of Nursing and Health Sciences and adjunct faculty at the Villanova University M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing. 

Graebe is a published author, and a seasoned presenter both in the US and internationally. She is a peer reviewer and associate editor for the Journal of Continuing Education. Graebe has held positions in leadership at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital as a Clinical Educator and Clinical Manager in the Emergency Department.

The Evolution of Continuing Professional Development for Nurses

Professional development for nurses dates back to the origins of nursing itself. Over the years, it’s become an integral part of the maturation and professionalization of nursing. As this culture of continual learning was formalized and tied into requirements for licensure and board certification, however, professional development was in danger of becoming too much like assigned homework: more transactional than transformational. But that’s started to turn around, largely due to the ANCC’s efforts. 

“What we’ve seen happen over the years is nurses are engaging in professional development outside of licensing or board certification requirements,” Graebe says. “They’re engaging in it for the very reasons it was formalized over 100 years ago: to improve their professional competence, to ensure they’re taking care of their patient population with the best possible evidence, to advance their careers, and to uphold the professional practice of not just themselves but the nurses they’re working with.”

The ANCC’s NCPD accreditation program has focused on creating a learning ecosystem that offers nurses what they need to do their job, to demonstrate how they’re doing their job, and to function at the highest level professionally. Professional development can assist nurses pursuing specialization, transferring to new departments, or looking to advance themselves personally. The result is win-win: nurses with lower stress and a strong sense of personal satisfaction tend to be more engaged and more productive. In a workforce facing high burnout, high demand, and other issues related to recruitment and retention, such win-win results are welcome.

“It’s about impacting the nurse holistically,” Graebe says. “We’ve seen an uptick in nurses engaging in educational activities, specifically ANCC-accredited professional development around wellbeing and stress reduction. There are now educational activities offered by accredited providers around financial acumen and how to be an innovator and how to be an entrepreneur.”

Professional development is increasingly including more than just nurses, too. The ANCC, in partnership with the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education and the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education, created Joint Accreditation—a first-of-its-kind accreditation for interprofessional continuing education. Here, the focus is on teams learning from, with, and about each other, with educational activities created for the team and by the team. 

“Everything a nurse does requires them to collaborate with another member or various members of the team,” Graebe says. “So, collaboration in the learning environment is incredibly important in order to drive collaboration in professional practice for results, to improve team performance and patient outcomes, or the strategic goals of the organization.”

Obstacles and Opportunities in Continuing Professional Development for Nurses

The main obstacles facing professional development exist at the organizational level. A culture of learning and development is not always central to the culture of a nurse’s healthcare organization, leaving it up to the nurses themselves to pursue it. That threatens to reduce the idea of professional development to a transactional level: another box to tick. 

But organizations are beginning to awaken to the importance of and benefit from an engaged and supported system of nursing professional development. 

“Another obstacle is the misconception that creating an educational activity is too laborious, that there’s a lot of paperwork to fill out,” Graebe says. “The reality is that in healthcare and in the nursing profession, learning is happening all the time. What we as facilitators of learning need to do is be more mindful of recognizing that learning when it’s occurring, and giving nurses credit for that learning when and where it happens.”

Despite the obstacles, some organizations have managed to not only succeed but thrive when it comes to professional development. The ANCC’s Premier Award™, the NCPD program award, is awarded to those organizations that serve as exemplars in the field of nursing continuing professional development. The criteria for the award are multifaceted, and organizations must be able to demonstrate full compliance and adherence with all accreditation standards; alignment of accredited NCPD in achieving their organization’s strategic goals; engagement of nurses in the creation and provision of NCPD; and an embedded culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“They also need to leverage NCPD activities to demonstrate a return on investment (ROI) that aligns with the organization’s strategic goals,” Graebe says. “But ROI is not always about financials. It could be ROI related to recruitment and retention, or wellbeing metrics, or public health initiatives. It could be improving immunization rates at the community level, or creating processes and procedures around the identification of human trafficking victims. The criterion for this award runs the gamut and stretches accredited providers to think beyond the classroom.”

The Future of Continuing Professional Development for Nurses

NCPD Premier Award™ winners, past and present, are paving the way for the future of continuing professional development for nurses. That future is one where healthcare organizations prioritize workforce recruitment, retention, and development by making accreditation and continuous learning part of the organizational mission. 

Partnerships between academic learning and professional development at the organizational level can create a more robust culture of constant learning within the nursing profession; this, in turn, should increase demand for accreditation in continuing professional development. 

“Although engaging in accredited professional development is not required, except for in some instances related to licensure renewal or board certification, the premise of engaging in accredited professional development is similar to why a nurse would choose an accredited academic program,” Graebe says. “It’s learning created around standards that protect against bias and influence from industry, with requirements related to best available evidence and content integrity.”

The design and delivery of professional development will continue to evolve as well. Leading competency-based education in professional development, the ANCC created the first competency-based model in accreditation, called Outcomes-based Continuing Education (OB-CE©). The OB-CE model rethinks where learning occurs and how it is measured. 

Graebe envisions casting a wider net, bringing in more diverse talent, and finding innovative ways to recognize deep experience. This vision for continuing professional development focuses on the human elements of healthcare: the aspiring nurse, the veteran nurse, and the patients they will care for. 

“One of the things I see for the future of professional development is a holistic, humanistic approach to learning,” Graebe says. “We are challenged and, in some ways, privileged with technology advancing faster than ever before. But healthcare throughout the history of humankind has always required a human to be at the core of it, whether it was the patient or the provider. And so no matter how advanced technology becomes, the humanistic component of healthcare will be critically important. We’ll be tasked to ensure that nurses are not only engaging in professional development related to those human skills, but that those skills are mastered on a continuum.”

Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog


Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about the modern nursing workforce, conducting hundreds of interviews with nurse leaders, nurse educators, and nurse advocates to explore the issues that matter to them most. His Advocates to Know series focuses on nurse practitioners (NPs) who go above and beyond in changing policy and practice in important areas like veteran’s care, human trafficking prevention, and telehealth access. He regularly collaborates with subject matter experts from the American Nurses Association (ANA) and the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP) to elevate issues that empower nurses everywhere.