Beacon Award Program Overview

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The Beacon Award program invites units at all stages of their journey to excellence to collaborate with AACN to support their units’ continual measurement and improvement.

The Beacon Award for Excellence was established in 2003. As the undisputed leader in progressive and critical care nursing, AACN must possess the knowledge and data to describe progressive and critical care nursing and the environments where this care is provided. When the Beacon Award program began, AACN endeavored to provide hospitals and healthcare systems with a way to respond to increasing concerns about quality and safety, and to evaluate the evolution of clinical care. AACN envisioned a process to describe and establish the standards for critical care excellence and then recognize units through the Beacon Award program. Disseminating this information to key constituencies and influencers ensures others can learn from Beacon Award participants and improve the care of their patients.

Every unit uses innovation and implementation science to improve outcomes. In the Beacon Award application, your unit can showcase their accomplishments and be recognized for them.

Beacon Award Application

AACN has validated the outcomes and unit and team characteristics, which have a profound impact on nursing excellence based on the research, current industry standards and input from AACN subject matter experts and community members.

The comprehensive Beacon Award program modules reflect the areas in which nurses have the greatest influence on healthcare: Patient Outcomes, Work Environment and Nursing Workforce.

Each module application helps units share the processes used by direct care nurses, nurse leaders and collaborative partners to achieve positive unit outcomes. The unit is required to provide supporting evidence that includes the following dimensions:

  • Predetermined quantitative data measures
  • Qualitative exemplars
  • Specific process measures
  • Healthy Work Environment Assessment Tool (HWEAT) scores
Quantitative Data
Patient Outcomes
  • Pressure injuries
  • Safe medication administration
  • PVAP (if vented patients on the unit)
Work Environment
  • Contract/agency staff
  • Nurse vacancy rate
  • Voluntary nurse turnover
Nursing Workforce
  • RN certification
  • Avg. year of nursing experience on the unit
  • Professional organization membership
  • HWEAT participation rate
Qualitative Exemplars
Patient Outcomes

2 required responses related to quality & safety innovations, initiatives, improvements or unit achievements that had a positive impact on patient outcomes

Possible topics:

  • Infection prevention
  • Patient safety
  • Monitoring
  • EBP changes
  • New technology
Work Environment

2 required responses related to innovations, initiatives, improvements or unit achievements that positively impacted the work environment on your unit

Possible topics:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Staffing
  • Retention
  • Recognition
Nursing Workforce

2 required responses related to innovations, initiatives, improvements or unit achievements that positively impacted nursing practice on your unit

Possible topics:

  • Orientation
  • Precepting
  • Mentorship
  • Competency
Process Measures
Patient Outcomes
  • Patient quality & safety
  • Bar code medication administration
Work Environment
  • Patient quality & safety
  • Unit leader visibility
  • Civility & conflict resolution
  • Bullying & incivility
  • Equity, diversity & inclusion (EDI)
  • AACN Synergy Model
Nursing Workforce
  • Support for professional growth and development
  • Conferences
  • Certification or certification renewal: preparation, testing & recognition
  • Transition to practice
  • Transition to nursing leadership
HWEAT Scores
Patient Outcomes
  • Effective decision-making
  • True collaboration
Work Environment
  • Appropriate staffing
  • Authentic leadership
Nursing Workforce
  • Skilled Communication
  • Meaningful Recognition

*Details and definitions related to the criteria may change and are included with the purchase of the application.

Application Evaluation

A comprehensive evaluation structure was developed that is unique to the Beacon Award and measures the success of a unit on their journey to excellence:

Process Evaluation Factors Outcome Evaluation Factors
Approach Levels
Application Trends
Learning Comparisons

The process and outcome evaluation factors above are considered when scoring each question.

  1. Each question or measure is scored:
    1. Quantitative responses are compared with aggregate data from the cycle.
    2. HWEAT, Process and Qualitative responses are compared with AACN’s established standards.
  2. Individual question scores are combined to achieve a score for each dimension (HWEAT, Quantitative, Qualitative, Process).
  3. The dimension scores are weighted and combined to establish a module level score for each completed module.
  4. If a unit completes all three modules in one cycle, all three module scores are combined to achieve a final score, which determines if the unit earns a Beacon Award.

Each unit receives an extensive feedback report that includes:

  1. The score for each measure, including a benchmark comparison and dimension, module and/or award-level scores as appropriate
  2. Identified areas of strengths and opportunities
  3. Resources to support the unit’s journey


AACN recognizes that units seek the Beacon Award for meaningful recognition on their journey to excellence as represented by the bronze-, silver- and gold-level Beacon Awards. As previously mentioned, the updated Beacon Award program will offer additional recognition opportunities in each module. AACN is currently developing recognition activities to ensure they are meaningful and equitable. We want to recognize your unit and staff for the incredible contributions you make every day!

Determining Your Level of Participation

AACN understands the importance of delivering exceptional care in a healthy work environment, especially when healthcare is experiencing resource challenges. Therefore, AACN is pleased to offer units the flexibility to choose their level of participation in the program and invites units at all stages on their journey to excellence to collaborate with AACN for continual measurement and improvement.

Units can choose their level of engagement with the program by completing one, two or three modules based on available financial and/or leadership support, or to report the required data in the each module. However, in order to be eligible for the Beacon Award, all three modules must be completed during the application period. Units that complete one or two modules can achieve recognition for top-tier performance within individual modules.

Please note: Additional Patient Outcomes modules for speciality units such as PACU, tele-ICU cath lab/interventional radiology, etc., will be developed with subject matter experts from the AACN community. These modules will be available in a future cycle.

How Much Does It Cost?

Considering the enhanced values, features and benefits, the new Beacon Award for Excellence program will be offered at an annual price of $3,500 for the three-module bundle or $1,300 per individual module.

Special Introductory Offer: For units applying in the first year (2024 application period), we are delighted to offer a discounted introductory price of $2,500 for the three-module bundle or $1,100 per individual module. We understand the importance of budgeting and hope this discounted rate will make it easier for you to plan and participate in the program.

Are you ready to begin?

For questions about the Beacon Award for Excellence, please email