Beacon FAQ

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Q: Do you have to be an AACN member to apply?

A: All you need is an AACN user account, which you can create free of charge.  You do not have to be an AACN member to apply for the Beacon Award for Excellence.

Q: How do I pay the application fee?

A: The fee for Beacon Award is $1,750. You may pay with credit card using our online check-out process or, if you choose to pay by check, we'll generate a printable invoice at the end of the application submission process that must be included with the payment mailed to AACN. The review process begins as soon as the payment has been received by AACN, either by check or credit card.  

Q: How long after we submit the application until we receive the results?

A: Due to the in-depth peer review evaluation process and high volume of applications received, please allow 5 – 7 months for AACN to notify your unit of the application results.

Q: Do I have to complete the application in one sitting?

A: There are two parts to the application process. First is completing the Beacon Award application with your responses in Microsoft Word. The second part is submitting the completed document using our online submission application process. The second step must be done in one sitting. All submitted applications will be considered final.

Q: What kind of documentation do I need to support my answers?

A: The application consists of a series of 38 questions about your hospital and the unit. The questions are clustered into the following five categories: 

  • Leadership Structures and Systems;
  • Appropriate Staffing and Staff Engagement;
  • Effective Communication, Knowledge Management, Learning and Development and Best Practices;
  • Evidence-Based Practice and Processes; and
  • Outcome Measurement.

An environment for optimal care of patients and their families requires excellence in all five categories. Describe your processes, implementation, evaluation and outcome in each category. No additional documents are required.

Q: What is the purpose of the Unit Profile? Is it considered to be part of the application?

A: The Unit Profile provides context for review of responses in the rest of the application. Your responses should be consistent for the type of unit you describe. The Unit Profile is not scored, but it is included in the application and is included in the page count.

Q: How is the application evaluated or scored? What is the difference between a gold, silver or bronze designation?

A: When AACN receives an application, it is assigned to a panel of expert reviewers. The review panel evaluates your application and prepares written feedback based on the information in your application. The reviewers assign a score to your application, reflecting your unit’s progress on its excellence journey.

The scoring system addresses how far you’ve come on your journey compared to a measurable baseline. Units receive a percentage score for each of the five categories: Leadership Structures and Systems; Appropriate Staffing and Staff Engagement; Effective Communication, Knowledge Management and Best Practices; Evidence-Based Practices and Process; and Patient Outcomes.

Reviewers convert the percentage score into points by multiplying the percentage by the number of total points available for each category. Points are tallied to provide an overall numeric score for the application which determines the final award level (gold, silver or bronze) that a unit receives.

Every application receives an Executive Summary and Final Feedback Report with recommendations. Eligible applications receive the Beacon Award designation, which includes three levels — bronze, silver or gold — to enable a unit to chart its excellence journey over time. Recipients receive a three-year designation. 

For more information on scoring guidelines and score summaries.

Q: How long does the Beacon Award designation last?

A: Beacon Award designation — bronze, silver, or gold — is active for three years.

Q: We are looking at the questions in the Beacon Award application. How do we know what patient outcomes data to submit?

A: Each unit tracks outcome data based on the unique environment; it is determined by the patient population, patient average length of stay and quality data monitoring.

What are the unit’s key patient outcome measures and results? How do these results compare with recognized standards where applicable?

Responses to these questions must include “never events” for your unit based on patient population and scope of service. For example, an adult critical care unit should include central line infections, unplanned extubations, UTI prevention, VAP, VTE, pressure ulcer prevention, medication reconciliation and error prevention.

Recognized standards may include National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators (NDNQI), National Quality Forum (NQF) or National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutions (NACHRI).

Include levels and trends in your results.

Q: What constitutes trend data?

A: You should have a minimum of three data points to identify trend data. The data presented should reflect the unit’s performance in the indicator.  There are no requirements for the timing of the data presented (monthly, quarterly or annually).

Q: When is the submittal deadline for the Beacon Award?

A: You can submit a Beacon Award application at any time. There is no submission deadline.

Q: When is a unit recognized at the National Teaching Institute?

A: Every year we are pleased to celebrate and honor those units awarded between April of the previous year through March of the year NTI is being held.

Q: I am the primary contact person for our unit’s application. What communication should I expect?

A: The primary contact for the application will receive notifications including: application results when the peer review process has been completed, information about NTI celebrations and reminders when your unit’s Beacon designation will expire. If the primary contact needs to be changed, please call the Beacon team at 800-899-AACN (2226) and we will update this information for you.

Q: How can we be assured of the confidentiality of the information in our application?

A: Strict confidentiality is observed in every aspect of the Beacon application review and feedback process, including the online application, feedback report and expert review. In accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations, avoid including patient- or employee-specific information. If confidential information is used in the narrative, it may be included by removing all identifying information.

Q: You say that any unit can apply where patients receive their principal nursing care after hospital admission. How can I be sure my unit meets the criteria?

A: If you are not sure your unit meets the eligibility criteria to apply, you may complete a unit profile and submit as a Microsoft Word document to We will be happy to review the unit profile and provide feedback within three business days to determine your unit’s eligibility prior to completion of the full application process.