Reflections on the Carrie Lenburg Award and non-traditional nursing education

Last week I was honored to receive the Carrie Lenburg award from Excelsior College in Albany New York. The Carrie B. Lenburg Award is

“Presented to an outstanding nursing graduate in recognition of the accomplishments and vision of Dr. Carrie Lenburg, coordinator of the Regents College Nursing Program from 1973 to 1990. It commemorates her commitment to helping nurses attain their educational and professional goals. This award is presented to a nurse who demonstrates a commitment to nursing education as well as academic and professional accomplishments in the field of nursing” (Excelsior College, 2011).

Dr. Carey S. Clark with the 2011 Dr. Carrie Lenburg Award

I graduated with a BSN from Regents College (now Excelsior College) in 1999. I chose Regents because I had my pre-licensure experience from an associate degree program, and a previous bachelors degree in nutrition. I had a strong desire to proceed onto graduate work in nursing education; two schools denied me direct entry into their MSN programs because my bachelors degree was not in nursing, though I had already taken several graduate level nursing courses and demonstrated my ability to be successful. Regents College accepted all of my previous credits from my ASN and BS degrees, and they offered me a way to demonstrate my competency as a BSN prepared nurse through their examination processes. Some of the BSN courses I tested out of with paper and pencil tests (yes, this was before the proliferation of computer testing), and with others I demonstrated my competency through performance examinations in the “live” clinical setting.

Excelsior College has the single largest school of nursing in the USA and they are a National League for Nursing Center for Excellence in Nursing Education. They remain committed to supporting the growth of the nursing profession through competency based educational approaches, which are highly learner centered and individualized, may require previous healthcare experience, and have the student demonstrate competency through a specific articulated process. Though there is no evidence that traditional methods of training pre-licensure nurses (ie, completing a specific number of supervised clinical hours, sitting through lectures, and passing a number of tests) are more effective at preparing nurses then competency based models, competency based models of education have had a long journey toward acceptance by state boards of nursing that issue nursing licenses. 37 states currently allow for direct licensing and entry into practice upon completion of the ASN curriculum at Excelsior College, while other states require additional clinical hours for licensure endorsement.

Dr. Carrie Lenburg was the pioneer of the development of the curriculum at Regents College, which she based on self-directed learning and demonstration of competence. Her resultant Competency Outcomes and Performance Assessment (COPA) model has been used by University of Colorado Health Sciences, University of Memphis, Spaulding University, Gallen College, and internationally. According to the American Academy of Nursing (2010), “Dr. Lenburg received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Spalding University and distinguished awards from Case Western Reserve University, NY State Nurses Association, and the NLN’s Linda Richards Award. She was inducted into the American Academy of Nursing, Nursing Hall of Fame, Teachers College, Columbia University and NLN’s new Academy of Nursing Education (Sept 2007).”

On the 40th anniversary of Excelsior College, Dr. Lenburg was present when I received the award and she also received an honorary degree from Excelsior College. It was incredible to meet this living legend and hear her speak of the many challenges she encountered with gaining acceptance of this innovative and effective way to educate nurses for real world practice. She spoke eloquently of her challenges with the NLN accreditation process as she developed the program at Regents College and the 17 years she spent striving toward the acceptance of this form of nursing education.

Dr. Lenburg and I had the chance to chat about my work and I found her to be such a strong, warm spirit. She held my hand while we chatted, and she reminded me a great deal of Dr. Jean Watson, the inspiration behind much of my work as a nurse and an educator. Dr. Lenburg told me that during her work at University of Colorado Health Sciences, she occupied Jean’s office, as Jean was on medical leave due to her eye injury. Carrie encouraged me to keep moving forward with my own work in developing a holistic- caring curriculum, and she asked me to also explore how the use of the COPA model might support my challenges with measuring interpersonal humanistic competencies related to holism, caring, and self-care. Though she has been active in the profession of nursing since the 1950’s, Carrie continues on with her work as a consultant and her model has been used on a global scale. Many of our nursing leaders and educators take similar paths, never retiring but continuing to share their knowledge and love of nursing well into their “retirement” years.

Excelsior College and Dr. Lenburg helped to make my family’s stay in Albany, NY an unforgettable experience. We were well-cared for and all of our needs were anticipated and met. I remain grateful and humble to have had this experience and I hope to someday also develop my own model of holistic-integral nursing education that stands the text of time the way that Dr. Lenburg’s has.

Dr. Carrie Lenburg, me, and my daughters


  1. Congratulations to you Dr. Clark on being the recipient of the Carrie B. Lenburg Award. I was just notified today that I am to be the recipient of the award this year. I am very honored to be named with others, such as yourself, who have dedicated so much of themselves to this wonderful profession we call nursing.- Shelley G. Moriston

  2. Hi Shelly, and congratulations! Excelsior College treated us so well last year, with every detail taken care of. I am wishing you a wonderful experience as well!

  3. I am a doctoral student and I am trying to reach Dr Lenburg regarding her COPA model. Does anyone have her current email address so I can contact her? Thank you

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