Amanda Wolkowitz, Alpine Senior Psychometrician, interviewed Dennis Spence in his new role as chief research officer at the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) on the importance and future of research for the credentialing industry.

Originally published in Credentialing Insights – The online journal for ICE

Dennis Spence, PhD, MS, CRNA, FAAN, CAPT (ret), NC, USN, recently became the chief research officer at the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). I.C.E. Publications and Editorial Committee Member Amanda Wolkowitz spoke with Spence about his career path, his new role at NBCRNA and the importance and future of research for the credentialing industry.

Tell us about your career path. How did you end up as the chief research officer at NBCRNA?

I spent 28 years in the United States Navy before retiring in August 2020. The turning point in my career occurred when I was enrolled in a nurse anesthesia program in the Navy and completed a group research project — that’s when I discovered my excitement for research.

In 2005, the Navy fully funded me to attend and earn my doctorate from the Rush University Graduate School of Nursing. In 2008, I graduated and was assigned as the research director of the Navy’s nurse anesthesia program clinical site at the Naval Medical Center — San Diego. I’ve also served as a nurse researcher, regional director of nursing research, chief nursing officer and staff nurse anesthetist. During these years, I had the opportunity to mentor other medical professionals in research, evidence-based practice and program evaluation. Towards the end of my Navy career, I also served on the NBCRNA board of directors.

Around the same time I was retiring, the CEO of NBCRNA had created the chief research officer position. I was interested, so I stepped down from the NBCRNA board and applied. Since the position coincided with my retirement from the Navy, I went through the interview process and was fortunate to get hired.  I guess it’s where I am now…out of retirement.

What type of projects intrigue you in your current position?

One of the most intriguing projects we are currently working on is evaluating the value of the CRNA credential and our Continued Professional Certification (CPC) Program. What I quickly realized was that it can be very challenging to evaluate the value of a certification that is required rather than one that is voluntary.

For this and similar program evaluation projects, we need to get feedback on the perception of our program from certificate holders of all demographic backgrounds. In a perfect world, we’d be able to link being active in our certification program with clinical outcomes. In reality, we have to find other ways to do this research. This process and the results are intriguing to me.

Why do you believe research is a powerful tool for credentialing organizations?

Research provides the tools needed to address important questions that help inform credentialing organizations’ decisions about their programs. At the NBCRNA, we developed subcommittees to focus on topics such as simulation, longitudinal assessment and English as a second language (ESL) to evaluate our program and help inform board decisions. I think this model of having research subcommittees is a model that would be very effective for other credentialing organizations.

What type of research do you think is most beneficial to the credentialing field? Why?

Credentialing organizations should build up their infrastructure and staff expertise to be able to not only conduct research but be able to evaluate and improve their existing programs. I believe it is vitally important for credentialing organizations to find ways to support a more diverse workforce, conduct research or program evaluation studies that help show the value of a credential to different stakeholders, and to conduct research that can help address the “so what” question about how credentialing programs improve outcomes.

What types of research trends are you observing in the credentialing field? Where are the areas of need?

The biggest trend I’ve seen, at least in health care credentialing, is the incorporation of longitudinal assessment into the maintenance of certification programs. Longitudinal assessments support lifelong learning and are intended to evaluate people’s knowledge and help them keep up.

I think it would be helpful to have a “meeting of the minds” to identify some research priorities. With this type of meeting, you could bring experts from different boards together and speak on common questions. In this way, different organizations can pool their talents together to answer those questions and find the best way to move forward. By meeting together, organizations wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel and could discuss answers to common questions we’re all seeking.

If you were to mentor an individual who was pursuing work in the credentialing field and wanted to contribute research, what advice would you give to that person?

The first thing I would want to know is their background and if they have ever done any research or program evaluation. If not, that’s okay, but I would tell them to increase their knowledge on research design, methodology and statistical analysis. In general, my advice would be to get involved on a team that is conducting a research study or program evaluation project and find somebody who’s got that expertise you’re looking for and is able to help along the way.