Important Facts About the DNP
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree is a clinical- or practice-oriented doctorate that enables the nurse to expand in both knowledge and skills without a prerequisite intermediary master’s degree. While in the program, the student develops the leadership skills necessary to impact our evolving healthcare industry in a positive manner. DNP program graduates seek ways to improve the quality of healthcare through evidence-based practice, and they study policies that strengthen our health care system.
As of June 2015, 264 DNP programs existed in 48 states as well as in the District of Columbia, with plans to develop 60 more. The demand for more DNP programs across the country is driven by these factors:
- A shortage in qualified teachers, deans, program directors, and visionary leaders to contribute to strategic planning, innovative curriculum development, and evolving technology issues in institutions of higher education (colleges and universities) and healthcare organizations
- Academic areas of need currently are not being met by nursing Ph.D. programs or master’s in education programs (MSNs)
- In recent years, a shortage of teaching faculty has caused nursing schools to reject almost 70,000 qualified nursing candidates
DNP Degrees: The Benefit of Practice-Focused Doctoral Programs
According to the AACN, the complex healthcare environment in the United States and changing patient needs mean that healthcare facilities require nurses with the highest level of practical and scientific knowledge. Several high-level healthcare organizations, including the Joint Commission and the National Academy of Medicine, have demanded that health care training facilities redesign and reconceptualize their programs to reflect this new reality. Other contributing factors include changes in the delivery of healthcare and the need for advanced knowledge as identified by nurses on the front lines of patient care. Some of the key benefits of DNP programs include:
- The ability to appeal to professionals with strong nursing backgrounds as well as to those who previously worked in other health-related fields
- Degrees at the doctorate level improve the public’s perception of nursing professionals and allow DNP program graduates to garner greater respect from their peers
- On a similar note, a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree places graduates at an equal level with those professionals in the healthcare industry who earned a doctorate degree before entering practice
- Increased numbers of faculty members available to provide clinical instruction
- DNP programs provide an advanced degree without the intense research focus required of most other doctorate degree programs
- In-depth knowledge improves the manner in which nurses care for patients and ultimately enhances patient outcomes and lowers health care costs
- Credit requirements are tailored more closely to the individual’s desired area of specialty
- Health care professionals have the professional leadership skills to direct the work of others and improve patient recovery times
- DNP programs enable nurses to meet the increasingly complex challenges at the clinical and faculty levels and prepare nurses to immediately assume leadership roles
Transitioning to the Doctorate ‒ Meeting Changing Health Care Demands
An advanced practice degree is already offered in a number of health care professions, including:
- Audiology (AudD)
- Dentistry (DDS)
- Medicine (MD)
- Pharmacy (PharmD)
- Psychology (PsyD)
- Physical Therapy (DPT)
The Doctor of Nursing Practice is equivalent to these degrees in the field of nursing.
In addition to educational parity, numerous other factors are driving the demand for DNP programs. Patient care has become increasingly complex, which may be explained partly by a study of demographics. The oldest members of the baby boomer generation turn 70 this year, while the youngest are already in their early 50s. As this cohort ages, they will require nurses with the skills, breadth of knowledge, and advanced training to care for them. Moreover, baby boomers comprise nearly 30 percent of the population of the United States. Growing numbers of patients with so-called “lifestyle” illnesses such as smoking, diabetes, and obesity-related illnesses also add to the complexity of patient care in today’s world.
Furthermore, patients are better advocates for themselves than at any other time in history, which has led to greater demands for safety and quality of care. DNP programs prepare nurses to provide the highest caliber of care. The nationwide shortage of RNs means that those who are employed in these positions must be able to assess patients expertly and delegate their care to other staff.
It is no longer enough for nurses in the early 21st century to attend simply to the physical needs of patients. They also work as researchers, clinical faculty members, authors, speakers, and inventors. The Doctor of Nursing Practice curriculum recognizes that the most skilled nurses must be able to fulfill all these positions and to change quickly as needs dictate. DNP programs prepare nurses to do just that.
Pathways to a DNP Degree
With the minimum qualifications to work in the field of nursing increasing all the time, hundreds of colleges across the country now offer DNP programs to nurses who already possess advanced credentials. Examples of bridge programs include the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to DNP degree, the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) to DNP, and the Ph.D. to DNP degree. Nurses who are considering enrollment in DNP programs should carefully consider their program options. Criteria that indicate an excellent Doctor of Nursing Practice program includes:
- Fewer than 5 percent of enrolled students drop out of the program
- High percentage of students pass state licensing exams
- Employment statistics are made readily available
- Realistic, engaging Capstone projects
- Faculty actively participating in nursing practice
- Stimulating, challenging curriculum
- Adequate, useful practice hours
- Accreditation and good reputation
- Flexible hybrid course format of online and on-campus options
BSN to DNP Programs
Nurses who currently have a bachelor’s degree may have begun their career with an associate degree. After working for a few years under that credential, they may be interested in advancing to the highest degree available in nursing. Some nurses also decide to obtain a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree after realizing that many healthcare organizations that hire nurse practitioners now require the completion of a DNP program. Most programs require a minimum of 1,000 hours of practice immersion hours after a bachelor’s degree is earned. Typical coursework at this level includes:
- Principles of Advanced Nursing Practice
- Advanced Leadership for Contemporary Nurses
- Investigation, Discovery, and Integration
- Contemporary Issues in Advanced Nursing Practice
- Policy and Advocacy in Advanced Nursing Practice
BSN to DNP students should expect to complete at least 60 semester hours of coursework in addition to the practice immersion hours. Students typically take one or two courses per semester, each requiring approximately 10 to 12 hours of study. Since most candidates for a BSN to DNP bridge program work at least part-time as they study, they should realistically plan to budget 18 to 24 months to complete the program. A 3.0-grade point average in previous nursing coursework is a typical admissions requirement.
MSN to DNP Programs
Nurses who have already earned a Master of Science degree can apply to DNP programs if they earned their post-graduate degree in a specialty that provides direct or indirect care to patients. Some examples include specialties such as nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse specialist, or nurse practitioner for direct care, and health informatics specialist or nurse administrator for indirect care. Degrees at this level are tailored more toward the student’s specialty and previous experience in health care. The completion of prerequisite classes depends on the area of specialty and the policies of the individual school.
The typical goals of an MSN to DNP program includes:
- The ability to use analytic methods and translational science to identify, develop, implement, and evaluate new strategies to improve healthcare delivery and overall systems of health care
- Work with other professionals to engage in evidence-based and complex advanced nursing practices and to evaluate new methods of serving patients, specific populations, and the community as a whole
- Influence health care policy by implementing strategic leadership skills and determine the most cost-effective methods to create changes in the health care delivery system
- Put knowledge into direct practice to change policies to address disparities in health care while practicing cultural sensitivity
Ph.D. to DNP Programs
For nurses who wish to have the most advanced degree possible in both practice (DNP) and research (Ph.D.) nursing, a bridge program called the Ph.D. to DNP may prove to be an ideal option. Entrance requirements include an earned Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree in a direct specialty field, such as nurse practitioner or nurse midwife, or an indirect specialty field, such as nursing administration or nursing informatics. The typical coursework required to complete at this highly advanced level include:
- Health Care Systems Transformation
- Leadership Skills for Health Care Professionals
- Quantitative Methods
- Evidence-Based Practice
- Health Care Improvements Driven by Data
Additionally, Ph.D. to DNP students complete a Capstone project on an assigned topic within their field of specialization. Admissions requirements vary by school, but they generally include a minimum 3.0-grade point average in nursing coursework, a current license as a nurse in the state of residence, completion of courses in inferential statistics and graduate research methods, transcripts from all colleges attended, a personal statement, and letters of recommendation. The latter should supply information as to the applicant’s personal character, professional competency, and ability to succeed in a demanding academic environment.