Competent professional nurses wishing to grapple with more advanced challenges in their careers faced a significant problem until recently. To boost their professional and academic qualifications to terminal (highest) doctoral degree status, they’d need to enroll in a heavily research-focused Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) program. But nurses who chiefly want to enhance their repertoire of clinical competencies aren’t necessarily drawn to a research career.
If you’re in this category, the chances are that the “new doctoral degree on the block,” the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), maybe just be what you’re looking for. It takes nurses to the pinnacle of nursing degrees in a practice-focused, not exclusively research-focused, manner.
Nurses holding a DNP or Doctor of Nursing degree, such as the accelerated program offered at Wilkes University, bring a fusion of evidence-based clinical, systems leadership, organizational and economic skills with them. And in the case of the Wilkes program, it can be completed by practitioners with demanding roles within six terms (less than two years).
The DNP degree places those who have earned itin a deeply informed position to offer optical perspectives on existing nursing practice butandsitive change at the policy level, such as designing effective, economically feasible patient care programs.
DNP nurses don’t have to abandon the clinical practice they love in favor of research. Instead, they’re equipped to draw from their intensive knowledge of rigorous research findings to put it into clinical practice and policy.
In an article for the Journal of Advanced Practice Nursing, one DNP graduate, Dr. Leslie Hopkins (DNP, APRN, BC, FNP-BC, ANP-C), described her motivation for the program succinctly in a way likely to chime with the sentiments of many nurses exploring career growth options:
“I chose a DNP program because I knew I wanted a clinical doctorate and not a research doctorate.
“I knew that I needed this terminal degree to continue along the career trajectory I had set for myself and to continue to have relevance in nursing academia.”
DNPs often choose to work in leadership and administration roles (where they strengthen executive nurse leadership and influence healthcare policy outcomes based on scientific evidence) or Advanced Practice Nursing (APRN) roles focused directly on advanced patient care. In the latter instance, many DNPs are to be found in Nurse Midwife roles, Nurse Anesthetist Roles, and autonomous Nurse Practitioner roles.
To be clear, while DNP programs will not require a near-exclusive focus on developing expertise in research methodologies (as a Ph.D. degree might), they do require a research project, and they do require a demonstrable ability in translating research evidence into clinical practice and policy.
A nurse practitioner may be highly skilled in helping patients manage, say, cardiovascular disease. But a DNP nurse may be aware of research linking exposure to auto-emissions during childhood to later life cardiovascular disease and seek to alter health policy to minimize that risk.
The DNP degree is gaining rapid traction amongst aspiring nurses, helping them stay abreast of fast-proliferating nursing practice knowledge, the growing complexity of patient care, and compensating for the shortage of doctoral-educated nursing leaders who can design and properly design assess effective care programs.
If you’re a nurse practitioner and you don’t want to abandon the clinical ‘coalface’ for the laboratory and the survey, the DNP is probably the degree for you.