Careers in Healthcare: DNP: Value for Nurse Executives

As complexity and uncertainty in the healthcare system expand, nurse executives need more than a Master’s degree and on-the-job training to be successful. Today’s nurse leaders need to build expertise so they can approach problems that are yet to emerge.

Professional doctorates are an established alternative to the Ph.D. in practice-based fields, both within and outside of healthcare. They are structured to meet the needs of professional practitioners through robust curricula and a focus on developing advanced skills for navigating the complex and far-reaching problems of today. Professional doctorates are well established not only in the United States, but in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Is a non-clinical DNP still a DNP?

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) describes two types of nursing doctoral programs: research-focused and practice-focused. The research-focused doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree contributes to the field through research, development of new knowledge, and other scholarly activities the advance of patient care, nursing practice and nursing science. A practice- focused degree contributes to improvement in healthcare through direct care and policy change. The two types of doctoral programs are complementary.

The traditional interpretation of advanced nursing practice falls within the realm of clinical practice, such as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists. However, nurse executives are making the case that their leadership practice should be considered advanced nursing practice.

In fact, in October, 2004, the AACN endorsed the Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing and voted to move the current level of preparation for advanced nursing practice from the Master’s degree to the doctorate level.

Why are doctoral credentials important for nurse executives?

Nurse executives must manage ever-increasing complexities and unprecedented challenges. They must develop methodologies that will coordinate care across the continuum; demonstrate that they can lower cost and improve quality; understand the dynamics of policy, economic and regulatory issues; and strategically use technology and data, while leading upwards of 60% of the healthcare workforce in this country.

Nurse executives require advanced education that will enhance effective decision-making and analytic and leadership skills. It’s becoming more and more accepted that nurse executives earn advanced degrees that will broaden and enhance their current knowledge and skill base and that will give higher-level evaluation and policy skills directly applicable to their work environment.

All DNP programs are not the same

Many DNP students are, in fact, nurse executives. The challenge is that many DNP programs are geared towards advanced clinical nurse practice. Many nurse executives need finely honed skills in leadership and management – and these kinds of programs have been few and far between.

The most useful degree programs for nurse executives in leadership positions allow for a robust focus on topics and issues relevant to executive practice, such as leadership, resource management, healthcare financing, health policy, process improvement and a perspective of the global and environmental impacts on health and healthcare. A DNP in executive leadership advances a nurse leader’s skills so that she or he can interpret and apply clinical data rather than create it.

What makes an excellent DNP program?

In addition to specialized curricula, an effective DNP program for nurse executives would be built around proven fundamentals of adult learning theory:

  • The learner’s active involvement in the learning process
  • Bridges between new knowledge and the learner’s experience
  • Reflection
  • The learner’s experience as context to construct meaning from new information
  • Immediate application into the learner’s work environment

The program should facilitate the individual growth of the nursing executive in order to strengthen the design and delivery of healthcare. A focus on executive leadership will expand a nurse executive’s skill not only in the leadership of his/her organization, but in health policy, health informatics, and health services research, which are quickly becoming salient to nurse executive practice.

For nurse executives seeking doctorate credentials, a DNP with a focus on executive leadership could meet their needs. One accredited university, American Sentinel University, does offer a DNP in Executive Leadership that’s entirely online.

I’d like to hear from you. What are your concerns about a DNP for nurse executives? Please share your questions or strategies with your fellow readers and me by sending them to healthcare@americansentinel.edu. I look forward to hearing from you.

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