Nurse managers, nurse executives, nurse educators, and advanced practice nurses in clinical jobs have all typically relied on a master’s degree in nursing science to prepare them for their specialty. Yet in its landmark report titled The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, the Institute of Medicine recommended that the nursing profession should work to double the number of nurses with doctorate degrees by 2020. One reason for this is parity of education. Nurses work closely with other health professionals (like physicians, psychologists, and pharmacists) that are educated at the doctorate level, and the DNP can provide nurses with advanced skills that compare more favorably to these other professions.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has held the position since 2004, that the DNP was the most appropriate degree for both clinical nurse educators and advanced practice nurses. Yet currently most nurses in these specialties hold the MSN as the highest level of education attained.
So why should you, as an MSN-holding registered nurse, attain a doctoral degree in nursing? The answer is pretty clear: healthcare is rapidly changing, becoming more complex all the time, as well as focused on achieving better outcomes. To support this evolution of healthcare, the nation needs nurses with the highest level of evidence-based knowledge and practice expertise.
Unlike the Ph.D., which prepares nurses to do research, the DNP prepares nurses for both leadership roles and advanced clinical practice roles. It equips nurses with the skills to manage healthcare delivery systems, influence health policy, assess current practice protocols, initiate changes in nursing practice, design training curriculums, and apply technology to care in patient-centric ways.
Most DNP programs, including those at American Sentinel, include focused coursework in information technology (IT). Our healthcare system is becoming more and more dependent on technologies that have the potential to improve patient care, including electronic medical records, telehealth technologies, decision support tools, and data mining systems. DNP graduates can act as leaders and role models, helping to change outdated policies and eliminate the barriers that stand in the way of technology. They can collect and analyze data on staffing practices, patient satisfaction, and disease management programs, in order to plan improvement initiatives. As the use of technology increases, DNP graduates will contribute the leadership needed to drive widespread organizational change – and to incorporate technology into nursing education. As patient advocates and frontline caregivers, nurses must ensure that new technologies support and enhance the human element in healthcare.
Because of their focus on nursing practice, most DNP programs are designed around a final scholarly project that is quite different from a lengthy, research-driven Ph.D. dissertation. At American Sentinel, our DNP participants are asked to complete a Capstone Project, an exercise in applied learning that allows them to design and implement a project that closely integrates their current work experience with their coursework, under the guidance of an academic advisor.
American Sentinel University currently offers three distinct DNP programs, one in executive leadership, one in educational leadership, and one in informatics leadership. We have designed our three DNP programs to meet the needs of an evolving healthcare system. Specifically, we hope to help fill a gap in nursing leadership. That’s why we developed a DNP program that’s focused on executive leadership, designed to build critical thinking skills and make nurses highly marketable; a DNP program that’s focused on educational leadership, designed to develop the six key competencies most needed by today’s nursing school deans; and a DNP program focused on informatics leadership, designed to lead informatics in today’s healthcare systems. All three feature the flexibility of online learning, experienced faculty with significant nursing leadership and educational experience, and a nationwide representation of students.