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Pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree

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What's in a degree? Medicine has its MD, dentistry its DDS, and psychology its PsyD. If nursing is to keep pace with related health care disciplines, a doctorate level degree is needed.

This was the rationale behind the American Association of Colleges of Nursing's 2004 endorsement of the Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing, which was supported by nearly three years of research. The decision paved the way to shift the requirement for entry into advanced nursing practice from a master's degree to the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree (DNP). This shift should be complete by 2015, according to the AACN in their latest DNP fact sheet (aacn.nche.edu).

Since the DNP is a relatively new degree--in 2005, fewer than 10 programs nationwide were admitting students--you may be wondering how it fits into your career plans. Here are the top three benefits of earning your DNP.

1. Improve Your Practice Skills

The DNP focuses on improving direct care, emphasizing the skillful applications of scientific research, clinical scholarship, and patient care technology. The program requirements include a minimum 1000 clinical hours post baccalaureate in order to perform DNP competencies through practice immersion experiences.

Even though graduate nursing credit requirements are sometimes double the number of other MS degree programs at the same university, modern advanced clinical practice is simply becoming too complex to master in the course of an MS nursing program. As the new terminal practice degree, the DNS will prepare you to successfully navigate the complexities of advanced nursing practice today.

2. Solidify Your Leadership Role

Advanced practice nurses continue to take on more intensive and significant responsibilities. The DNP degree prepares you for a strong leadership role by specifically training you in health care advocacy positions, organizations and systems leadership techniques, and interprofessional collaboration strategies.

"My practice has become so noticeably like that of a doctor that patients often call me 'doctor' (despite the fact that I always introduce myself as a 'nurse practitioner')," wrote Chris Stewart, NP, MSN, in a letter to the American Journal of Critical Care editor. "Having the professional title of "doctor" would...clarify for my patients and colleagues that I do have independent 'doctoral' practice rights." Stewart went on to express a firm intention to earn the DNP.

3. Provide Better Patient Care Outcomes

Studies by Dr. Linda Aikens, Ph.D., RN, have established an unmistakable correlation between more advanced levels of nursing education and better patient outcomes. Dr. Aiken reports documenting "significantly higher patient outcomes in hospitals with more highly educated nurses at the bedside...." as quoted in the Journal of the American Medical Association (September 2003). Observed patient outcome improvements included better control of hypertension and diabetes, among others.

Is a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree Right for You?

Despite ongoing theoretical discussions about the pros and cons of the DNP, nurses are walking the walk: between 2007 and 2008, the number of nursing students enrolled in DNP programs nearly doubled and the number of DNP graduates tripled. Unless you're just around the corner from retirement, if you want to work at the advanced practice level then you should give serious consideration to earning your DNP.

In addition to the three benefits highlighted above, there are many other reasons to earn your DNP. For example, although there are not yet any conclusive reports on average salaries, it is to be expected that compensation increases would be on par with other healthcare professionals practicing at the doctorate level.

Ultimately, the question of the DNP is a personal decision for every committed nurse. Does it make sense for your career and practice goals? Make the choice that will benefit your patients, your colleagues and you.


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