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Advanced Practice Nurses and the DNP: Looking Towards 2015

Submitted by Admin on June 9, 2010, 9:06 am
When Jackie graduated from her Master's program, she'd completed over 65 credit hours. Her cousin Sasha graduated the same year, with the same number of credit hours and the same tuition bill.

Sasha walked away with a doctorate while Jackie had a Master's degree. Both degrees were in healthcare: the only difference was that Jackie chose nursing while Sasha went into psychology. Just a fluke? On the contrary: Master's in Nursing (MSN) degree programs commonly require far more credit hours for completion than do other healthcare fields, including medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, and physical therapy.

Why are nurses spending as much time and money on their Master's degrees as other healthcare professionals spend on their doctorate-level degrees?

The answer lies in the growing complexity of the healthcare environment as it responds to rapid advances in technology and scientific knowledge. In order to fully prepare advanced practice nurses such as midwives and nurse practitioners, a modern-day Master's program must include a comprehensive courseload.

For other healthcare fields, such as the ones mentioned above, a practice doctorate--rather than a Master's--is the standard entry into advanced practice. In contrast, a mere 1% of registered nurses hold doctoral degrees. "It is unfair to give a Master's degree for a program that looks more like the pharmacy doctorate and the doctor of physical therapy," the dean of the UW-Madison Nursing School said a few years ago. Nursing currently lacks degree parity with other healthcare professions.

Fortunately, this state of affairs is drawing to an end. By 2015, nursing accrediting agencies will require advanced practice nurses to have a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.

"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.

Despite ongoing theoretical discussions about the pros and cons of the DNP requirement, the question of the DNP is ultimately a personal decision for every committed nurse. Unless you're just around the corner from retirement, if you want to work as an advanced practice nurse you're going to have to seriously consider earning your Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) eventually.

I'd love to hear your opinions about this! Do you think advanced practice nurses should have to have a doctorate level nursing degree, or do you think the folks in the ivory towers are getting out of hand? We'd like to hear from some of you who are already advanced practice nurses as well as those of you who want to become one. What say you?

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