A new route to the DNP

BSN to DNP picture
Audrey Snyder and RN to DNP nursing students
Photo credit: Christine Kueter

When the US military made it known that they wanted their nurses to earn doctoral degrees in a seamless and streamlined route from their baccalaureate degrees, University of Virginia School of Nursing faculty jumped at the chance to develop a special academic track.

“We had about six months to pull together a curriculum – which sounds like a long time until you actually attempt it,” laughed Associate Dean for Academic Programs Janie Heath, who with nursing professor Audrey Snyder and nursing admissions chief Clay Hysell spearheaded the new program that has attracted eight enrollees so far. “Our military colleagues expressed to us the direction they were going – wanting all of their baccalaureate-trained nurses going for advanced practice degrees to earn the terminal clinical degree in nursing, the DNP – and we responded in kind. It’s been an exciting, edifying process – and a true collaboration all around.”

The new U.Va. nursing track – the BSN to DNP program – offers Virginia’s first route to a Doctorate of Nursing Practice degree (the DNP, the terminal clinical degree in nursing) for Advanced Practice RNs. The full-time program, which takes three years to complete, requires a final culminating scholarly project, referred to as a doctoral capstone. So far, the new School of Nursing initiative has attracted five students from the military and three civilians, but with the nation’s fervent interest in the DNP degree, Heath and Snyder expect the program to expand.

RNs across the U.S. have a wide variety of educational backgrounds – from two-year associate’s degrees to four-year baccalaureate degrees, as well as many with master’s and doctoral degrees. Nurse Practitioners, or NPs, often have at least six years of education (a bachelor’s degree plus a two- to three year-master’s degree or a post-master’s certificate) and hundreds if not thousands of hours of clinical experience.

Growing ranks of nurses, however, realize the benefit of completing a doctorate. U.Va. School of Nursing offers two: the DNP, the terminal clinical degree, and the PhD, the route for those interested in nursing science and academics. The DNP is designed for nurses seeking a terminal degree in nursing practice, and offers an alternative to more research-focused programs.

The Institute of Medicine’s 2010 report “The Future of Nursing” urged the nation’s nursing schools to double the number of doctorally-prepared nurses by the year 2020. Currently there are 217 DNP programs in the U.S. with another 97 in the works, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. From 2011, to 2012, DNP enrollees increased by 21 percent, from 9,094 to 11,575. The number of DNP graduates increased by 14 percent over that same period, from 1,595 to 1,858.

U.Va.’s DNP program – the first of its kind in Virginia – today joins five others in the Commonwealth. Since the program’s 2005 creation, 50 DNP degrees have been conferred. Roughly five percent of the School’s current students are enrolled in the DNP program.

“There is no question that nurses with advanced degrees enjoy more professional mobility and occupy more positions of leadership in our clinics and hospitals,” said Snyder, “and the same holds true for military nurses. That the U.S. military is taking an extra step in requiring their nurses to have the terminal degree, rather than solely a master’s, is impressive. They’re really going one step beyond.”