U adopts new advanced nursing degree

The Doctor of Nursing Practice program prepares nurses to put research into action at a faster rate.

The last students to ever earn a Master’s of Science in nursing degree at the University will graduate in 2010. A program begun in 2007 will now take its place.

The Doctor of Nursing Practice program prepares nurses to both apply medical research and provide clinical care, something most master’s students focusing on patient care don’t experience.

“We have taken a very bold position in Minnesota and the United States,” Connie DeLaney, director of the School of Nursing, said, adding that the University is among the nation’s first schools to completely replace its master’s program with the DNP program.

Sandra Edwardson, the DNP program’s director, said the University’s first DNP class last year had 24 students, the largest graduating class in the nation. The University has the only DNP program in the state, she said.

The University’s School of Nursing is one of about 90 colleges that have the DNP Program.

DeLaney said the DNP program prepares nurses to put nursing research into action at a faster rate.

“There are so many discoveries in nursing science that we have to get into practice faster,” she said.

While master’s degree nurses and DNP nurses have similar types of patient contact, DNP nurses’ responsibilities go beyond individual patient care. They create programs that put new research knowledge into practice, DeLaney said.

She said DNP nurses conduct studies, serve as members of doctoral research teams and evaluate policy changes. The increased amount of training could also result in higher salaries.

Edwardson said the program’s creation was part of a national trend. As nurses continue to specialize in particular fields and the health-care system becomes more complex, instructors are forced to add requirements to the graduate-level courses to prepare the students for the challenges, she said.

“We were requiring almost as many credits as Ph.D. candidates,” she said.

Although the program has strong support in the nursing community, DeLaney said medical doctors have raised questions about the program’s title, mainly concerning the term “doctor.”

“They think nurses are trying to portray themselves as physicians,” Edwardson said.

In a statement, American Academy of Family Physicians President Dr. James King said, “It’s important that we not blur the line between physicians and other health-care professionals with doctorates.” He said confusing patients puts them at a disadvantage.

“While all physicians are indeed doctors, not all doctors are physicians,” he said.

He said the DNP program will not provide the answer to our nation’s health-care needs.

Megan Fitzgerald, a nursing graduate student, said while she won’t be going through the DNP program right away, it’s an option for her future.

“I’m still trying to figure out what specialization I want to get into,” she said.

She said most DNP candidates know which field they want to specialize in. Some credits in her current master’s program already count for DNP credits.

“It’s a longer time commitment, but you can go farther in your career with it,” she said.