The Alabama Commission on Higher Education voted unanimously on September 22 to approve the state’s first Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program at the University of South Alabama.
Sophisticated technology, scientific advances, and an escalating demand for health care services have helped drive the need for nurses to pursue the highest level of nursing practice, which will now be available through USA’s new doctoral program.
Dr. Debra Davis, dean of the College of Nursing, said 11 students will be admitted into the program’s first class in January. Forty students will then be admitted each fall, beginning in 2007. The college expects to graduate 130 DNPs in the first five years of the program.
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, USA is one of only 23 universities nationwide to offer the program. More than 190 DNP programs are now under development at nursing schools throughout the nation. As the only university in Alabama with a DNP program, USA will serve as a model for other universities in the state.
USA’s online DNP program is open to nurses who have a master’s degree in an advanced practice area, such as nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist. The implementation is, in part, a response to the AACN’s 2004 recommendation that the level of preparation necessary for advanced nursing practice roles be moved from the master’s degree to the doctorate level by 2015.
“Because of the growing complexity in health care, nurses need more education in order to have better patient care outcomes,” Davis said. “This program will prepare nurses to work in interdisciplinary teams, to work in new and emerging technology, to work with complex health care problems and issues, and to be able to evaluate research and put the best evidence into practice.”
Unlike a Ph.D. program in nursing, which prepares students for careers in research, the DNP program has more emphasis on practice, the evaluation of health care outcomes, and the development of new programs of care.
“It’s really necessary for both programs to work together,” Davis explained. “We have to have nurses who are Ph.D. prepared and generating new knowledge, but we also need DNP nurses who take that information and put it into practice.”
According to the Agency on Health Care Research and Quality, it can take up to 20 years for new knowledge to be integrated into practice.
The DNP program at USA will result in better-prepared nurses in our area who, in turn, will improve the quality of patient care. The DNP nurse is essential to the development and testing of new models of care, as well as the prompt implementation of research findings into clinical areas.
Davis said that if a nurse’s career goal is to stay within clinical practice or clinical teaching--opposed to a research-focused career--USA’s DNP program provides an excellent option. With nationwide nursing shortages threatening the future of health care, the new program will strengthen not only the quality of care, but also the appeal of nursing as a career.
“Hopefully, when young people see that you can get a doctorate in nursing, just like you can get a doctorate in pharmacy, physical therapy or audiology, nursing will become a more attractive career,” Davis explained. “The new DNP provides more career opportunities for those with aspirations to function at a high level within health care.”
USA’s College of Nursing is one of the fastest-growing colleges at USA, with 2,065 students enrolled. The college has awarded 6,157 degrees and is among the largest nursing schools in the nation.
For more information on the new DNP or other programs in USA’s College of Nursing, visit online at www.southalabama.edu/nursing or call (251) 434-3410.