Should Family Nurse Practitioners Earn A Doctor Of Nursing Practice?

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When Lindsay Searle became a registered nurse (RN) about five years ago, she was just at the beginning of her healthcare education. Today, after working almost two years as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), the 28-year-old is on her way to earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.

Duquesne students outside studying

As an FNP, Searle enjoys working autonomously in a primary-care practice in Connecticut, building bonds with patients to create healthy outcomes. At the same time, she is enrolled in Duquesne University’s prestigious online DNP program with an eye on broadening her nursing perspective.

Lindsay Searle“My goal is to be a leader in the community where I work to enable positive changes in the healthcare community,” she said. “I am interested in the DNP versus the PhD since the DNP is more clinically based, which is more applicable to my current practice as a nurse practitioner.”

Searle is among a growing number of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who are working toward the highest level of nursing practice and heeding the call from healthcare leaders to take on greater levels of responsibility.  She, along with medical experts nationwide, sees tremendous value in the DNP.

Why The DNP Degree Matters

In 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) identified the DNP as the highest clinical practice degree for APRNs. Unlike the research-focused Ph.D., the DNP focuses on using evidence-based outcomes to improve systems of care through direct patient contact, education, policy, and leadership. DNPs translate research and evidence to decision-making and clinical practice.

By 2011, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a nonprofit organization that provides evidence-based healthcare recommendations, endorsed doubling the number of nurses with doctorate degrees by 2020. In its landmark “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health” report, the organization also recommended removing regulatory barriers to advanced nursing practice and expanding opportunities for nurses to advance their practice.

The move to the DNP comes at a time when healthcare demands in the United States are becoming more complex. As the population ages and becomes increasingly diverse, needs are changing. Advances in technology and pharmacology have allowed people to live longer than ever. Meanwhile, a record number of nurses and primary-care physicians are retiring or leaving medical practice, making it harder than ever to find qualified providers.

At the same time, the amount of new information about healthcare advances continues to multiply. Currently, the entire world’s knowledge about health and healthcare doubles every three years. By 2020, medical knowledge will double every 73 days. Experts say new providers are essential to putting the most current information into practice.

Healthcare leaders say the increasing needs nationwide and the influx of medical information position DNPs to become transformational leaders. Their education and experience allow them to fill roles in public health, public policy, education, and administration.

“They study healthcare from a systems perspective. They graduate with a comprehensive understanding of this system, from policy and ethics to finance and informatics,” Melissa DeCapua, DNP, said in a Baron Associates blog article titled, “Should I Get a DNP? Plus, 7 Other DNP Questions and Answers.”

“They learn how to improve not just one patient’s life, but the lives of entire populations,” DeCapua added.

Earning An Online DNP While Working As An FNP

For Searle, a DNP also means greater autonomy while continuing in clinical practice and an opportunity for more administrative roles.

Searle worked for five years as a travel nurse before earning an FNP degree through Duquesne University’s online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program. Now, as an FNP in Connecticut, she is working in a primary-care practice.

In pursuing her ultimate dream—a DNP—Searle is following the IOM’s recommendation for nurses to achieve higher levels of education.

“My goal is to have the greatest autonomy in practice while working in the clinical arena but to also have options to work in academia, which I enjoy,” she said. “The best way to do this is to broaden my perspective by attaining the DNP, which opens up many options for my future.”

When deciding on her choices for earning the DNP degree, Searle once again looked to Duquesne University. While earning her online FNP, she learned essential time management skills and had positive experiences with a caring faculty.

In earning a DNP, Searle is once again testing her time management skills but is continually encouraged by her supportive instructors and classmates.

“They help to make the coursework manageable. Being a distance learner can be difficult at times, but overall it is rewarding,” she said. “Everyone involved in the DNP program truly wants the students to be successful, and they dedicate their time and effort into making completion a reality.”

Searle’s experience as an FNP and as a DNP student have been so positive that she urges anyone considering a DNP to move forward “so we can promote and evolve our profession toward becoming leaders and impact change in the healthcare arena.”

“I chose the DNP program due to the clinical focus and ultimately would like to provide better care for all my patients through implementing evidence-based practice guidelines into clinical practice,” she said.  “In addition, I will be in the leadership role where I can share this knowledge and experience with other practitioners.”

About Duquesne University’s Online Doctor Of Nursing Practice Degree Program

Through Duquesne University’s online DNP program, APRNs learn advanced skills to manage the many evolving roles in the field, including leadership and decision-making. The school’s DNP program builds on existing knowledge for a comprehensive education.

Students who work toward a DNP at Duquesne University’s online program have the added advantage of being able to continue their career and family responsibilities while pursuing the degree. For more information, visit DU’s online DNP program website.