For many people, the title “doctor” is most often associated with physicians. But many non-physicians and academics – including psychologists, attorneys, researchers, dentists and pharmacists – also have an opportunity to earn professional degrees that come with the title of doctor.
Nurses as well can earn a terminal degree, called a doctor of nursing practice (DNP), that signals excellence in the profession. Unlike the research-driven Ph.D. in nursing, the DNP was developed as a practice-focused degree. DNP-educated nurses utilize clinical evidence for patient care, nursing leadership and healthcare policy.
As doctors, DNP-prepared nurses have transformed the healthcare system in positive ways, researcher Nancy Edwards and fellow clinicians said in the study, “The Impact of the Role of Doctor of Nursing Practice Nurses on Healthcare and Leadership.”
“The DNP has demonstrated benefits across all health care settings. These individuals have served as experts for change in translating best practices into the care environments and provided cost-saving solutions to patient care challenges while maintaining or improving outcomes,” the researchers said. “The expertise in clinical practice, systems thinking, health policy, and healthcare economics and finance make them valuable contributors to collaborative care teams, and impactful leaders in healthcare organizations.”
In other words, a DNP education demonstrates leadership excellence in the field of nursing. Advance practice registered nurses (APRNs) who successfully complete a DNP program, including an online DNP program, earn the right to use “doctor” as a medical salutation.
Using DNP Titles in Clinical Practice
Even though DNP-educated nurses can use the title of doctor, many choose to clarify their role when speaking with patients. Some introduce themselves as a doctor but explain that their responsibility is as a nurse. Others introduce themselves with their first names and let their credentials do the talking.
Concerned about confusion, some of the leading nursing organizations have outlined the appropriate of use titles for DNP-educated nurses. Major organizations, such as the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP) and the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA), said nurses who have earned DNP degrees are entitled to have their achievements recognized and acknowledged in the same manner as other professionals.
The organizations also said medical professionals must clarify their professional role when being introduced in a clinical environment.
“The ability of nurses to be addressed using earned credentials in all settings lends credibility to nurses’ knowledge base, gives credence to the skilled abilities of nurses and allows the public to be knowledgeable regarding their caregivers,” the ENA said in its “Appropriate Credential Use/Title Protection for Nurses with Advanced Degrees” white paper.
The American Medical Association and other physician organizations, however, have a different view regarding DNP titles. Physicians worry that nurses who use the title doctor will cause confusion. In the past few years, some states have pushed forward legislation that would limit the use of the doctor title to physicians. Nine states require doctorally trained nurses to introduce themselves with a clarifying statement, such as, “I am Dr. Jones, a doctor of nursing practice.”
Future of the DNP Education in Nursing
Despite the issue regarding the academic title, medical experts and lawmakers agree that registered nurses (RNs) who have advanced training are essential to ongoing healthcare in the United States.
In her “The Impact of the Role of Doctor of Nursing Practice Nurses on Healthcare and Leadership” study, Edwards said an advanced education improves healthcare systems, particularly as the nation faces a shortage of primary-care physicians.
Edwards’ research found that a DNP education cultivates APRNs who can develop cost-savings measures while maintaining or improving patient outcomes.
“The expertise in clinical practice, systems thinking, health policy and healthcare economics and finance make them valuable contributors to collaborative care teams, and impactful leaders in healthcare organizations,” Edwards said.
As of 2017 (the most recent data available), there are more than 6,000 DNP-prepared APRNs in clinical practice. Another 30,000 or so APRNs are enrolled in DNP programs. DNP-prepared graduates go on to work in top administrative jobs in hospitals, medical centers, universities and nursing organizations. When working in nursing management, DNP-educated nurses have an opportunity to create a new definition of nursing in medicine.
APRNs who want to pursue a clinical doctoral education and learn skills that can change lives often turn to online DNP programs. The online programs allow practicing nurses to continue their careers while pursuing an advanced education.
Earning an Online Doctor of Nursing Practice at Duquesne University
Duquesne University’s online DNP program prepares RNs to work at the highest level of clinical leadership and to improve care and medical practice.
Duquesne University’s online DNP program is tailored for students who seek rigorous academic training and professional development from the nation’s leading medical experts. For more information, contact Duquesne University now.
The Impact of the Role of Doctor of Nursing Practice Nurses
on Healthcare and Leadership: Medical Research Archives
Who is entitled to the title of “doctor”?: CMAJ
Appropriate Credential Use/Title Protection for Nurses with Advanced Degrees”: ENA
Are Nurse Practitioner Doctors Real Doctors?: Barton Associates