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MSN Can Provide Path to Nursing Doctorate

Earning a Master of Science in Nursing degree can prepare nurses for a wide variety of careers as an advanced practice registered nurse, and many choose to end their university education at this level. However, for nurses who wish to continue studying even beyond this high level, there is another option. More nursing schools are now offering students the chance to earn Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees.

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More opportunities for advancement
According to a recent study by the Rand Corporation, the majority of schools offering Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) programs now have options for students to earn a DNP or plan to make the credential available soon.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing, which backed the study, said it was glad to see the progress being made toward adoption of the DNP.
“AACN is pleased to see growth in the number of schools with the practice doctorate and will continue to work with stakeholders as we move toward the desired state of full adoption of the DNP by schools offering advanced nursing practice degrees,” Eileen Breslin, president of the AACN, said.
The move toward the DNP began in 2004, when the AACN announced that it would move advanced nursing practice preparations from the master’s degree to the doctorate. The organization set a goal of 2015 for the transition.

According to the AACN, the DNP offers a way for nurses to seek doctorates in practice-based, rather than research-based, programs. As the AACN pointed out, many other health professions offer practice doctorates as the terminal level of education, and nurses already take on courseloads equivalent to other professions’ doctorate programs to earn their master’s degrees. The organization said that offering a practice doctorate would allow nurses to stay on top of the latest scientific developments while honing their practice skills even further, preparing them for roles in APRN and organizational fields.

Support rising
Wide acceptance of the DNP is well underway. According to Rand’s report, more than 250 schools across the U.S. offer post-baccalaureate or post-master’s DNPs as of 2014. Master’s degrees remain the most common way to break into APRN practice, with only 30 percent of schools’ APRN programs offering post-baccalaureate DNPs. Nurses pursuing post-master’s DNPs have fewer requirements for the completion of their doctorates and sometimes have a larger array of specialties available.

Support for DNP programs is nearly universal among educational leaders in nursing, according to the Rand study. However, many schools find the road to offering such programs difficult. Nursing schools have faced challenges finding enough faculty, providing resources for scholarly projects and meeting budgetary requirements that have prevented them from making the transition to DNP programs so far. These programs may face another hurdle in finding clinical placement opportunities for DNP candidates. Since clinical placement is an essential part of a practice-based degree, increasing the number of people in these programs could further stress the system. Given the potential to help nurses find the best careers for them and better serve patients, the AACN expressed willingness to support schools starting their own DNP programs.

“AACN is fully committed to advancing solutions and creative ways to mitigate the challenges facing schools wishing to offer the DNP as well as to educating employers and students about the benefits of the practice doctorate to systems innovation and, more importantly, patient care,” Breslin said.

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