New degree for Doctors of Nursing Practice

  • Nurses have the opportunity to expand their practicing capabilities by earning a doctor of nursing practice degree.
  • Marquette's College of Nursing offers the DNP along with a Ph.D.
  • Advocates of the degree believe it will replace the masters programs in nursing schools around the country.

The next time you head in for a routine check-up, don't be confused if someone refers to your nurse as "doctor." They could have a new type of nursing degree — a doctor of nursing practice.

Since early November 2008, the Council for the Advancement of Comprehensive Care and the National Board of Medical Examiners have been administering a Certification Examination for Doctors of Nursing Practice (DNP).

This competency-based examination will assess the knowledge and skills necessary to support advanced clinical practice.

Mary Margaret Mooney, Chair of the CCNE Board, issued a press release stating the necessity of the DNP, saying that it is consistent with other health professions.

"Consistent degree titling will help to reduce confusion among health care consumers about the qualifications of doctorally-prepared nursing clinicians," Mooney said. "With dozens of practice doctorates now in the development stage, CCNE deemed it important to articulate a position that may assist programs in adopting a common degree name."

Marquette's College of Nursing offers both a Ph.D. program and a DNP program.

Margaret Bull, a professor in the College of Nursing, explained what each program offers.

"The Ph.D. program prepares nurse scientists as teachers and scholars of nursing," Bull said. "In contrast, the DNP prepares advance practice nurses in a specialized area of clinical practice."

Some of these areas of specialization, according to Bull, include acute care, older adult care, health care systems leadership, nurse midwifery, pediatric primary care and pediatric acute care.

While this is the sixth year for Marquette's Ph.D. program, Marquette started the Post-Master's DNP in the fall of 2008 and admitted 17 students. Students take six credits a semester for four semesters.

"It is a two-year program of part time study," Bull said. "We also admitted six post baccalaureate students to the DNP program in fall 2008."

According to Bull, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing have advocated for the DNP to replace master's programs in nursing by 2015.

"At this time, many programs are maintaining both because we are waiting to see level of student interest in the DNP," Bull said. "We have heard that UW has eliminated the master's and are only going with the DNP."

Bull is also excited about how well the Ph.D. program and the DNP program compliment each other.

"It's really exciting to have both Ph.D. and DNP programs because one is developing knowledge and the other is translating the knowledge into practice," Bull said.

Callie Beckwith, a junior in the College of Nursing, said she believes both programs will only result in more qualified nursing professionals.

"Both the Ph.D. and the DNP interest me," Beckwith said. "I think both programs allow nurses to not only do more in the nursing field but I also think with the degree comes a new level of respect for the nursing community. The amount of time and energy it takes to get a nursing degree alone should gain us respect as health practitioners, this should only further that respect."

Sarah Goebel, also a junior in the College of Nursing, believes the degree will allow her to be more hands-on with her patients.

"With the DNP it would allow nurses to diagnose meds," Goebel said. "It would also give nurses more authority and credibility."

But will earning these degrees really grant a nurse the title of doctor?

"Both DNP and Ph.D. are academic degrees," Bull said. "Both types of graduates might be addressed as doctor. Technically, because it is an academic degree, they are entitled to use that title. However, Ph.D.s in academic setting might be addressed as professor rather than doctor."

According to DNP website, DNP certification is a three-part process. Candidates must attain licensure as advanced practice nurses, graduate from a DNP program, and successfully complete the CACC Doctor of Nursing Practice Certification Examination. In addition to completion of the DNP educational program, a passing score on the DNP Examination is intended to provide further evidence to the public that DNP certificants are qualified to provide comprehensive patient care.