Twelve students of the inaugural class of the School of Nursing’s new degree program graduated Sunday, becoming the first nurses in North Carolina with this executive-style degree.
The two-year Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program, started in Fall 2008, trains nurses to apply research findings directly to daily clinical operations, according to the School of Nursing website. Graduates will be able to implement innovative policies and work with other health professionals to promote rapid improvements in patient care.
“The goal is for all nursing staff to achieve a higher level of education and gain more knowledge to provide better care to patients and their families,” said Mary Ann Fuchs, a graduate of the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program and chief nursing and patient care services officer for Duke Hospital and Duke University Health System. “I’m happy to be a graduate and have found that all the content of the curriculum could be easily applied to what I do as chief nurse.”
Eric Bloomer, Doctor of Nursing Practice program coordinator, said the new program was approved in October by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education for five more years—the longest period available for an initial accreditation.
Barbara Turner, Doctor of Nursing Practice program chair, said the program is structured to build on the education and fieldwork of advanced practice master’s-prepared nurses and is also open to students with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. It is an alternative to the School of Nursing’s Ph.D. program, which is geared toward students interested in academic research.
“It’s training and education at the highest level for nurses,” Turner said. “They’re taking on leadership roles that address patient safety. It helps support and manage nursing strategy.”
Turner said the idea for a new degree program was influenced by several researchers who advocated for a more integrated approach and a higher level of education in nursing.
She added that there are currently 120 Doctor of Nursing Practice programs nationwide and another 140 in development. Five of those currently under development are in North Carolina, she noted.
Duke’s program included 25 students in its first year, grew to 40 its next year and has admitted 54 more students for the Fall, Turner said, adding that students take classes nationwide and internationally.
“It’s a very rigorous and intensive program,” Fuchs said. “The standards for quality are high within the program.”
Courses are only offered online or distance-based to allow advanced practice nurses to continue working and students to earn degrees from home, Fuchs said.
She added that students in the program must complete the Doctor of Nursing Practice Capstone Project prior to graduation. The multi-semester project requires students to work in clinics, inpatient units, hospitals or health systems to analyze and implement an initiative jointly approved by professionals in the workplace setting, other students and the student’s advisory committee. Fuchs said she implemented an additional protocol for preventing urinary tract infections at Duke Hospital.
Courses in the program fall in four categories: evidence-based practice, transformation of health care, leadership courses and advance practice specialization, which includes students’ individual capstone projects, Turner said.
Doctor of Nursing Practice graduate Anne Derouin, who works in Duke’s Department of Community and Family Medicine, said she enjoyed spending time with other students on campus but wanted more student interaction. She noted, however, that all of her online courses were both interesting and thorough.
“My eyes were opened to all these things I hadn’t considered, system changes, advocacy and applying some of the research and putting it into practice,” Derouin said. “It’s cool because nurses don’t have time for that, they are busy taking care of patients. That’s what the degree will allow nurses to do, to be able to help nurses know what the research says and how to put it into practice.”
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