New D.N.P. Degree Opens Doors for Veteran Nurse

June 18, 2009 — Lindsay Powell began her nursing journey by receiving her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia in 1976. Now, with more than 30 years of clinical experience and two U.Va. degrees under her belt, Powell became one of the first recipients of the new Doctor of Nursing Practice degree awarded May 17 at U.Va.'s graduation ceremony.

Students choose the D.N.P. program for various reasons, but in a way, the program chose Powell. While working on her post-master's nurse practitioner degree in 2003-04, Powell received a grant that allowed her to visit people in South Africa and assess their everyday living conditions. Her social activist side kicked in and, ever since her visit, she has wanted to work with community members in South Africa.

When the U.Va. School of Nursing introduced the D.N.P. degree as an option, as opposed to the traditional Ph.D., Powell decided to take advantage of the opportunity as a venue to work with those in need in South Africa.

The Ph.D. program focuses on nursing research and is intended to prepare nurse researchers to design, conduct and lead research projects while generating knowledge aimed at changing nursing science or practice. The heart of the D.N.P. program is nursing practice, with the goal of preparing leaders with expertise in specialty practice, who can utilize research evidence to effect practice change.

"What I know best is advanced clinical work," Powell said. "With the D.N.P., I will be able to teach advanced nurse practitioner-level courses. I like teaching what I do every day."

Powell's capstone – the last hurdle of the D.N.P. program – was inspired by the work she did in South Africa in 2003-04. Powell's interest in international health led to the opportunity to work with the Southern Africa/Virginia Networks & Associations project; when it came time to submit her research topic, she chose one of the South African communities that she visited, Bushbuckridge.

Powell said she chose Bushbuckridge "really based on need. I was overwhelmed with all the problems and they were stuck in a cycle."

Health problems in the community far exceed the available health care and infrastructure resources. The goal of Powell's capstone was to build upon previous relationships with U.Va. by broadening alliances with a range of community organizations, and building upon knowledge for future endeavors.

Information is key when it comes to patient care, so the purpose of the study was to assess the community's perception of information needs and the information delivery method preferred by the community members, she said.

Now with a total of four degrees from the U.Va. School of Nursing, Powell has exhausted the educational avenues that are of interest to her.

"The D.N.P. was a way for me to do the international work that I believe is important," Powell said.

The new degree opens her horizons a bit, she added. "I would like to try to get more international initiatives at U.Va. and use the data that I gathered from my capstone research for grants and partnerships," she said.

Powell currently works at U.Va. as both a clinical assistant professor at the School of Nursing and as a clinical nurse specialist in the Department of Psychiatric Medicine at U.Va. Health System.

She said she would like to continue and strengthen U.Va.'s relations internationally – especially with South Africa. Her new D.N.P. adds a positive dimension to enhance a combination of clinical teaching and international initiatives.

About the D.N.P. Program

The Doctor of Nursing Practice program builds upon the essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice. The curriculum achieves the high quality of graduate education by encouraging students to tailor an individualized program using related courses from any school or department throughout the University.

The new degree received approval from the State Commission on Higher Education for Virginia in January 2007. The first D.N.P. alumna graduated in fall 2008, as the first in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

About the School of Nursing

The University of Virginia School of Nursing stands among the top 5 percent in the nation, ranked 19th by U.S. News & World Report magazine; two of its graduate programs are currently listed in the U.S. News top 10. With a vigorous research program that includes studies in rural health care and disparities, oncology, gerontology, complementary therapies and nursing history, the school has implemented new programs and strategies to address the national nursing shortage and the concurrent need for more highly educated nurses to deliver increasingly complex health care.

The newly opened Claude Moore Nursing Education Building and upcoming renovation of McLeod Hall allow for an enrollment increase and expansion of the Clinical Simulation Learning Center and the Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry. Dean and Sadie Heath Cabaniss Professor of Nursing Dorrie Fontaine is the former associate dean for academic programs at the University of California San Francisco and a past president of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, the largest specialty nursing organization in the world. For information, visit

— By Hannah Walker