U.Va. School of Nursing Approved to Offer New Doctoral Program

February 05, 2007

Feb. 5, 2007 -- The University of Virginia School of Nursing is the first nursing school in Virginia to offer a new doctoral program, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).  The DNP is designed to address the need for more highly educated nurses practicing in the country’s increasingly technological health care system.  Nurses who want to pursue doctoral education will choose between a PhD (which is research focused) and a DNP (the highest level of specialty practice); both degrees prepare nurses for positions as nursing faculty.

According to Dr. Jeanette Lancaster, Sadie Heath Cabaniss Professor of Nursing and Dean of the UVA School of Nursing, the first enrollments are planned for Fall 2007.  “Clearly, there is a pent up demand for this doctoral degree.  In the past year, since it became known that UVA was planning to offer the DNP program, over 1,000 inquiries have been received from potential students.“ 

The new DNP degree, which is growing nationwide, is a response to the combination of increasing complexity in the health care system, expansion of scientific knowledge and growing concerns about patient safety and patient outcomes.  It will educate nurses for the highest level of nursing practice with the knowledge and skills to address the problems facing the health care system and to effect change in health care delivery and health policy. 

Dr. Doris Glick, Director of the DNP Program and Director of the UVA School of Nursing’s Master’s Program, expressed delight over the final approval, “The nursing workforce needs nurses with a DNP to provide leadership in a complex health system.  The need for well-educated nursing leaders in healthcare practice and education has never been more acute.” 

Various research studies have demonstrated a correlation between better educated nurses and more favorable patient outcomes. Given the increasing numbers of acutely ill patients and the national demographics of an aging population, more highly educated nurses are urgently needed.  Another compelling force behind this program is the current and worsening nursing faculty shortage that is contributing to the nation’s ongoing nursing shortage. 

The DNP provides recognition for the most advanced level of nursing specialty practice.  As a practice doctorate, it is similar to several other degrees in health disciplines such as psychology (PsyD), pharmacy (PharmD), physical therapy (DPT), social work (DSW) and medicine (MD). 

Several prestigious national health care organizations have called for such a nursing practice doctorate to improve the country’s healthcare system. In a 2005 report, the National Academy of Sciences urged the development of a clinical doctoral degree in nursing similar to the MD and PharmD in medicine and pharmacy.  The Institute of Medicine (IOM) also recommended increased knowledge and skills across services and healthcare delivery settings. In 1999, the IOM issued a comprehensive report on medical errors estimated to cause 44,000 - 98,000 American deaths each year.  Knowledgeable nurses often serve as a “firewall” between patients and medical errors.  The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the national “voice” of America’s nursing education, adopted a position statement in 2004 recommending that nurses practicing at the highest level should receive doctoral level preparation. 

UVA’s new DNP program, based upon the AACN’s curriculum guidelines, is limited to students with a master’s degree in a nursing specialty area from an accredited college or university.  It can be completed in two years of full-time or three years of part-time study.  As Dean Lancaster notes, advanced practice nurses are typically prepared in master’s degree programs, some of which carry a credit load equivalent to doctoral degrees in the other health professions.  The DNP curriculum will build on the master’s programs by also educating in evidence-based practice, quality improvement, and systems thinking, among other key areas. 

The School has been in the vanguard of nursing education for many years.  A pilot Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) master’s program is in its second year and in 2007 will graduate nurses prepared to function at the bedside as a “quarterback” for patients in collaboration with other health care providers to assure continuity of care.  In 1982, UVA was the first nursing school in the state to offer a PhD program, which has since become a “destination” program attracting nursing students from beyond the region.  In 1928, the first baccalaureate nursing program (BSN) in the South began at UVA, the same year the first endowed nursing professorship in the country was established at the School. 

The University of Virginia School of Nursing ranks among the top 10% in the nation; three of its graduate programs are currently listed in US News & World Reports’ Top Ten.  With a vigorous research program that includes studies in rural health care and disparities, oncology, gerontology, complementary therapies and nursing history, the School is ranked 22nd in National Institutes of Health nursing research funding and #1 in the country in doctoral student authored NRSA fellowships.  The School has been innovative in establishing 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. For more information about the UVA School of Nursing and its programs, visit www.nursing.virginia.edu.