School establishing independent DNP fall 2016

Changes in profession mean three UA System schools must move to separate programs from successful eight-year Joint DNP partnership
By Jimmy Creed

For the past eight years, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Nursing has collaborated with the University of Alabama System's two other nursing schools -- the University of Alabama Capstone College of Nursing, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville College of Nursing -- to offer a highly successful Joint Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program that has put thousands of doctorally prepared nurses into practice across Alabama and the nation. Due to recent trends in the profession, the three schools will soon begin offering separate DNP programs.

Like most new DNP programs at the time, the Joint DNP Program was a Post-Master’s of Science in Nursing (PMSN) to DNP program. However, since the establishment of the DNP, nursing leaders have advocated for advanced practice nurses, including nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and nursing health system administrators, to be educated at the doctoral rather than the master’s level as part of nursing’s efforts to ensure a highly educated nursing workforce.  

Also, a growing movement among schools of nursing nationwide has been to establish Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to DNP pathways to allow a seamless progression from completion of a baccalaureate degree to advanced practice specialty training at the doctoral level to address the growing complexity of patient care and health care systems, and the expanding accountability of clinically expert nurses in advanced practice roles that requires competencies in population-based care, leadership, health policy, health system improvement, research and evidence-based practice.  

To accomplish both of these, the UAB School of Nursing, the University of Alabama Capstone College of Nursing in Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama in Huntsville College of Nursing each needed to be able to establish independent DNP programs.

Thanks to the work of Charles Nash, EdD, Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs for The University of Alabama System, UAB President Ray Watts, MD, and Provost Linda Lucas, PhD, and tremendous collaboration among the presidents, provosts and deans of all three campuses, each school has begun to develop independent DNP programs.

“The joint DNP program has truly helped our schools form bonds and relationships across faculty on the three campuses that have been vital in continuing to address health care status issues in Alabama and beyond,” Dean and Fay B. Ireland Endowed Chair in Nursing Doreen C. Harper, PhD, RN, FAAN, said. “This autonomy will allow each of the campuses to develop to their fullest potential in terms of allowing both the BSN-to-DNP and the PMSN pathways which will produce the future expert advanced practice nurse for our state and the nation.”  

The three schools of nursing will continue to partner on relevant initiatives, but the new structure allows each school the flexibility to accommodate the increasing demand for the BSN to DNP pathway for advanced practice nursing education.

“We are receiving increasing numbers of inquiries from nurses asking when we are going to open a BSN to DNP pathway,’” Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Linda Moneyham, PhD, RN, FAAN, said. “The demand for the BSN-to-DNP pathway will continue to grow as nurses increasingly recognize that the DNP will become the degree required for advanced practice nursing in the future. The DNP-prepared advanced practice nurse is going to be best suited to provide expert care and leadership in our future health care system.”

Another factor in the School’s need to chart its own course in this area is because of national accreditation standards that will now require the DNP degree for entry into practice for nurse anesthetists.   

After 2015, The Council for Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs no longer accredits MSN-degree programs for nurse anesthesia. Also, effective Jan. 1, 2022, nurse anesthesia students accepted into accredited entry-level programs will be required to graduate with doctoral degrees.

“One of the things that really propelled us to establish the BSN-to-DNP pathway at the UAB School of Nursing was our nurse anesthesia specialty track,” Harper said. “We needed to be sure our nurse anesthesia track, the state’s only publicly funded program of its kind, could be accredited in the future, and to do that we had to establish the BSN-to-DNP pathway. That really accelerated the need for this transition for us.”

While the School can now begin in earnest to put the BSN-to-DNP pathway in place, it will continue to offer the same high-quality PMSN-to-DNP pathway for those students already enrolled and those who simply prefer that route to an advanced practice degree.

The School admitted its last Joint DNP program cohort this summer, and it will take up to four years for those students to complete their degrees; once those students have all graduated, the Joint DNP program will officially close. Fall semester 2016 will mark the opening of the School’s independent DNP program, which will include both the MSN-to-DNP pathway and the BSN-to-DNP pathway. The transition to the BSN-to-DNP pathway will be staged to incrementally implement the various advanced practice specialty tracks. The first specialty track that will be implement in the BSN-to-DNP pathway will be the Family Nurse Practitioner specialty, with 20 students to enter the pathway in Fall 2016. The School’s other advanced practice specialty tracks will be integrated into the BSN-to-DNP pathway throughout 2017 and 2018.

“We want to assure everyone that we will continue to educate advanced practice nurses at the Master’s program level as well as offer the MSN-to-DNP pathway for the foreseeable future in order to meet the state’s growing need for advanced practice nurses. At the current time, the master’s degree in nursing remains a very viable option for many nurses to achieve an advanced practice specialization,” Moneyham said. “We are vested in providing multiple pathways for people to enter nursing and obtain an advanced education.”

Estimates are that nationwide more than 125 nursing programs have restructured or are in the process of restructuring their MSN-to-DNP programs and integrate content from those into BSN-to-DNP pathways. Harper lauded the support of Nash, Watts, Lucas and all the administrators involved for recognizing the importance of such restructuring to the future of all three UA System institutions.

“Dr. Charles Nash has been highly committed in the amount of time, effort and care he has put into bringing this about,” Harper said. “I also think we should name Dr. Lucas an honorary DNP. She has been right by our side every step of the way, and Dr. Watts, too.

“They knew this was the right thing to do, and it was their support that helped drive an agenda I believe is good for the whole system.”

Harper and Moneyham agree that this change signals an exciting time for the School and for the future of nursing as whole.

“This independent DNP is going to be transformative for our graduate program,” Harper said. “It is going to be exciting to watch it grow and develop here. I firmly believe it will only add value to our preparation of advanced practice nurses within our region, our state and beyond.”
Last modified on June 17, 2016

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