College of Graduate Nursing officials at Western University of Health Sciences on Thursday announced that the Doctor of Nursing Practice program received final approval, the first in Southern California.

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree represents a shift in the profession as advanced practice nurses transition from earning master’s degrees to doctoral degrees. The winners will be patients.

“DNP graduates will be prepared to make systems change in our health care systems,” said Karen Hanford, founding dean of the College of Graduate Nursing. “Nursing scholars, researchers and clinical experts will indirectly and directly improve patient care. Many acute care facilities in our region are utilizing doctorally-prepared nurses to advance clinical and translational research in their institutions.”

The DNP program was approved by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges on Oct. 23, 2007. The charter class of 20 students will begin in January and CGN is accepting applications. Full-time students will complete the program in two years. 

The college already has 15 applications and more than 100 potential students on the interest list, said Dr. Ellen Daroszewski, director of the DNP program.

The College of Graduate Nursing’s DNP program’s clinical focus will be on the care of vulnerable populations, which is unique among nursing programs in this country, she said.

A vulnerable population is a population that has some risk for disease but lacks resources to decrease the risk or confront that disease, Daroszewski said. Nurse practitioners often work in poor communities with people who are not adequately served by other providers, she said.

“There is a dramatic need to address these huge gaps in care,” Daroszewski said.

The DNP program is the first to be offered in Southern California.

“The DNP program will enhance the visibility of our college in our region and our state,” Hanford said. “As the first DNP program in Southern California we have an opportunity to prepare faculty and future leaders for our profession.”

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing adopted a mandate that preparation for advanced practice specialization in nursing should occur at the doctoral level by 2015. Advanced practice nurses – clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife and nurse practitioner – will be required to have doctoral preparation.

Over the years, requirements for the profession of nursing have evolved, consistent with needs of the health care environment, said Robert Rosseter, associate executive director of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in Washington, D.C.

“Transforming health care delivery recognizes the critical need for clinicians to design, evaluate and continuously improve the context within which care is delivered,” Rosseter said. “Nurses prepared at the doctoral level with a blend of clinical, organizational, economic and leadership skills will significantly impact health care outcomes.”

People who get the opportunity to advance their education are often transformed by that opportunity for the better, said Christina Bivona-Tellez, BSN, MPH, regional vice president of the Hospital Association of Southern California for Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

“Any time someone goes on to get an advanced degree, it better prepares them to identify, analyze and put forth effective solutions or interventions to the issues they’re confronted with,” she said. “You also are with a credential then shoulder-to-shoulder with other highly-prepared professionals.”

But training nurses on the doctoral level should not overshadow other educational levels, she said.

“Not everyone is ready to go on for a doctorate,” Bivona-Tellez said. “We want to work on different levels. We need to respect those differences.”

Providing the option to earn advanced degrees helps retain people in a profession over time with additional opportunities for higher learning and career advancement, said John Husing, PhD, founder and vice president of Redlands, Calif.-based Economics & Politics, Inc., an economic research firm that focuses on the Inland Empire.

“No question the Inland Empire in particular has a need,” he said. “We are understaffed in this area in terms of nurses, and the higher quality you have, first of all the better (nurses are) going to be paid, and the better level of care you’re going to be able to provide.”

Offering the DNP program is the College of Graduate Nursing’s first step in converting its Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program to the doctoral level. By 2015, students who enter the college with a baccalaureate degree will finish the FNP program with a doctorate instead of a master’s degree.

Nurses who already have earned doctorates in nursing primarily earned PhDs and were prepared as researchers, Daroszewski said. The DNP program will develop clinicians who will be able to understand and apply nursing science to decision making in practice.

“It will put nursing in a unique position in the near future with doctorally prepared nurses able to both generate science through research and then apply the science in practice,” Daroszewski said. “I and other researchers will be able to test hypotheses and disseminate our findings to clinicians who will know exactly how to apply what was found.”

For more information about the Doctor of Nursing Practice program, e-mail edaroszewski@westernu.edu.

The College of Graduate Nursing is celebrating its 10th anniversary with an Open House and tours on Wednesday, Nov. 7 from 10 a.m. to noon, open to everyone on campus. Clinical simulation demonstrations and tours of the Nursing Science Center will be featured. Enter to win a variety of gifts including gift cards to local businesses, movie tickets and more. Tours of the Simulation Lab begin in Swift Hall, University Research Center. CGN will also hold invitation-only tours, an open house program featuring honorees Bobbie Stahl and Marion Kramer and guest speaker Tricia Hunter, MN, RN, Executive Director of the American Nurses Association California, a reception and CGN Advisory Board meeting in the afternoon.

For more information, call the College of Graduate Nursing at (909) 469-5523.