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The Future of Nursing

by Rodney Tanaka

February 5, 2010

Read 3 mins

The nursing profession is experiencing a revolution in doctoral-level education, which will play a critical role in shaping the future of health care.

That was one of the many themes and ideas discussed at the 2010 DNP/PhD Nursing Conference

Celebrating the Highest Level of Nursing Education, hosted by the College of Graduate Nursing at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona on Feb. 5, 2010.

The conference attracted about 300 guests, including representatives from all 11 doctoral-level nursing programs at nine California universities. C. Fay Raines, PhD, RN, president of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, gave the keynote address.

Among the challenges facing health care are the growing burden of chronic disease, failure to provide appropriate care, fragmented care and poor coordination and unaffordable health insurance, she said.

“Any rethinking of health care is by necessity linked to rethinking nursing and nursing education,” Raines said. “The nursing profession is the critical link in providing safe delivery of high-quality patient-centered health care.”

Health care reform will open up new opportunities – as well as many new responsibilities – for nurses, Raines said.

“It’s our responsibility to have the best-educated nurses in the workforce meeting that challenge,” she said. “The world is changing, and we need to be proactive. Creating the future is about producing the most competent nursing clinicians and researchers to assure that this country’s health care needs are met. It’s about the patient; it is not about the provider.”

Understanding the complexity of care requires new knowledge and skills, Raines said. To meet these health care needs, many more colleges are offering doctorates in nursing.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recently reported DNP programs account for the largest portion of growth in enrollment in nursing doctoral programs and doctorally-prepared graduates. In 2005, there were nine DNP programs; five years later, in 2010, there are 102 nationwide, with 100 more under development (AACN, 2010). The number of research-focused programs, such as PhD programs in nursing, increased a little more than 4 percent over the same period of time.

“These are unprecedented times in doctoral nursing,” said conference chair Ellen Daroszewski, PhD, APRN, professor and director of the DNP program at the College of Graduate Nursing. “We are in the midst of a doctoral education revolution.”

Among the topics of discussion was whether a PhD is more revered than a DNP degree.

“One shouldn’t be better than the other,” said Karen Hanford, MSN, FNP, EdD, Dean of the College of Graduate Nursing. “You should choose the program that meets your needs. We need to value all to move forward.”

The goals of the conference were to enhance dialogue, discussion and debate about doctoral level nursing, build capacity, and strengthen the doctoral-level nursing community in California.

The conference also tackled the integration of doctoral-level nursing practice, specifically the DNP, by the California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) in the Nursing Practice Act of California. Effective in 2015, the DNP degree and doctoral entry into advanced practice nursing for nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives will be mandatory.

Less than 1 percent of registered nurses are trained at a doctoral level, and less than one-half of 1 percent have a doctorate in the discipline of nursing, based on data from a 2004 national survey of registered nurses conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

Studies have shown that patient outcomes improve at hospitals with a higher percentage of highly-educated nurses, Raines said.

“If someone in my family is critically ill, I want the best-educated nurse possible taking care of that person,” she said. “The nursing profession wants that for all patients.”

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