The creation of the DNP degree has certainly done one thing for the nurse practitioner profession- cause confusion.  With rumors swirling that MSN programs will be phased out and students uncertain of the purpose of getting their DNP degree, I thought it was time to clear up the confusion by consulting a DNP expert.

Dr. Richard Redman, director of the DNP program at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, graciously agreed to take some time to answer my questions about the nebulous DNP.  Here’s his take on Doctor of Nursing Practice Programs and the purpose of advancing your NP degree.

1. How does the DNP curriculum differ from the MSN curriculum?

Doctor of Nursing Practice is now seen as the preferred terminal degree for advanced practice nurses seeking the highest level of preparation for the demands faced in today’s complex practice environment.  The University of Michigan, for example, currently offers a post-master’s DNP curriculum for nurses who have a Master’s degree in any specialty of nursing.

The Master’s curriculum is the first step of continuing education at the graduate level for BSN prepared RN’s.  The Master’s curriculum varies from the DNP in that courses focus on developing the student’s advanced practice specialty. Students at the Master’s level complete coursework in pathophysiology and pharmacology while focusing on a specific patient population and practice setting.  For example, students specialize in areas such as Adult-Gerontology, Acute Care or Occupational Health.

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In contrast to MSN programs, the DNP has a special focus on leadership and scholarship in translational and implementation science.  Graduates complete the program with a well-rounded portfolio that emphasizes clinical scholarship, innovation, and evidence-based nursing practice with special skills in translating research findings into practice to increase the effectiveness of healthcare delivery.

2. What is a DNP Capstone Project?

DNP candidates prepare a capstone or scholarly project that demonstrates a synthesis of the student’s abilities, lays the groundwork for future practice scholarship, and demonstrates mastery of an advanced practice specialty.  The project is presented and defended much like a dissertation.

3. What benefit will the DNP give program graduates in the “real world” after graduation over the traditional MSN degree?

The Doctor of Nursing Practice Program is practice-focused doctoral program designed to prepare expert nurse clinicians and executive leaders for the highest level of practice to ultimately improve health and healthcare outcomes.  The emphasis is on innovative and evidence-based nursing practice, applying research processes to decision-making, and translating research findings to increase the effectiveness of both direct and indirect patient care outcomes.

4. There seems to be a lot of confusion and ambiguity over the 2015 DNP requirement.  Will the DNP be required in 2015 for NP’s?  If not, when?

This is a common question and there certainly is a lot of confusion around the 2015 date.  When the DNP was advanced by the AACN (American Association of Colleges of Nursing) as the preferred advanced practice preparation for all advanced practice nurses approximately 10 years ago, 2015 was the target date offered by AACN.  In retrospect, that was an “ideal” envisioned by AACN.  As the date draws closer to reality, it is clear that it is still an ideal and not a feasible target date.  In reality, no specialty certification organizations have stated that a DNP degree is required to be eligible to sit for certification exams at this time.  That may change in the future.  Of note, nurse anesthesia has developed a timeline for transition of their Master’s programs to DNP programs by 2022; however, that is the only group that has developed a specific timeline for transition to a DNP.

Putting It All Together

Overall, my takeaway from Dr. Redman’s responses is that a DNP degree helps nurse practitioners implement research and leadership into their work.  The curriculum in a DNP program is not as clinically focused as that of an MSN program but is still geared towards guiding nurse practitioners in their everyday practice.  A big “Thank You” to Dr. Richard Redman for answering our pressing questions about the DNP degree.

Dr. Redman at University of Michigan School of Nursing’s 2013 graduation.

2 thoughts on “Q&A With a DNP Expert”

  1. Hi Erin!

    I was wondering — I understand that if you’re a current NP, you will not need to return for your DNP once (if) if does become the requirement for NPs. How about for NP students? I will hopefully be starting NP school Fall 2016, and therefore completing it around Spring of 2018. If the DNP became a mandate during my time in a direct entry MSN program, would there be some grace towards students that are currently in an MSN program? Or would we simply have to graduate the MSN program and continue on to get DNPs before sitting for the exam?

    Hopefully this question isn’t too specific! I would love to know what your thoughts are on the matter since you have such great knowledge and connections in the NP world. Thanks!

  2. Hi Maggie,

    If you are enrolled in an NP program when the DNP does become a requirement, you will still be allowed to be certified as a nurse practitioner with an MSN. The requirement would only apply to individuals who are not already enrolled in an NP program.

    Hope this helps!

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