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What is the Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree (DNP)
When I started in nursing I told my first semester nursing professor that I was interested in nursing as a stepping-stone to becoming a medical doctor. I remember that she smiled, and commented that perhaps I should consider medicine as a stepping-stone to nursing. I have been on an educational journey since. I am on the verge of becoming a doctor, although not in medicine as I had originally thought. I will soon receive a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, a relatively new degree designed in 2006. This degree is intended to meet a gap in nursing education. Historically many nurses who desired a terminal degree in nursing pursued a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in nursing. A PhD degree is largely focused on teaching and research. Nursing is a practice and should also have a professional practice doctorate. Although there have been other types of doctorate degrees for nurses, the DNP is the latest to address the need to prepare nurses for a higher level of practice.
Reasons for Obtaining the Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree (DNP)
There are several reasons nurses pursue a DNP. Some desire the recognition, career advancement, the ability to influence, and others simply enjoy being “life-long” students and the DNP is the next level of education. For myself, these are all true. I considered pursuing a doctorate for several years. I investigated the Education Doctorate (EdD) and a Juris Doctorate has always been attractive. Pursuing a PhD in nursing was also an option, however I did not find much interest in being so heavily focused on research. What it came down to was finding something that fit my interests as well as allowed me to continue to work and balance my family life. I found a DNP program with a focus on Executive Leadership that fit all of these requirements. The program is rigorous, and covers a variety of topics related to the modern leadership demands in the healthcare industry.
What can you do with a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree (DNP)
My hope is to apply my new credentials in a manner that will work towards positively influencing nursing practice. I may do this as an adjunct professor or working with the Board of Registered Nursing to refine best nursing practices. Certainly the opportunities to continue to publish and be involved in my professional organizations are other pathways. However, the important thing to remember is that a nurse can do these things without a doctorate. The doctorate simply states what all degrees communicate, that the person has met the minimum requirements related to a standardized curriculum. Of course, applying the new knowledge in “real-life” is key to advancing personally and professionally.
Should Nurses Obtain a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree (DNP)
Would I counsel an emerging or established nurse leader to pursue a DNP? Yes. However, I would first encourage my colleagues to perform a sincere self-assessment to determine why a doctorate is important to them and what they hope to accomplish with a DNP degree. There is, or at least should be, a different level of responsibility for those prepared at the doctorate level. This responsibility includes an obligation to give back to the practice, to shape the future, and define the present.
Are Doctors of Nursing Practice Doctors or Registered Nurses
And lastly, how will I refer to myself once the DNP is completed? I am and will continue to be a Registered Nurse. Medical Doctors have the culturally designated role as the “Doctor” and there is no sense in confusing patients or other healthcare colleagues by stating that I am a Doctor. Certainly in formal settings I will use the traditional convention, Dr. Fish, but likely I will prefer to use my first name and as appropriate introduce myself as a registered nurse (RN). I will follow the model set by my other doctorate colleagues in healthcare, such as PharmDs who refer to themselves as pharmacists or doctors of pharmacy depending on the setting.
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