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Is the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree Right for You?

We recently sat down with Michelle DeCoux Hampton, PhD, RN, Associate Professor and Interim Director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program at Samuel Merritt University (SMU), to learn more about the online DNP degree. The SMU DNP program provides an advanced educational credential for those who do not need or want a research-focused degree.

What are some of the benefits of earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree (DNP)? 

An individual with a DNP-level education will be in an ideal position to transform the health care delivery system by applying evidence-based practice to the clinical care of individuals, families, and communities. In contrast to a PhD in which the goal is to generate new knowledge, the goal of the DNP is to move research from academia to practice settings in a more efficient manner than previously possible. For their capstone projects, DNP students work closely with faculty and mentors to implement best practices in clinical care and are able to see the immediate impact of their efforts on the quality of care provided in their chosen settings. An individual with a DNP doctoral-level education will be able to design programs of care delivery that are effective, acceptable to patients and care providers, and economically feasible. They will also be able to develop needed advanced competencies for increasingly complex clinical and leadership roles: global health care, genetics, and biomedical advances.

If you have to have a master’s degree before entering a DNP program, what kind of advantages does that present?
With a master’s degree, you have likely completed more clinical hours than other health professionals at the same level of preparation. The hours that you completed in your master’s program can be applied toward the 1,000-hour clinical residency requirement for a DNP degree. Many programs are online and can be completed while the student continues to work full- or part-time. Students entering with a master’s degree can complete a DNP program within two calendar years. DNP students must have a current RN licensure in state of residence.

Are all SMU DNP students currently practicing nurses?
Admission requirements vary from program to program, so it is best to check for specific requirements with your program of interest. Minimum standards will likely include: an active RN license, a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in Nursing, and often a recent statistics course.

What is the biggest challenge for students for this online program?
The three most common challenges that I hear about from my students are:
1. Getting accustomed to an online learning environment:
For any student returning to school for an advanced degree after many years in the workforce, the adjustment can take some time. Adapting to a new learning modality also can feel overwhelming for many at first. Fortunately, there is a lot of support. At Samuel Merritt University, for example, we have a full-time employee dedicated to technical support for students and faculty. We offer student orientation and tutorials for our learning management system prior to the beginning of the program. Also faculty are very involved with the students as a group and individually. Some students enter the program with the misconception that online courses don’t involve much interaction between students and faculty and that is not the case at all.
2. Workload management:
A graduate degree of any kind requires taking our current knowledge as practitioners and going deeper. This requires more time and effort than what we might be accustomed to in undergraduate work. Furthermore, nurses in graduate programs are often working either full- or part-time while enrolled in school. In order to be successful, students must learn to manage their time well, enlist the support of partners, family, and friends to assist with home and childcare responsibilities that they might have previously handled on their own, and expect to dedicate many hours to their studies. It’s challenging work, but so rewarding in the end!
3. Cost:
The cost of doctoral education can be a deterrent, but often the time spent searching for funding opportunities can yield substantial benefits. Students who are interested in a DNP degree should investigate some of the following resources before deciding that it’s out of reach:
• Nursing websites such as discovernursing.com and choosenursing.com have scholarship search engines that allow you to search by program type.
• Private organizations interested in promoting DNP education post scholarship information on their websites such as: Nurses Education Funds, Inc., Doctors of Nursing Practice Online Community, and the Jonas Center for Nursing Excellence.
• Check the local and national professional organizations for your specialty.
• Find out about education benefits from your employer.
• Contact the financial aid department at your institution of choice.

Why would you recommend nurses get a DNP degree?
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing issued a position statement that it has as a goal to transition all advanced practice nursing programs from the master's to the DNP degree by 2015. While there were many reasons for this recommendation, one of the foremost was for advanced practice nurses to develop competencies needed for increasingly more complex health conditions and to prepare for faculty and leadership roles.

Click here to read the FAQs about the Samuel Merritt University DNP program.