Online Doctor of Nurse Practitioner Program Makes the Grade with SMU Students

Appeared in: Nurse Together

By: Elizabeth Valente

Since January, Reena Haymond, MSN, FNP, and Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing, has been juggling parent duties, teaching a FNP program, and now adds 'student' in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program to her busy schedule. 

"It's a lot of work, but I am glad I am doing it," said Haymond.  She is one of ten students who are taking the first DNP online program at Samuel Merritt University (SMU). 

According to Scot Foster, PhD, SMU Academic Vice President and Provost, the focus of the DNP degree is leadership.  He adds that the degree would be valuable for someone in nursing education, administration, or advanced practice.  "It's intended for nurses who want to enhance their ability to make effective changes in a variety of healthcare delivery settings, as well as those with a commitment to improving healthcare outcomes via evidence-based practice, policy change, and the application of research," said Dr. Foster. 

The DNP program is open to master's prepared registered nurses.  It is a 36-credit online program designed to accommodate students who plan to continue to work in their practice setting while pursuing full-time doctoral study. 

"It was an important next step for the School of Nursing to develop this program," says Cecily Cosby, PhD, Professor and DNP Director.  "The DNP is aligned with the mission of the University.  It coincides with the urgent need for healthcare reform, and the Institute of Medicine recommendation to maximally utilize the training and skills of nurses.  It will allow us to better serve the community with nurses prepared for the challenges ahead."

Since starting the program all DNP faculty, staff, and students, except one student based in Chicago, met up for the first time on February 26 at a restaurant in Jack London Square for a 'meet and greet' dinner.

Marc Code, C.R.N.A., M.S.N., SMU Assistant Professor and the Associate Director in the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthesia (CRNA) program, credits faculty expertise, student partnerships, and University resources provided to students as reasons why he chose to enter the DNP program.  "As a full-time faculty member and practicing clinician I have found that the program is totally "doable" with an ounce of discipline, determination, and three ounces of zest for learning," explains Code. 

Erin Matsuda, PNP-BC BSN MSN, DNP student, says she was familiar with the University and faculty, but it was the flexibility of being an online course that led her decision to pursue DNP at SMU.  "If the program was not 93 percent online, I would have not been able to go back to school because I work Monday through Friday.  With the program being asynchronous, I can complete my school work in the evening or on the weekends."

Increasingly, advanced practice nursing roles require doctoral degrees, according to recommendations from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).  From 2008 to 2009, the number of students enrolled in DNP programs increased from 3415 to 5165. 

"Employers are quickly recognizing the unique contribution these expert nurses are making in the practice arena, and the demand for DNP-prepared nurses continues to grow," says Dr. Cosby.  According to the 2009 salary survey conducted by ADVANCE for Nurse Practitioners magazine, the annual earning potential for DNP-prepared NPs is $7,688 more than master's-prepared NPs.

Also, as colleges and universities across California work to enroll and graduate more new nurses, the need for doctorally prepared practitioners and faculty is also growing.  According to the National Academy of Science (2005), this need could be met with the new, non-research clinical doctorate.

Code supports the recommendations.  "I have found that the DNP courses have opened my mind to a new way of thinking and in a new way of life.  I now understand that life-long learning will benefit the learner and all that come in contact with that learner as they contribute to making the world a better place."

"I also agree," said Haymond.  "Being immersed in my doctoral program and plans for my capstone has really shed light on the bigger picture of nursing and its potential impact on health and health policy.  I strongly feel that doctoral education will prepare us to be active participants in the future of medicine."

According to the 2010 AACN DNP Report, 120 DNP programs are currently enrolling students at schools of nursing nationwide, and an additional 161 DNP programs are in the planning stages.  DNP programs are now available in 36 states.  There are five DNP programs in California:  Loma Linda University, University of San Diego, University of San Francisco, Western University of Health Sciences, and Samuel Merritt University.


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