How to Build Your DNP Program

Creating a new DNP program can be a challenging endeavor. Before beginning, it is important to review the key publications that drove the development of this pioneering degree:

  1. To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System (IOM, 2000)
  2. Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century (IOM, 2001)
  3. Health Professions Education: A Bridge to Quality (IOM, 2003)
  4. AACN Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing (AACN, 2004)
  5. The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice (AACN, 2006).

Other key considerations when developing a DNP program include:

Key Considerations for Building Your Program

Distinguish the PhD vs. DNP

Both a PhD and a DNP share difficult expectations (AACN, 2006). Both are considered terminal degrees in the nursing discipline, yet there are distinct differences. A PhD program prepares nurses to conduct original research, while a DNP program prepares advanced practice nurses to translate this research into practice. Nurses with a PhD typically contribute to health care initiatives by discovering new knowledge, whereas an advanced practice nurse with a DNP contributes to health care improvement through practice, policy change, technological innovation, and/or executive leadership.

Differentiate BSN-to-DNP from MSN-to-DNP

For nurse practitioner students entering with a BSN, the DNP curriculum must also incorporate the population-focused competencies published by the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF). In addition to the NONPF competencies, the AACN also requires that BSN-to-DNP graduates pass advanced distinct courses in physical assessment, pathophysiology, and pharmacology. For MSN-to-DNP curriculum, students have already met the NONPF competencies; therefore, their program must focus more directly on the AACN DNP Essentials. In these programs, faculty must be cognizant that the courses be at a doctoral level and not a repeat of the master’s degree. The sample curriculum below focuses on MSN-to-DNP programs.

Fulfill Each DNP Essential

The AACN necessitates that DNP programs meet the core competencies outlined in The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice; however, there does not need to be a separate course for each of the eight DNP Essentials (AACN, 2006). Nursing faculty have the freedom to creatively weave these Essentials through different types of courses.

Consider Program Length

While the number of credit hours required vary by institution, states, and accrediting bodies, the AACN recommends that BSN-to-DNP program be completed over 36 months of full time study including summers (AACN, 2004). On the other hand, MSN-to-DNP programs should be a minimum of 12 months of full time study (AACN, 2004). The AACN notes that these MSN-to-DNP programs should be efficient and avoid any duplication of prior master’s curriculum.

Incorporate Practice Experiences

The AACN requires that DNP programs include a minimum of 1,000 hours of post-baccalaureate practice experiences (AACN, 2004). These hours should be tailored to the DNP focus area of choice, and serve to help students achieve the learning objectives outlined the DNP Essentials (AACN, 2006).

Define the DNP Project

At the conclusion of the DNP program, students are required to develop a specific project that demonstrates their expertise and lays the groundwork for future scholarship. The final DNP project is a concrete academic product that exemplifies the graduate’s growth in knowledge and critical thinking. Examples of acceptable projects include manuscripts, systematic reviews, research utilization project, practice topic dissemination, or a substantive involvement in a larger endeavor.

Written by Melissa DeCapua, DNP, PMHNP; www.melissadecapua.com

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