Understanding the DNP Curriculum Development Process

Curriculum development is a planned process that relies on commitment and effort—from the faculty, the nursing administration, and the institution. The resulting program of study not only prepares graduates to enter the workforce with specific knowledge and skills, but also provides the philosophical underpinnings, goals, and guidelines for the delivery of the educational program.

Basic Steps of Curriculum Development

1. Define a Mission Statement

This statement outlines the mission and vision (for the future) of the program. In the DNP program, it includes specific elements related to preparing graduates for their roles as advance practice nurses.

2. Design a Program Philosophy

The program philosophy summarizes the faculty’s beliefs about teaching and learning processes; critical thinking, scholarship, research, and evidence-based practice; and other selected concepts, theories, essentials, and standards that define the program.

3. Determine an Organizing Framework

Nursing school curricula generally have one organizing framework that acts as the guide for all levels of degree work and demonstrates the rationale for preparing professional nurses at various levels. This framework establishes the shared vision for the program’s efforts in preparing graduates and is used to organize the curriculum plan.

4. Develop Curriculum Goals/Program Outcomes

The curriculum goals (or program outcomes) define the expectations and competencies of graduates upon completion of the curriculum. These may be stated as end-of-program objectives or student learning outcomes (SLOs).

5. Create the Curriculum Plan

This is the overall program of study. The curriculum for the DNP program must meet the core competencies outlined in the Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice (AACN, 2006).

6. Choose Evaluation Methods

Ongoing evaluation is necessary to ensure that the curriculum meets the original mission, framework, goals, and objectives. This is achieved through data collection.

Processes of Curriculum Development

Currently, academic programs across the country face the challenge of designing curricula that prepare DNP graduates to enter the workforce with new knowledge and skills. Curriculum development for the DNP program, as with other programs, begins at the level of the nursing school’s curriculum committee. A committee/working group structure is usually selected to ensure broad involvement initially, and then smaller working groups are assigned to complete tasks. A critical first step is determining who can provide the leadership to influence people. Effective leaders are persuasive, persistent, and possess the knowledge, skills, and attitudes essential for curriculum development.

Curriculum planning committees and groups seek input and information from varied sources, including published guidelines, accrediting organizations, and the nursing literature. A detailed work plan facilitates achieving the goals in the expected timeframe. Issues in curriculum development include:

  • Faculty development: ensuring faculty have practice or research doctorates in nursing, and expertise in specific teaching areas
  • Financial support and budgetary constraints: gaining institutional buy-in
  • Program resources: ensuring access to mentors or preceptors, practice settings, and financial aid
  • Amount of curricular content: decision making about what to include and what to exclude
  • Informatics and technology: determining the extent to which technology will be used

Getting Your Program Approved by Your Institution

Because of rapid changes in the health care environment, curriculum development and implementation should move forward as quickly as possible to remain current. Once developed, the proposed curriculum must go through an extensive multilevel approval process, involving both internal and external review. Be prepared to allocate up to 1 year for the internal approval process to complete its course.

Typically, proposals for new programs are formal documents, include specific and defined requirements, and must be approved by the institution administration and its governing board. No matter what the individual process, completeness, accuracy, and acceptable institutional formatting are extremely important to navigate all levels of internal curriculum approval.

Getting Your Program Accredited

After all institutional approvals are obtained and the program is initiated, external approvals and accreditation are sought. External approvals and accreditation processes are required to demonstrate the ongoing quality and effectiveness of the program. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accredits DNP programs. To be eligible for CCNE accreditation, programs are required to base their curricula on the AACN Essentials. In addition, programs must have students enrolled for at least 1 year before hosting an on-site evaluation with a self-study submitted prior to the visit (CCNE, 2014). Action on accreditation takes place after a site visit and during the next scheduled CCNE Board of Commissioners meeting.

An institution should notify CCNE as soon as possible when developing a DNP program, and at a minimum within 90 days before or after implementing the program. The institution should specifically demonstrate that the faculty and other resources dedicated to the accredited baccalaureate and/or master’s programs continue to be sufficient in light of the implementation of the DNP program. The notification should also provide an overview of the DNP program, including information about its approval, timeline, point(s) of entry (post-baccalaureate, postmaster’s), curriculum, and resources. In keeping with the foci for DNP programs identified in the DNP Essentials (AACN, 2006), CCNE accredits DNP programs with an advanced practice nursing direct care focus, and aggregate/systems/organizational focus, or both foci. Any new program pursuing initial accreditation by CCNE is eligible for a term of accreditation of up to 5 years (CCNE, 2012).

Since the DNP is a relatively new degree, most programs must also have regional accreditation, as a new degree is considered a substantive change.

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

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