The Essentials of the DNP Program

In 2006, the AACN published The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice, which detailed the curricular elements and competencies required by all DNP programs. Echoing the IOM’s sentiments, the AACN reconceptualized nursing education to address the increasingly complex needs of a modern healthcare system. These DNP Essentials outline eight foundational competencies that are required of all DNP graduates regardless of specialty:

The Eight Essential Elements

Scientist researching - DNP Essential Element 1: Scientific Underpinnings for Practice

Essential I: Scientific Underpinnings for Practice

The advent of nursing science, specifically middle-range nursing theories, expanded the discipline of nursing. Thorough understanding of nursing theory provides a solid foundation for advanced nursing practice. The DNP degree prepares graduates to integrate nursing science with organization, biophysical, psychological, and analytical sciences (AACN, 2006). Furthermore, this DNP essential underscores the importance of using science-based concepts to evaluate and enhance health care delivery and improve patient outcomes.

Medical professionals in meeting - DNP Essential Element 2: Organizational and Systems Leadership for Quality Improvement

Essential II: Organizational and Systems Leadership for Quality Improvement

Doctor of nursing practice graduates uniquely contribute to nursing science by evaluating, translating, and disseminating research into practice. This essential emphasizes the DNP graduate’s role in assimilating nursing science and practice with the complex needs of humankind (AACN, 2006). Key skills include the development of clinical practice guidelines, designing evidence-based interventions, and evaluating practice outcomes.

Two nurses talking - DNP Essential Element 3: Clinical Scholarship and Analytical Methods for Evidence-Based Practice

Essential III: Clinical Scholarship and Analytical Methods for Evidence-Based Practice

Preparation in organizational leadership and systems level thinking enables DNP clinicians to create unique approaches to the complex issues facing modern health care. This DNP essential focuses on a DNP graduates role in assuring accountability of quality care and patient safety as well as critically examining ethical dilemmas inherent in patient care, health care organizations, and scientific research (AACN, 2006). Advanced education in systems leadership ensures that doctors of nursing practice possess the skills to facilitate meaningful organization-wide changes in health care delivery, and to interface with government officials to shape initiatives in the health care agenda.

Nurse consulting records on laptop - DNP Essential Element 4: Information Systems/Technology and Patient Care Technology for the Improvement and Transformation of Health Care

Essential IV: Information Systems/Technology and Patient Care Technology for the Improvement and Transformation of Health Care

Technology is at the center of safe, efficient, patient-centered care. This essential prepares doctors of nursing practice to utilize information and patient care technologies to support practice leadership and clinical decision making. Deep understanding of technology places the DNP at the forefront of healthcare delivery and equips them with the skills to participate in technological innovation, evaluate the appropriateness of healthcare consumer information, and participate in resulting legal and ethical issues (AACN, 2006).

Professionals in a meeting - DNP Essential Element 5: Health Care Policy for Advocacy in Health Care

Essential V: Health Care Policy for Advocacy in Health Care

To engage actively in health care policy, the DNP graduate must learn to identify problems within the health care delivery system and to spearhead legislation through negotiating and consensus building (Dreher & Glasgow, 2010). This essential focuses on critically analyzing health policy with the goal of advocating for social justice and the nursing profession as a whole.

Two nurses consulting - DNP Essential Element 6: Inter-professional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes

Essential VI: Inter-Professional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes

The IOM defends the necessity of team-based care for the safety and wellbeing of all patients (IOM, 2001). This essential prepares DNP graduates to lead inter-professional teams in the analysis of multifaceted practice and systems issues through effective communication and collaborative skills (AACN, 2006). Doctors of nursing practice take a leadership role in development and implementation of practice models, standards or care, and other scholarly projects.

Globe with stethoscope - DNP Essential Element 7: Clinical Prevention and Population Health for Improving the Nation's Health

Essential VII: Clinical Prevention and Population Health for Improving the Nation’s Health

Nursing theory has its foundation in health promotion and risk reduction; however, the DNP degree further prepares graduates to evaluate and interpret epidemiological, biostatistical, occupational, and environmental information imperative to improving the health of both individuals and communities. This essential also equips doctors of nursing practice with the skills to synthesize the psychosocial dimensions and cultural impacts related to population health.

Nurse at patient's bedside - DNP Essential Element 8: Advanced Nursing Practice

Essential VIII: Advanced Nursing Practice

With the goal of improving patient outcomes, the doctor of nursing practice demonstrates advanced levels of clinical judgement, systems thinking, and delivery of evidence-based care (AACN, 2006). This essential focuses on conducting comprehensive needs assessments, mentoring other nurses, and guiding patients through complex situational transitions.

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

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