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New pathway offers students a faster option to earn nursing’s highest practice-focused degree

New pathway offers students a faster option to earn nursing’s highest practice-focused degree

A new offering at Virginia Commonwealth University will provide students who have earned a bachelor’s in nursing a streamlined, more affordable way to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, the highest clinical nursing degree.

The State Council of Education for Virginia recently approved the VCU School of Nursing to offer a post-baccalaureate pathway to its Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program, with applications opening this fall.

VCU’s new B.S. to DNP program allows students to take master’s- and doctoral-level courses in the same program to earn their DNP degree faster. Application opens Sept. 1 for enrollment in fall 2022.

Offered in a hybrid in-person and online format, VCU’s B.S. to DNP program prepares nurses to become nurse practitioners or administrators in nursing leadership and organizational science. With this new addition, the DNP program now has two entry points: the new post-bachelor’s pathway designed for registered nurses who have a bachelor’s degree, and the existing post-master’s pathway designed for registered nurses who have a master’s degree. Both tracks prepare nurses to lead change in health care systems to improve patient outcomes. Graduates of the nurse practitioner tracks are eligible to sit for nurse practitioner certification exams.

The B.S. to DNP pathway offers three direct care concentrations — family nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner — and one indirect care concentration — nursing leadership and organizational science. This pathway blends best practices of online and face-to-face instruction to create a convenient schedule for working nurses. The online post-master’s DNP pathway prepares advanced practice nurses to lead change without changing their certification.

“We are excited to offer this new pathway at VCU as it aligns with national trends in nursing education,” said Shelly Smith, DNP, associate professor and director of VCU’s DNP program.

In 2019, nearly 8,000 nurses in the U.S. graduated with DNP degrees, according to the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action. The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties has called for the entry level of practice for nurse practitioners to be at the doctoral level by 2025, Smith said.

“Increasingly, schools of nursing are embracing these calls to prepare more advanced practice nurses to enter the workforce with doctoral degrees,” she said.

This program is one of several in the VCU School of Nursing — including an accelerated B.S. program, an RN to B.S. program and partnerships for accelerated RN to B.S. degrees for area community college students — focused on ensuring greater access to higher levels of education and helping students achieve their career goals faster.

Expanding VCU’s fast-track program offerings represents one piece of a larger effort to provide students additional ways to build the knowledge, skills and abilities they need to advance their careers.

“Today’s health care arena is increasingly complex, and nurses need advanced-level skills to meet market demands,” Smith said. “Doctoral preparation is essential to improving the quality and safety of the health care system.”

The Future of Nursing 2020-2030 report, a National Academy of Medicine initiative focused on the role of nurses in creating a culture of health, reducing health disparities and improving patients’ health and well-being, documents the need for nurses who can collaborate and effectively lead teams. The DNP degree prepares such nurses, Smith said.

VCU School of Nursing’s DNP program is ranked No. 38 among DNP programs nationwide by U.S. News & World Report. The program emphasizes patient safety, quality improvement, leadership, health policy and organizational systems.

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