Barriers prevent complete shift from master's to doctor of nursing practice degrees

Nursing schools made progress in transitioning to the practice doctorate and the importance of the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in preparing people for advanced nursing practice, according to a study by the RAND Corporation released by the American Association of Colleges of Nurses (AACN).

The movement started in 2004 when schools affiliated with AACN called for preparation for advanced practice nursing through a doctorate degree rather than a master's by 2015. However many nursing schools face barriers when it comes to transitioning away from the master's degree to fully adopting DNP, according to the study.

The study found that more than 250 nursing schools across the country offer DNP programs, preparing students to serve as nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, certified registered nurse anesthetists and certified nurse midwives, however, the master's degree remain dominant. Last year, AACN reported that enrollment in master's programs has ballooned to 67 percent over a five-year period and admission to practice-focused doctorates rose a whopping 955 percent, according to FierceHealthcare.

About 65 percent of schools with BSN-DPN programs also offer master's-level APRN programs, according to the study. However, many employers don't know the difference between master's degree nurses and DNP nurses, and must be educated regarding the benefits of hiring a DNP-prepared nurse.

Other barriers toward DNP programs include lack of nursing faculty, budget concerns, insufficient clinical sites and resources associated with overseeing DNP projects, according to the study. The AACN must illustrate the benefits of DNPs in patient care to employers, and share success stories of nursing schools that overcame barriers to move to a DNP program, according the study.

"AACN is fully committed to advancing solutions and creative ways to mitigate the challenges facing schools wishing to offer the DNP as well as to educating employers and students about the benefits of the practice doctorate to systems innovation and, more importantly, patient care," AACN President Eileen T. Breslin said in an announcement.

To learn more:
- here's the study (.pdf)
- read the announcement