New nursing doctorate program aims to combat primary care shortage

A new initiative in Minnesota's Twin Cities aims to combat the primary care shortage through expanded nursing training, Minnesota Public Radio reports.

The Bentson Foundation, a philanthropic group that concentrates on public health and higher education, will invest $10 million in the University of Minnesota's Doctor of Nursing Practice program, according to the article. The foundation hopes to increase the number of nurses with training in specialties like geriatrics and family medicine. With doctoral degrees, these nurses could diagnose and treat conditions, write prescriptions and, with physician oversight, run primary care practices.

Nurse practitioners can do 60 to 80 percent of what a family physician can, for approximately half the pay. This has led many nursing schools to switch from the two-year master's program to the three-year Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program. The Foundation plans to provide $20,000 scholarships, which covers about a year of the three-year program, in exchange for the university graduating 500 additional advanced practice nurses over the next decade, according to the article.

Traveling nurse Alison Romstad told MPR her doctorate through the program enabled her to transition her department to an electronic medical record (EMR) system. "Within our department we historically were just doing paper notes and a lot of our employees didn't even know what 'right click' meant," she said. "They were phenomenal nurse practitioners but had no computer experience and had no idea how to operate an EMR."

The Foundation initially looked into providing scholarships for family practice physicians, but determined that it was more economical to invest in the nursing program, according to Executive Director Judi Dutcher. "We just felt that we would have a bigger impact through the dollars we could give in terms of educating these really well-qualified nurses," Dutcher told MPR.

There are other benefits as well. A March study published in Health Affairs found that higher levels of education for nurses correlated with lower postsurgical mortality rates, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the article