The DNP Project: What Is It Exactly and Why Is It Necessary?

The DNP Project: What Is It Exactly and Why Is It Necessary?

Anyone who is in a DNP program already knows about the final DNP project. But if you’re thinking about pursuing a DNP, you need to know more about it.

Stephen Ferrara, DNP, FNP, FAANP, FNAP, Associate Dean, Clinical Affairs & Associate Professor, Columbia University School of Nursing; Editor in Chief, Journal of Doctoral Nursing Practice; and Executive Director, The Nurse Practitioner Association New York State, took time to answer our questions about the final DNP project (also known as the capstone project—please note that these terms will be used interchangeable in this story). What follows is an edited version of our interview.

For those who don’t have a DNP and may not know what the DNP project is, please explain what it is and why it’s necessary.

Completion of a final DNP project or capstone in doctoral programs is intended to demonstrate the students’ synthesis of knowledge gained during the program. DNP students should be familiar with AACN’s Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice since most, if not all, DNP programs are expected to adhere to this document.

In essence, the faculty utilize the final project as means of evaluating whether the student has developed mastery of the concepts within the students’ course of doctoral study. The final project must show an improve to clinical practice and/or patient outcomes.

How long do nursing students usually spend on their projects? What are they expected to accomplish?

Projects vary in length but are generally 1-1 1/2 years. Some examples of final DNP projects include a quality improvement initiative or other clinical practice change such as a pilot study, implementation and evaluation of a new practice model with scholarly dissemination in the forms of manuscripts for peer-review submission. 

When they embark on these projects, what should DNP nursing students keep in mind to help things go smoothly?

One of my mentors would remind me that the final project was not meant to be my “life’s work.” In other words, the application of the final project needed to be transferrable. The education and skills we learned could be applied to different clinical issues, populations, and settings. The project needed to stay on a reasonable timeline so that it could be completed. This concept differs somewhat from PhD studies, where students typically focus on a specialty and continue throughout their career. Also, PhD dissertations can last through many semesters. Finally, strong organizational skills are essential since there are many inter-related parts that need to be coordinated to ensure success.

What are the biggest challenges for nursing students in completing their projects?

I would say that there are two main challenges: 1. Having too broad or too ambitious of a project and 2. Not adhering to timelines. This can jeopardize the entire project.

If a student is having issues with his/her project, what should they do?

DNP students need to regularly meet and communicate with their faculty advisors. Advisors should help students navigate through unanticipated challenges, bureaucratic delays, and unexpected results. Other DNP graduates or mentors can also students with some issues they may encounter. “Crowd sourcing” through social media may also help students with general issues they may encounter.

What else should nursing students—and nurses who don’t have and aren’t yet pursuing a DNP, but might in the future—know about the DNP final project?

Doctoral work in any discipline is synthesizing information. Final DNP projects tend to take existing high-level evidence and implement or apply to different practice setting rather than creating new evidence as is done with the PhD.

In addition, DNP work should not end with the final project. The expectation is for DNP graduates to continue contributing to the scholarly application and dissemination on their work throughout their careers. I encourage anyone wanting to see examples of this scholarly work to visit the Journal of Doctoral Nursing Practice (JDNP) website or check with their institutions’ library.

Nursing Side Gigs: Healthcare 911

Nursing Side Gigs: Healthcare 911

This is part of a monthly series about side gigs—nurses with interesting side jobs or hobbies. This month, we spotlight the host of Healthcare 911.


For the last four decades, Gail Trauco, RN, BSN-OCN, a grief mediator as well as the CEO of The PharmaKon LLC and Front Porch Therapy in Atlanta, Georgia, has worked in health care as a nurse and patient advocate. In 2015, though, she began to incorporate appearances on television on morning news and talk shows nationwide into her advocacy work.

Gail Trauco, RN, BSN-OCN

By the end of 2016, Trauco says that she had appeared on more than 60 morning news and talk shows across the country including ABC, CBS, the CW, FOX, and NBC.

That’s where she came up with the idea for Healthcare 911—three- to six-minute segments that take a look at specific health conditions and related solutions. Because of her longtime association with leading hospitals, university medical programs, and health care providers, Trauco says that she is uniquely qualified to bring this information to viewers.

Trauco writes and oversees the production of all of these segments, which now reach as many as 145 million homes in 210 cities nationwide. Viewers can see Healthcare 911 on its weekly spot on The Daily Flash TV show.

In 2019, Healthcare 911 won a Bronze Telly Award for Social Awareness, showing that it’s making a difference says Trauco.

Trauco has helped more than 5,000 families through health challenges. “My exposure to innovative treatments and continued involvement in clinical research allows me to provide a 360-degree view of what’s available in health care today,” she says.

Healthcare 911 features medical professionals as well as leading-edge healing protocols that can help millions of Americans. Guests on the segments represent various health care areas—from leading physicians and clinical trial experts to innovative product inventors and pharmaceutical companies.

“Healthcare 911 viewers will feel empowered to help themselves or a loved one more forward with new health care options and treatment,” says Trauco. “Every topic that will be covered on Healthcare 911 is something that I have learned as a nurse. My approach to patient advocacy comes from over 40 years of direct patient experience—from my time as an oncology nurse to present day, working with some or the world’s leading health care providers and medical experts.”

Working for the Government as a Nurse

Working for the Government as a Nurse

Contrary to popular belief, nurses don’t solely work in health care facilities. In fact, with their specific experience, they can bring quite a lot to many other types of positions—including the government.

Mary M. Martin, PhD, APRN, CS, while now a Contributing Faculty member at Walden University’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, is also a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force, and she worked from 1997-2005 as the Air Force Reserve Medical Director at US Air Force Pentagon Office of the Chief, Air Force Reserve.

Have you ever wondered how this type of government position works? Martin took time to answer our questions about it.

How did you obtain your position? Did you apply? Were you appointed?

Prior to my appointment, this position had only been held by physicians. The Chief of the Air Force Reserve decided that a nurse with a PhD at the rank of Colonel would be better for this position since nursing education provides a broader academic perspective and emphasizes the ability to collaborate and advocate. I was nominated by a former supervisor and then vetted by the Command Surgeon and the Chief, Air Force Reserve. At the time, there were only about 50 nurses with doctorates in the entire Air Force Reserve.

My prior experience leading up to this point had included commanding two Air Force Reserve aeromedical evacuation units, serving as chief nurse in an aeromedical evacuation group, and a deployment to Spain during Operation Desert Storm.

What did you do while in that position? What were your most crucial responsibilities?

I supervised a small staff of policy analysts consisting of medical administrators, physicians, and experienced senior enlisted advisors. I collaborated with other branches of the armed services to negotiate for changes in the medical and dental insurance coverage for members of the armed forces and their families. I also responded to complaints about medical and health issues sent by members of the Air Force Reserve and their families to the Secretary of the Air Force, the White House, and Congress.

My most crucial responsibilities were representing the Air Force Reserve’s unique needs in policy interpretation and advocacy involving all the U.S. Armed Forces or the larger U.S. government. Standards for medical and dental care for military personnel are established by law, so it was important for me to understand and communicate the reserve component’s priorities when advocating for changes.

As a nurse, what did you bring to the table that other people or other health care providers didn’t? Why do you believe it was important to have a nurse involved in this work?

Nursing education embeds the role of advocacy throughout all levels of educational preparation. Nurses are coached throughout their academic and clinical experiences to listen carefully and objectively before taking a position. We also spend a great deal of time learning the science of health care and nursing using systematic processes. Despite our expertise, nurses also take an egalitarian approach in discussions and decision making and don’t assume that others should accept our point of view just because of our credentials.

What were some of your greatest challenges in this position?

The greatest challenges came while negotiating for solutions with powerful groups of colleagues from all branches of the armed services. Each branch of the armed forces has its own unique roles and challenges in managing the health and welfare of its members and their families. I didn’t understand that fully until I was in a position to negotiate on things like family medical and dental coverage or the implementation of anthrax vaccination.

One particularly challenging example: I was the sole Air Force Reserve representative on an interprofessional team charged with resolving a conflict with line of duty determinations for reservists not on active duty for more than 30 days. This case was in response to a situation with a young pilot who suffered devastating injuries in a plane crash while on his 14-day annual tour. He lost his regular job and insurance and, because of legal restrictions on coverage for reservists on active duty for less than 30 days, the military could not provide ongoing care or salary after his initial treatment. The committee was led by Mary Lou Keener, a nurse-attorney and presidential nominee who previously had been general counsel for the Veterans Administration. It took us six months to reach a solution.

What were the greatest rewards?

It was very rewarding to be able to directly serve the men and women of the armed forces by being able to advocate on their behalf to the Department of Defense, the White House, and Congress. Knowing that I could work closely with powerful institutions and people to help improve the health and welfare of our members and their families was very satisfying.

If nurses reading this want to become involved in government or as an elected official, what would you say to them? Why is it important for nurses to become involved at this level?

I would say to do it! You can get started by applying your own experience to things you see happening in your own community. I won the Charleston Post and Courier’s Golden Pen award by simply reacting to a news article that stated that two young teens lost at sea and found after a week or so would “fully recover.” The letter I wrote spoke to the emotional trauma they experienced and how important it is to address it early. I related it to my own experience as an eyewitness to the attack on the Pentagon on 9/11 and what it has taken to ensure that my reactions to this traumatic event remain resolved.

I would recommend that people look at the social determinants of health in your city. Are the sidewalks walkable in all neighborhoods? Are your local schools empowered to monitor and implement enough daily activity to improve both health and learning? How is your community addressing the opioid crisis or vaping? Then, find an example of a successful solution in another community and give your local decision makers a call. Offer to help! Finally, run for office locally. The rewards are great and, as nurses, we know how to get things done!

Is there anything else about being a nurse working in government that I haven’t asked and you think is important for people to know?

Yes! When I was at the Pentagon, people I didn’t know working elsewhere in the building often sought me out for personal advice on their health matters, especially insurance. After all, nurses are our community’s best neighbors and news travels fast when we join an organization. People know we will graciously respond to their questions.

What Does an Occupational Health Nurse Do?

What Does an Occupational Health Nurse Do?

Within the nursing field, there are a wide variety of specialties that nurses can pursue as a career choice. In this post, we’re spotlighting the occupational health nurse (OHN).

Barb Maxwell MHA, RN, COHN-S, CCM, CWCP, QRP, FAAOHN, is the President of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN), as well as the Division Director of Company Care Occupational Health Services for HCA West Florida Division. She explains what OHNs are and what they do.

What is an Occupational Health Nurse?

Occupational Health is a specialty within nursing that cares for our own employees, employers within the communities, insurance companies, and community health needs. Depending on the role that is chosen (Employee Health within an organization or working in industry) will depend on the tasks that will be deemed necessary to deliver.

We perform pre-employment post-offer nursing assessments, medical surveillance, drug screening, case management within workers’ compensation claims, and many more duties as assigned.

Why did you decide to become an Occupational Health Nurse?

I was an Emergency Department RN, then promoted to Director caring for emergent patients. Our facility appointed me to establish an initiative to start up a comprehensive Occupational Health Program to service our employers within the community. After much training in Occupational Health, our facility opened the program in October 1986 to service our employers.

While reflecting back within our own hospital, we had an opportunity to enhance the existing Employee Health Program to collaborate with the new developed program. Our employee health program was very weak, and we identified many opportunities to improve the processes. 

We changed that concept quickly with our facility being the first customer of our newly developed Occupational Health Program. We realized the increase in employee satisfaction was meeting their needs.

What could an OHN do on a regular day? Please explain.

Occupational Health Nurses do so many things on a day-to-day basis. We have good intentions of setting our schedules that can change quickly depending on what the priorities are. 

We perform pre-employment post offer assessments; identify and assess risks from hazards in the workplace; medical surveillance that may affect our employees; advise on occupational health, safety, and ergonomics; first aid; and prevention of occupational disease and accidents. 

What are some of the greatest challenges of being an OHN?

Proving our worth to our organization. Getting everything accomplished in a day. The need of staffing ratios.

What are the greatest rewards?

Caring for our employees and helping them through their medical and vocational issues.

If nurses want to become OHNs, what would you say to them? What kind of training/education do they need?

It is the most rewarding position I have worked in. You will never regret taking a position in Occupational Health. You are the employee’s nurse.

Occupational Health Nurses are typically registered nurses, with education backgrounds varying from diploma nurses to doctoral degrees. There is no “set” educational requirement, but practice expectations would be dependent on the scope of practice of their educational preparation. When I hire nurses to become occupational health nurses, I look for strong clinical backgrounds; personalities that will meld with the employees; team players; critical thinkers who can work autonomously. Emergency and Critical Care backgrounds are a plus.

Is there anything else about being an OHN that is important for people to know?

Occupational health is a specialty field with a generalist approach. We work in tandem with other medical disciplines, human resources, and safety professionals. We recognize that our role extends beyond just the employees at the workplace, but also their families and support they have at home. This is considered a Total Worker Health approach, since the profession is truly an interprofessional collaboration in order to keep worker and worker families healthy and safe.

Nursing Side Gigs: Financial Blogger

Nursing Side Gigs: Financial Blogger

This is the first of a monthly feature about interesting side gigs or hobbies that nurses do outside of their full-time jobs.

By day, Lauren Mochizuki, RN, BSN, has been an ER nurse for more than a decade. But at night and during free time, she’s a successful financial blogger.

About eight years ago, Mochizuki began blogging about finances because she and her husband were tired of being in debt. She began writing her first blog, NurseFrugal.com, to document and share their journey about becoming debt-free. They paid off $266,000.

You read that correctly — $266,000 of debt.  

After Mochizuki became debt free, she took a break from blogging because she and her husband had started their family. Last year, she began blogging again at CasaMochi.com so that she could inspire others to live a great life on a budget. 

“What I love most about blogging is similar to nursing: with both professions I have the chance to connect with others and make a positive difference,” says Mochizuki about her side gig.  

Mochizuki says that according to the Federal Reserve Board, 40% of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency expense, and less than 40% of working Americans feel that they are on track for retirement. Because of this, she says that her goal “is to help others change the way they collectively think about money, how to spend their money, and save — so that they can enjoy life, and simultaneously be good stewards of their money.” About every other week, Mochizuki publishes a new article on finances.

“I feel like my nursing job and blogging complement each other. With nursing, I have learned how to be personable and to apply interventions to help my patients feel better. My nursing career has directly affected my blog because it has shaped me into a caring and problem-solving person that I am today,” says Mochizuki.

“The greatest reward of blogging, is receiving responses from individuals that I have made an impact to their lives. I feel incredibly fulfilled when I inspire someone to become debt free, and introduce them to a step-by-step guide on how to achieve this goal,” says Mochizuki. “Creating a community of like-minded people has also been another reward of blogging. I started the #debtfreecollective hashtag, and it’s been so fun to see all of the accomplishments and real-life issues that come up during one’s debt-free journey.”  

“I am a firm believer that anyone can achieve financial freedom if you are willing to work for it,” says Mochizuki. “There were many times when I doubted if my husband and I could pay off $266,000 of debt, but after consistently implementing everything we learned about money, we did it!” 

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