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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Our Nurse of the Week is Wendy
Hart, a recent Doctor
of Nursing Practice (DNP) graduate in the Eleanor
Mann School of Nursing at the University of Arkansas (U of A), who used a
$500 grant to purchase equipment for patients with heart failure issues.
received the grant money as part of her final doctoral project where she worked
with a dozen local patients at Northwest Medical Center’s Heart
Care center in Springdale, AR. The equipment Hart purchased for her study
included weight scales and blood pressure cuffs for each of the patients who participated.
been a registered nurse at Northwest Medical Center for 13 years, with a
primary focus on cardiovascular disease. She’s currently an emergency
department registered nurse. Hart continued to work while earning her DNP at U
of A and graduated with her fellow College of Education and Health
Professions students on May 11.
DNP project focused on implementing a quality improvement project in the
healthcare field of her choice. She worked with Dr. Michael Green at Northwest
Hart tells news.uark.edu, “I have always been passionate about patients in the heart failure population. The goal of this project was to improve self-care management and decrease unnecessary hospital readmissions. Heart failure patients require a lot of management and continuous communication with a provider to assure that they are maintaining their baseline well-being.”
objectives for maintaining overall well-being include daily
weight, fluid and salt management, and early recognition of
worsening symptoms. Hart recognized that access to the right equipment was a
major barrier for her participants and she wanted to assure that each patient was
given the best chance for success. She reached out to the American Heart Association
local branch to see if they would assist her, which led to the grant that
allowed her to purchase 12 bathroom scales and 10 blood pressure cuffs.
more about Wendy Hart, a recent DNP graduate from the University
of Arkansas, who used a $500 grant to purchase equipment for patients with
heart failure issues, visit here.
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The United States is facing a critical shortage in all health care professions. With the nation’s baby boomer population approaching retirement age, the issue is twofold: the aging population requires more care, and the nation’s physicians, nurses, and other health professionals are retiring.
Too Many Students, Not Enough Options
The solution to filling this gap is replacing the departing health care professionals with nursing graduates of all academic levels. However, many higher education institutions are turning away suitable candidates in droves. In 2016, nursing degree programs in the U.S. rejected 64,067 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs alike citing a lack of budget, faculty, clinical sites and preceptors, and classroom space.
Currently, there is a serious shortage of physicians, which continues to grow. By 2025, there will be a projected deficit of nearly 35,600 primary care doctors alone. Nursing schools are facing the struggle and strain to increase the capacity of existing nursing programs, and explore other avenues like online courses and accreditation.
Higher Education Means Higher Pay
Enrollment is increasing in nursing masters and doctoral programs across the country, and it’s no wonder that nurses are applying to graduate schools en masse. RNs realize there are significant perks to training and becoming an advanced practice registered nurse. Evidence shows that the quality of care by an advanced practice nurse is comparable to physicians, while often more affordable.
The full-time annual salary for a Nurse Practitioner (NP) averages $105,546. The high pay range of the NP may be partly to blame for the faculty shortage—higher compensation in the clinical setting is luring potential educators away from teaching.
Most vacant faculty positions require a terminal nursing degree. If more nurses pursue a doctoral degree, the faculty shortage will be alleviated. What will the outcomes of the nursing shortage be? Only time will tell.
Caitlin Goodwin MSN, RN, CNM is a Board Certified Nurse-Midwife and freelance writer. She has ten years of nursing experience and graduated with a MSN from Frontier Nursing University.
Touro University’s doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) program has received the max accreditation offered by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), which will last through 2023. Touro’s DNP program is designed for working nurses and allows students to graduate in about a third of the time it takes to complete a traditional program.
Nursing Program Director Ann Stoltz tells dailyrepublic.com, “We’re thrilled at the five-year accreditation news. Our hybrid program is specifically designed so a working nurse can complete the program in only 18 months. With the accreditation, CCNE lets future doctorate students know our nursing program meets quality standards recognized by the US Department of Education.”
The CCNE is an autonomous accrediting agency that ensures the quality and integrity of a variety of nursing programs and is officially recognized by the US Secretary of Education. Touro began the accreditation process in December 2016 with a scheduled CCNE site visit after the program had been running for one year. The CCNE representatives met with faculty, students, alumni, administrators, and university support services to determine that the program meets the CCNE’s standards for accreditation.
Touro’s DNP program prepares graduates for advanced nursing practice, and also offers specialized education in diabetes across the life span with a focus on clinical practice. Earning accreditation helps encourage potential new students, assuring quality educational standards and improved public health offerings to the surrounding communities who rely on graduates of the nursing school.
To learn more about Touro University’s DNP program receiving accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education through 2023, the maximum numbers of years that can be accredited to a new program, visit here.