A nurse practitioner friend asked me this week why healthcare leaders think it’s so important for her to get a practice doctorate. She said, “I’ve been practicing with a master’s degree and I do fine.” My mind immediately flooded with all the ways nurses with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree are making a difference.
I told her about the DNP nurse practitioner in a college health clinic who learned that one of the clinic’s patients had committed suicide. The DNP nurse asked herself, “I wonder if any of the clinic providers who saw this student ever screened her for depression? I know I didn’t.”
This nurse practitioner had learned in her DNP education how to gather evidence and implement change to improve patient outcomes. She found a brief but effective depression screening tool and taught her colleagues how to use it at every visit. She reviewed hundreds of visit notes before and after the team started using the tool.
Within months, 69% of the visits included a screening for depression. The proportion of students diagnosed with major depressive disorder went from 30% to 71.4%, and all of the diagnosed students were started on a treatment regimen. This DNP nurse not only used her education to improve care, but she undoubtedly saved several lives in the process (Halon, 2011).
I could have given my friend hundreds of other examples like this. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) with DNPs are at the core of a revolution in healthcare. The work of DNP nurses is building momentum and gaining recognition because it is reducing costs and increasing health care quality.
There’s the DNP nurse who developed a protocol for treating sepsis in the emergency department and trained the staff, after which death from sepsis in her department decreased from 60% to 15% within a year (Evangelista-Hoffman, 2009). In another case, a DNP nurse introduced interventions to improve communication on a telemetry unit, and injuries from patient falls went down along with staff turnover, while patient and staff satisfaction increased (Jordan, 2012). Children with asthma achieved greater health and quality of life after an advanced practice nurse with a DNP conducted a series of classes for the parents (Gregory, 2011). In all these cases, doctorally educated nurses analyzed the evidence, applied interventions, and learned important things that others can use to cut costs and save lives.
There are other good reasons for APRNs to obtain the DNP, such as:
- Nurse practitioners with DNPs make higher salaries than master’s-prepared NPs, earning on average $7,524 more annually (ADVANCE for Nurse Practitioners, 2011).
- DNP nurses use research to solve problems, making them valuable to employers and giving them more career options in the rapidly changing and increasingly complex world of healthcare.
- Advanced practice nurses work alongside doctorally prepared healthcare team members with high educational expectations for colleagues.
- Increased national concern with healthcare safety and quality demands nursing leaders with the skills to negotiate complex systems, assess and design care, and create needed change.
The DNP is for advanced practice nurses who won’t settle for less, who want to be the very best, to lead, and to make a difference. That’s why I obtained a DNP, and as I told my friend, it’s the best career decision I ever made.