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University's program to help nursing grads earn doctorate faster

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One of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s latest offerings is in its doctor of nursing practice degree program.

The BSN to DNP in the College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions gives nurses who already hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing a chance to earn a doctor of nursing practice degree at a faster pace.

“A person with a bachelor’s of nursing degree will have the option to enter our program, accelerate to a master’s degree in the family nurse practitioner concentration and, after three more semesters of full-time study, complete a DNP,” Dr. Donna Gauthier, DNP coordinator for the College, said in a recent interview.

The program is offered in partnership with Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, La. UL Lafayette and Southeastern are among the first public universities in Louisiana to offer a BSN to DNP program. UL Lafayette plans to enroll a maximum of 10 BSN to DNP students for the Fall 2015 semester.

UL Lafayette implemented a post-master’s DNP program in 2012. To be eligible, participants must already hold a master’s of nursing degree with APRN certification or nurse executive/administration.

Typically, a person who earns a master’s degree in nursing will work in health care for a couple of years before entering a DNP program.

“With the BSN to DNP program, someone who ultimately plans to earn a DNP can get on that path earlier,” Gauthier said. Nurses who are accepted into the BSN to DNP program will start classes in August. Although most of the coursework is online, a session of on-campus activities is required prior to the start of the program; a presentation of a synthesis project is required at the conclusion. For the synthesis project, a student must identify an issue in the practice setting and apply research-based evidence to improve patient care or practice outcomes.

Dr. Gail Poirrier, dean of the College, describes the kind of nurse it seeks for its BSN to DNP program: “I see this person as a thinker. I see this person as someone who has a yearning for a higher understanding of nursing and how it fits into the real health care world.”

A master’s of nursing degree prepares nurses for direct patient care.

“The doctor of nursing practice is not necessarily direct care. It could be, if a nurse practitioner wants to continue in the nurse practitioner role,” Poirrier explained. “But a nurse practitioner who earns a DNP could be much more engaged in data analysis related to the population she serves on an everyday basis, for example.”

A person who earns a DNP might help craft national policies or be involved in health care informatics related to local, state or regional patient care.

The DNP has a greater emphasis on leadership than a master’s of nursing degree, Poirrier said. “In that advanced practice arena for DNP, we really try to look at larger health care systems and how they can effect change for improvement in patient care.”

In addition to providing more educational opportunities for master’s-prepared nurses in Louisiana, the DNP will contribute to a more educated nursing work force needed to meet the demands of patients and health care employers.

It also will increase the number of potential nursing school faculty in Louisiana. There is a chronic, nationwide shortage of nursing educators.

Poirrier said the number of faculty members affects how many students can be accepted into nursing programs, due to mandatory teacher-student ratios.

“We have qualified and certified DNP-prepared faculty on board now,” Poirrier said.