Graduate-Level Nursing Degree Program to Start

UNC’s School of Nursing has been authorized by the UNC System Board of Governors to offer a graduate-level nursing degree, the doctor of nursing practice. Nurses with the advanced degree will be educated to fill critical roles in an increasingly complex health-care environment in which people need better access to primary care, chronic illness management and preventative health services.

Until now, there have been no state-supported colleges or universities offering the DNP degree in North Carolina, in which 91 counties out of 100 are designated as medically underserved areas. The decision enables UNC and five other state-supported schools to join Duke University and Gardner-Webb University in offering the most advanced level of clinical education to North Carolina nurses.

“The health of our nation relies on the availability of a highly educated nursing workforce,” said Debra J. Barksdale, an associate professor in the nursing school and the newly appointed director of the DNP program.

Recognizing that nurses with advanced degrees could address the state’s critical need for skilled primary care providers, Kristen Swanson, dean of the school, worked with her peers from five state-supported schools — Winston-Salem State University, East Carolina University, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Charlotte and Western Carolina University — to petition the BOG for permission to offer DNP education at each school. Their effort to advance nurses’ education also is expected to help the state prepare to enact provisions of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

DNP students will be able to choose preparation for direct care as nurse practitioners or for leadership roles as nurse executives. Along with three years of coursework, students will complete a capstone project in which they will use the knowledge they gained to study new approaches to improve care delivery or patient care outcomes.

“In addition to coursework and clinical training in advanced nursing practice, students in DNP programs also study population health, patient safety, clinical leadership and health policy,” Swanson said. “This advanced education enables nurses to serve as leaders at the bedside, in the board room or in the Legislature.”

Following the recommendation made by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the DNP degree will replace the master of science in nursing degree as the appropriate level of education for nurses to serve in advanced-practice and administrative roles. UNC will be phasing out master’s options for nurses seeking advanced-practice and administrative roles as admissions to the DNP program increases. Currently enrolled master’s students in these areas will be given the option to competitively apply to the DNP program.

The first class is expected to enroll this fall.

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