Nursing professionals across the country are influencing health care policy, contributing to the body of existing scientific knowledge and educating a new generation of nurses, all while providing top quality care to patients. Health professionals at every level are ensuring that clinical practice is as efficient, effective and compassionate as possible.
To keep pace with these growing responsibilities, influential organizations, such as the Institute of Medicine, are encouraging nurses to pursue higher levels of education, including graduate degrees.
The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is one option for professionals who wish to further their education and take on leadership roles in clinical settings. These programs are typically entered by students who already hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). The DNP is one of two terminal degrees for individuals in this field.
In line with the growth in demand for higher education, the number of DNP programs has increased across the country. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), 303 DNP programs currently exist in the U.S., and that number continues to grow, with 124 new programs still in the planning stage.
Pursuing a higher level of education is a valuable investment in a professional career, so it is important that nurses choose the right program in which to enroll. When considering a DNP program, potential students should ensure that sufficient emphasis is placed on technology and informatics, evidence-based practice, patient-centered care, population health and leadership development to prepare graduates for a clinical career.
1. Technology and informatics
Technology has impacted most every aspect of modern society, and health care is not an exception. The latest developments in technology and informatics are important to patient care and are influencing the daily responsibilities of individuals who work in this field.
“Modern technology can help add value both in the hospital and across care settings, helping providers improve performance and reduce variability,” Tej Anand, CTO at health care company CareCentrix, wrote in an article for Forbes. “To make meaningful improvements, it’s important for health care industry leaders to invest in technology platforms that put the patient at the center of care.”
Anand specifically pointed to four areas in health care that can leverage this new technology: data and analytics, clinical protocols, information integration and user experience, and assessments and workflow management.
Nursing practice is one area in particular that is benefiting from these strategies. With the growth of big data in health care, nurses use information management systems, such as electronic health records (EHRs), to help monitor and improve patient care. Health information technology (IT) is also influencing the scheduling systems that manage shifts, as well as education techniques that help nurses keep their skills fresh.
DNP programs should reflect this growing emphasis on technology to appropriately prepare nurses to take on leadership roles in the field. Programs should not only instruct students in how the latest technology and informatics strategies are affecting nursing practice but also push the boundaries in how technology is used to teach courses. Online programs are becoming increasingly popular, allowing professionals to advance their education while still working full- or part-time in the clinical setting.
2. Evidence-based practice
The health care data that is collected and analyzed through EHRs and other systems is used in a number of ways to impact clinical care. Nurses and other medical professionals leverage the information to more effectively evaluate and develop evidence-based practices for treating patients. Evidence-based practices are the process by which clinical decisions are made using the best available data combined with provider expertise and patient preference. It also includes critically assessing research data and clinical guidelines. This strategy has been increasing in popularity over the last several decades.
According to a paper on evidence-based practice methods by Gary Shelton, DNP, in the Journal of Hematology Oncology Pharmacy, “Both original research and evidence-based practice (EBP) change can result in new knowledge, but generally the EBP interventions result in better outcomes by translating knowledge into practice.”
At any level of or in any setting in health care, evidence-based practice can help improve patient care by ensuring that the best and most up-to-date resources are used in decision-making. Consequently, nursing education programs should reflect the value of this element of clinical practice in their courses.
3. Patient-centered care
When a health care organization treats large numbers patients each day, it sometimes can be easy to view each case as a number rather than an actual person. The emphasis on humanizing treatment by providing patient-centered care is a critical component of nursing education, including a DNP program.
Patient-centered care strategies involve addressing concerns of individuals and their families early in the care process, as well as improving communication between providers and patients.
4. Population health
Population health is an increasingly important focus of health care in the U.S. Nurses, particularly those in advanced practice positions such as nurse practitioners, are using these strategies to improve the health of groups of people.
In clinical practice, population health focuses on communities and other large-scale metrics as opposed to individual outcomes. The CDC Foundation defines public health as “the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities,” work that is achieved by “promoting healthy lifestyles; researching disease and injury prevention;, and detecting, preventing and responding to infectious diseases.”
Examples of population health interventions include programs that promote smoking cessation, disease management and weight management, as well as call lines that connect community members with nurses who can help advise them on health matters.
Experts believe that managing health care at the community level and in other group settings could help to mediate a number of chronic conditions that are a high concern across the country, including diabetes and heart disease, leading to better outcomes for both individuals and the U.S. population as a whole.
Nurse practitioners and other advanced practice nursing professionals are heading population health programs and encouraging the development of new strategies. To prepare for these responsibilities, professionals could enroll in a DNP program that would equip them with the necessary knowledge of the latest best practices in health care.
5. Leadership Development
One of the major reasons to enroll in a DNP program is to develop as a leader in health care. With a doctorate, professionals can qualify for a number of leadership roles.
In quality DNP programs, courses will be constructed to not only qualify students for these positions but also develop their leadership abilities as they work to complete the program. Students who are interested in leadership development should consider enrolling in a program that offers an emphasis in this skill area, such as Bradley University’s online Doctor of Nursing Practice – Leadership degree. In the online format, nurses can further their education while continuing to advance their clinical careers.