Doctorate Of Nursing At Desales

By Sara Hodon

Staying up-to-date on what’s happening in your field and keeping those professional skills sharp are important to any career, but perhaps nowhere as critical as the health care industry. As our population ages and health care costs increase, the demand for highly skilled, specialized health care has never been greater. Unfortunately, a shortage of primary care physicians has made it difficult to meet the various health care needs of the community. This is where advanced practice nurses come in.

According to the website, there are approximately 200,000 advanced practice nurses in the United States alone. These professionals are not only stepping in to fill many of the gaps in physician shortages at hospitals and medical centers around the country, but they will play a vital role in shaping the future of health care.

The ever-changing needs of the industry have created the opportunity for educational institutions to launch cutting-edge, advanced programs that combine both classroom and hands-on clinical components. Currently, DeSales University in Center Valley is the only university in the Lehigh Valley to offer a Doctorate of Nursing Program (DNP) for advanced practice nurses. The university accepted its first cohort of seven students in January 2012 after working on the program’s curriculum for the past four years. Projected enrollment is 15 in the second year, 20 in later years.

Students in the DNP already have their Master’s degree and currently practice in one of four focus areas – nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist, or clinical nurse specialist. Many of these professionals are already in a supervisory position and looking to apply the knowledge they’re obtaining at DeSales to enhance their current care delivery methods.

According to Carol Mest, Director of Graduate Nursing Programs at DeSales, the need for quality health care close to home and the important role these professionals play in providing that care cannot be overstated. “We have an increased number of people with complex health needs. There is an existing shortage and projected shortfall of primary care physicians to meet those needs. People who are sick are really sick, and they need specialty services. Health care costs are wildly out of control. Probably over 30 million people will not have insurance. So providers’ skills really need to be ramped up,” Mest says.

DeSales’ program is designed to fit into students’ busy schedules. The curriculum runs 7 consecutive semesters. Mest says they adopted the “cohort” model so that each group of students moves through the coursework and completes the program together. “We felt that this was important because it helps them develop with a critical mass of people, build a social network when they’re done with school, and hopefully employ these new skills,” she says. Students typically take one to two courses per semester, following what Mest explains is an “executive model – intense three- to four-day residencies on campus, and the remainder of the instruction taking place online. The online format allows them to continue working, fulfill their other life roles and continue to stay on track for program completion. We want them to get out there and maximize what they’re learning here,” she says. The program then culminates in each student’s pathstone project, which they begin working on from their first day of classes. Projects usually correlate directly to the student’s current position and relevant areas of interest. “Through the work on this project, we can determine that the student has met all of the student learning outcomes and program outcomes in order to qualify for the doctoral degree. A PhD requires a doctoral dissertation; a DNP requires a clinical capstone analogous to the dissertation evidence,” Mest explains.

DNP student Tammy Lippincott, Family Nurse Practitioner and Director of the Health Center at DeSales, worked in the critical care field for 20 years before discovering her passion for college health. She says she enrolled in the doctorate program so she could advance to her next professional plateau. “DNP’s will be instrumental in reshaping the future of health care and I want to be a part of that. I graduated with my MSN from DeSales University and I see a definite distinction in the quality of education here. It is very hands on here. The faculty is excellent and it feels like family,” she says.

Lippincott adds that the program has helped her do her current job even better while at the same time looking at new ways to serve her consumers – in this case, college students. “It has helped me in my critical thinking skills. It has made me look at evidenced-based practice in more detail and understand the importance of its role in my daily practice. I find that the opportunity to educate college students to become good health care advocates and consumers is very rewarding. This population helps to continually educate me and keep me grounded in patience, love, and humility,” she says.

As the health care field continues to evolve and consumers’ needs change, DeSales’ DNP graduates are not only ready to accept the challenges these changes will present, but they are eager to create solutions to these problems. “The DNP is another example of how DeSales is leading the way and offering programs that meet the needs of the community,” Mest says.

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