Nursing Doctorate Programs Changing the Face of Healthcare

U.S. universities are working to improve patient safety and make healthcare more affordable and accessible by increasing the number of nurses with a doctoral degree.

Twenty-four universities and colleges, including early adopters Purdue University, Columbia University, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Tennessee Memphis have launched doctorate of nursing practice degree programs, and nearly 200 more are looking to do so. This national trend is driven by the complexity of the healthcare system, said Julie Novak, the head of Purdue University's School of Nursing.

"The healthcare system in the United States is in turmoil," Novak said. "We're equipping a new generation of healthcare leaders who will create genuine change."

Doctor of nursing practice students are analyzing all facets of health-care systems and operations. For example, students are:

* Researching antibiotic practices to decrease post-operative infections.

* Preparing community clinics for a potentially overwhelming flood of victims from terrorism, disaster or pandemic.

* Linking nurse-managed clinics by using electronic health records to help improve access to and continuity of health care.

* Improving the use of information technology to expedite tasks such as inventory control, hospital design and documentation, freeing nurses' time for patient care.

Because of their advanced education, nurses with doctorates also provide primary healthcare to populations underserved by doctors, particularly in inner city and rural areas. Other doctoral nursing students are molding healthcare public policy. They lobbied successfully for passage of the federal Nurse Faculty Education Act of 2005, which provides $12 million to help recruit new nursing faculty and doctoral students.

These doctoral programs also address the chronic shortage of nurses and the aging of the current work force. There are nearly 120,000 registered nurse openings in the United States, and fewer than 10 percent of nurses are under the age of 30. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates nearly 1 million new nurses will be needed by 2012. Despite these needs, tens of thousands of nursing students are turned away from colleges annually because of a nursing faculty shortage.

More than half of doctoral degree holders are expected to enter faculty roles. With more professors, universities can admit more undergraduate nursing students.

Purdue has increased the number of these doctoral students almost tenfold in one year. The number of undergraduate nursing students at Purdue has increased by 60 percent during the last three years.

Purdue also is bringing in students from around the nation for Fuld Summer Institutes to help spread the dispersion of new ideas and approaches. Nursing students at Purdue partner with the Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering to analyze systems and study in the field conventional practices that often have no scientific justification.

Purdue's programming is supported in part by a $2.5 million grant from the Helene Fuld Health Trust, the nation's largest trust devoted to improving nursing education.

Source: Purdue University

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