A Complete Guide To A Doctor Of Nursing Practice Program

Modern healthcare requires a modern approach to learning and development in nursing and nursing practice.

As the 2020 and 2021 global health pandemic has shown, the world of healthcare is moving at an incredibly fast pace, and this requires more qualified people in positions of leadership and power, including in the nursing field.

Nursing is an incredibly important role in the healthcare sector. From hospitals to first opinion practices, nurses are often on the very front line of patient care.

Nursing teams, however, also need well-educated and well-organized leadership teams to ensure that the field of nursing continues to be a professional and innovative environment for new people coming into healthcare and for the patients receiving their care. This is where professional nurses with a DNP qualification are needed.

As medicine and healthcare become more scientific, so it will be required for all areas of healthcare to become more professionalized and for the professionals working in each field to become more experienced in their roles.


What Does a DNP Nurse do?

One of the biggest misconceptions of anyone considering taking further education in the nursing field is that the DNP (doctor of nursing practice) is a job title. The DNP is not a job title but a degree course for professional nurses who want to take their qualifications and experience into more leadership and senior positions.

A DNP qualification ensures that nurses who have clinical experience and who are considering taking the experience further can take roles outside of the front lines of patient care and into leadership positions. This may include running teams, running whole nursing departments in bigger healthcare services such as hospitals, or even going into more legislative roles such as governance.

The DNP qualification is an advanced nursing qualification that is on a doctorate level. This is a comparable qualification to a doctor of medicine (MD), doctor of psychology (PsyD), and even a doctor of pharmacy (PharmD).


Why do a DNP Degree?

The doctor of nursing practice degree is an excellent degree choice for experienced nurses looking to further their careers and increase their salary.

This degree course is an excellent choice for those looking to expand their leadership, clinical work, organizational skills, and economic considerations behind decisions made in healthcare at a higher level.

DNP nurses are advanced practitioners. They may also be change agents and clinical leaders, responsible for not only designing patient care programs that are locally acceptable and economically feasible but organizing entire teams of nurses within both a local setting, such as a hospital or a clinic. This could even extend to settings at a state or national level.

A DNP nurse is an advanced practitioner, but not every DNP nurse is involved in direct patient care. Advanced practitioner roles may include nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, and general nurse practitioners. Advanced practice nurses can be found in all areas of health care, including women’s health, neonatal, psychiatric, family medicine, and many more.

For many advanced practitioner nurses who hold a DNP qualification, there may be more interest in going into organizational and systems roles such as healthcare policy leaders, nurse education, public health nurses, and even administration and executive leadership roles.

The role of an advanced practice nurse is more akin to interventional medicine and is suitable for people who are looking to have an influence over health care outcomes in the future.

It is for this reason that it’s not uncommon to find DNP qualified nurses in roles such as:

  • Administration
  • Organizational structures
  • Healthcare policymakers
  • Patient care managers
  • Patient population managers
  • Direct care roles


What’s Included on a DNP Course?

There are many different DNP courses available both in practice and online involving some practice work.

Most of these courses will involve some kind of foundational aspect that will focus on outcome competencies and more specific work focused on a specific area of specialty.

The foundational aspect is arguably one of the most important parts of the DNP degree. This is the part of the course that prepares nurse practitioners to take on more senior roles and decision-making positions.

The foundation or aspect of the DNP course will focus on:

  • Scientific practice – the underpinning of the advanced education of the nurse practitioner, including human biology, psychosocial sciences, ethical considerations, developmental science, and touching on organizational structures.
  • Evidence-based practice – ensuring that new decisions are based on evidence and based on science and that they are implemented in the right way
  • Organizational structure – the systems and structures behind healthcare that can promote good patient outcomes and focuses on patients safety and practice excellence
  • Systems and technology – an important part of the course that prepares students to work with the newest systems and technology in health care to ensure that the best patient outcomes are always a top priority for everyone involved
  • Patient advocacy is an area of the course designed to help students take a patient-first approach to their work, helping to design and implement economic healthcare policies and practices that focus on access, efficacy, and safety for patients.
  • Interprofessional collaboration – students learn how to work with other professionals within the healthcare sector to ensure that patient advocacy is a top priority and how to build high performing teams within their own areas, ensuring patient risk is at a minimum
  • Social health – an interesting part of the course that helps the students focus on how health as a social consideration can be a benefit to everyone involved in the promotion of disease prevention

The second part of a DNP course generally focuses on specializations within healthcare; this allows students to pick a specialization that interests them and that they enjoy and begin to work within their specialization to gain qualifications and experience.

Specializations within healthcare benefit both practitioners and patients because it allows patients to be treated by people who have much more specialist experience and knowledge within certain healthcare aspects. It allows practitioners to focus on an area of medicine they both enjoy and which interests them, promoting better and safer patient outcomes all around.

In general, there are two categories of specialization within a DNP program. There is an advanced practice nursing care focus and a systems and organizational focus that DNP students can look into.

On the advanced practice nursing side, nurses may decide to take a specialism such as a certified nurse-midwife (CNM), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), nurse practitioner (NP), or a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA).

These specialist areas are focused on areas of medicine and healthcare, which both interest and excite DNP students. It is always useful in every healthcare setting to have specialists working because this ensures patience will always get the best possible care from people who have experienced and who have done extra reading and learning in that specific field of healthcare.

For example, a midwife is going to be much better placed to help deliver babies than a dentist!

The systems and organizational aspect of the DNP course is one of the most fascinating aspects for nurse practitioners who are looking for a less patient-focused career path.

The systems and organizational focus will help DNP students better understand healthcare policy and management issues within the healthcare field; this will also include organizational and professional leadership issues and taking on nursing as a whole.

Nursing, by its very definition, is not an easy job, and sometimes nurses on the front line can feel like no one is listening to them; this can make nursing sometimes quite a disheartening career path to take when most people take this career in order to help other people.

The DNP qualification helps students and advanced nurse practitioners to take a step back and look at healthcare and nursing as a profession rather than just a method of helping patients.

The professionalizing of healthcare, and especially nursing, will naturally include the need to improve leadership across the healthcare sector.

As many unrelated sectors, such as business, have found out, good leadership in times of crisis is what will help you pull through, and this is something that the nursing field especially has known for a long time but has only recently made strides to improve.


What Can You do With a DNP Degree?

 The DNP course prepares students to be at the pinnacle of their careers, taking a deeper look at healthcare and their specialist subject area.

It is important to remember that the DNP is a specific degree qualification and while some nurse practitioners will call themselves DNP nurse practitioners, others may not.

There are many career paths that DNP qualification can help practitioners go down; these may include:

  • Neonatal nurse practitioner – an advanced nurse practitioner helping with neonates and maternity care, most often this will include babies with serious health conditions and overlooking busy NICU areas of hospitals
  • Family nurse practitioner – this is a wonderful career path for nurse practitioners who wants to be involved in patient care at every level of life. A family nurse practitioner will usually see patients of all ages and with all kinds of medical complaints and perhaps chronic illnesses.
  • Women’s health nurse practitioner – specialist nurse practitioners in women’s health, will work in places such as gynecology and midwifery, helping to keep women’s health as a priority health service and ensuring that women feel safe and comfortable to visit an advanced practitioner
  • Pediatric acute care nurse practitioners – pediatric acute care nurse practitioners work with children and young adults to help with conditions that are not chronic but may have come on rapidly. This may include working in a busy hospital ER department where children and young people may come in presenting with illnesses and injuries
  • Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner – as the link between mental health and physical health becomes more evident in today’s scientific medical knowledge. It is more important than ever that the healthcare industry has highly trained nurse practitioners working in psychiatric and mental health facilities, helping to assist people who are having mental health difficulties and hopefully preventing any more serious issues down the line. Working in psychiatric care is also an incredible and important role for nurse practitioners to take as it is an aspect of healthcare that really requires understanding and experienced individuals.


The Duties of a DNP Nurse

A DNP qualified advanced practice nurse will be able to perform more duties than a standard nurse within all healthcare settings.

While the ability of a nurse practitioner to do things such as writing prescriptions and signing them off may vary from state to state, most nurse practitioners are able to do a number of advanced procedures within their scope of expertise.

 Some of these responsibilities and duties may include:

  • Taking and recording accurate patient histories
  • Diagnosing and managing chronic conditions
  • Diagnosing and treating acute conditions
  • Counseling patients, especially in more difficult circumstances such as pediatric and women’s health
  • Performing physical exams (especially in women’s health)
  • Writing prescriptions for medications and managing patient medication care
  • Performing some medical procedures, especially nurse practitioners who go down routes such as anaesthesiology
  • Working with patients to develop and manage a patient care plan
  • Ordering and interpreting lab tests and lab test results new line helping
  • Teaching patient care managers (this could be family members, patients and/or carers) how to administer medications for chronic conditions or how to manage illnesses and disabilities further


The Importance of DNP Nurses in Healthcare

The role of an advanced nurse practitioner is a vital role within the entirety of healthcare.

As medicine pushes forward in the 21st century and science-based results are needed, advanced nurse practitioners who are specialized in specific subject areas will be the backbone of the healthcare industry going forward.

The DNP course will allow advanced nurse practitioners to take a deep dive into areas of medicine that really interest them, and this, in turn, will create more well-experienced and enthusiastic professionals to provide excellent patient care air throughout healthcare facilities.



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Written by HealthStatus Crew
Medical Writer & Editor

HealthStatus teams with authors from organizations to share interesting ideas, products and new health information to our readers.

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