A Plan to Affect Our Nation’s Shortage of Nurses

As the population ages and chronic diseases become more prevalent in Illinois and across the nation, the shortage of nurses is expected to become more acute in the future. And the condition is critical for Illinois, since it has one of the largest healthcare markets in the country. With a 20 percent shortage anticipated here, demand for highly specialized nurses who can excel in complex, interdisciplinary environments is also expected to increase. On average, statistics show that it takes 17 to 20 years before the newest research in healthcare is integrated into practice. Therefore, nurses able to translate and integrate new healthcare research into practice—while at the same time evaluating the effects of this integration—are vital to safe, effective, cost-efficient healthcare.

Why the Shortage?

Many people question why this shortage is even occurring. Research indicates that the current shortage is actually a function of the lack of faculty and clinical facilities. Given the current number of nursing faculty, nursing programs are unable to accommodate many qualified applicants. This situation is expected to get worse. The current mean age of doctorally prepared nursing faculty is estimated at approximately 54 years. This high mean age coupled with fewer nurses entering the marketplace—only a few of whom are able to advance their education—will only exacerbate the critical shortage of nursing faculty. However, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) believes that the new Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) will positively affect both the nursing shortage and the timely application of research evidence to our increasingly complex healthcare system.

A Tool in the Educational Arsenal

In keeping with the most recent position statements of the AACN, the DNP will prepare individuals to be leaders at the very highest level of nursing practice. Created for those seeking an advanced nursing degree, the DNP Program is the final practice degree for the nursing profession and is expected to produce leaders who will continue affecting the future of our nation’s healthcare and nursing. This doctorate will advance both application and leadership skills at the same time.

In fact, DNP programs are intended to prepare students to translate research into current practices by addressing policy, translation of research skills and “systems think,” thereby helping students to understand strategic management and ways to change systems based on current research. This type of instruction will make DNP recipients the “cream of the crop;” those completing the DNP will not only be able to apply what they’ve learned to become better nurses in translating current research into practice, but will also be able to instruct nursing students, thereby helping to reduce both the shortage of nurses in general, while producing advanced nurses who can also offer instruction. The DNP Program, which leads to more evidence-based practice, will further enable students to adjust to today’s fast-paced healthcare changes.

o further clarify: consider current technology. In today’s marketplace, it is important to be educated enough to easily adjust to ongoing changes because, almost assuredly, as students gain skill in one method, something new will be developed. How often do we hear complaints of buying a new computer, only to find it is already outdated? Healthcare is also extremely fast-paced. As technology and knowledge advance, so too do our methods of healthcare—making it imperative that nursing education programs furnish students with the tools to continually re-evaluate care in light of current research.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you are currently a nursing student—or a practicing nurse who has already begun an advanced degree of some kind—you may have more specific questions pertaining to this doctorate. Following are a few from the AACN website:

What if I already have my master’s?

There are currently multiple routes and mechanisms for career progression. Ultimately, each educational institution can determine how this will be handled, but the AACN has proposed a model which addresses not only DNP essentials (for consistency) but progress from the bachelor’s, master’s or PhD to the DNP.

Will the DNP diminish the need for PhD programs?

There is currently no evidence that a DNP will compete with PhD programs aimed at nurse researchers. The practice doctorate is designed for those in direct clinical practice and areas that support this arena, i.e., administration, organizational management and leadership, as well as policy. The AACN is expanding its pipeline of nursing scientists prepared in PhD programs. Research doctorates are a critical resource for supplying the evidence base needed for nursing practice.

Who will teach DNP students since the role is considered advanced practice?

Many of those currently teaching will be involved in teaching DNP students, particularly at the beginning level. However, there will be components that require doctorally prepared faculty. At the UIC College of Nursing in Peoria, the instructors continue practicing even as they are teaching so they have a real-world method of instruction.

For additional questions, you can either contact specific institutions with DNP programs or check the AACN website: www.aacn.nche.edu/DNP. TPW

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