Doctor of Nursing Practice Program | October 1, 2012 | Spotlight

Is there a Doctor of Nursing in the house?

Cal State L.A.’s program addresses potential shortfall of nurses, faculty

Pictured: First cohort for the Doctor of Nursing Practice pilot program at CSULA.
L-r: Gail Washington (Professor, CSULA), Paula Vuckovich (Associate Professor, CSULA), Helen Sun (DNP student), Tim Stacy (DNP student), Anna Carchi (DNP student), Colette Spencer (DNP student), Penny Weismuller (Associate Professor, CSU-Fullerton), Stacy Bower (DNP student), Myriam Boutary (DNP student), Christina Relinos (DNP student), Lisa Evans (DNP student), Raymond Gantioque (DNP student), and Evelyn Calvillo (Professor, CSULA).

In the near future, Lisa Evans will not only need to get used to having “doctor” added to her title, but will be among the first cohort to earn that distinction at Cal State L.A.

California has a pressing need for nursing faculty and practitioners. To address the shortfall, the state adopted AB 867 (2010), which allowed the 23-campus California State University (CSU) system to offer an independent Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) pilot program, which was launched this fall. Along with being offered by CSULA’s School of Nursing, the joint DNP includes new programs at CSU Long Beach and Fullerton (CSUF).

Evans, currently a nurse practitioner working in cardiology, is enrolled in CSULA’s DNP. She is used to being among “the first” when it comes to nursing education on campus. When she graduated in 2009, she walked at commencement among the first cohort of Entry Level Master’s in Nursing students from CSULA.

“The DNP program is challenging, but I am enjoying it. Earning a doctorate is important to me because I want to further my knowledge base and provide the best possible care for my patients,” said Evans. “I also enjoyed being a [master’s] student at CSULA. It was an exciting experience since I was a part of a new program and received a great deal of support from the faculty in pursuing nursing as a second career.”

This year, all courses are being taught at CSUF, however, CSULA instructors and students have been traveling there to teach and learn since late August. DNP instruction will be available at CSULA in fall 2013, at which time CSULA professors, and students like Evans will move back to campus to hold class and earn their doctorates.

The DNP has already has been accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). It is an example of the CSU system’s growth in offering doctorate level education, which was originally intended only for the University of California (UC) system. Less than 10 years ago, the CSU only offered master’s level education. The system already awards 60 percent of bachelor’s level nursing degrees in California.

CSULA nursing students in lab.

The DNP adds to CSULA’s already prominent nursing program, which was launched in the early 1950s.

CSULA’s School of Nursing features six additional advanced practice options, including a long-standing graduate option in education, and brings to the table an extensive network of established clinical and educational resources, as well as a significant number of successful alumni who are widely respected in the community. The University is also located uniquely on the edge of Los Angeles, enabling the campus to serve a distinct geographical region.

One of CSULA’s specialty options, the Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, was unique in the region for many years.

“Cal State L.A. has many qualities that will contribute to the richness of a Doctor of Nursing Practice program. We have a long history in graduate education and advanced practice, and subsequently have accumulated knowledge and experience in this area,” said Cynthia Hughes, director of the School of Nursing at CSULA. “We have a wonderfully diverse and motivated student body from which to draw, who will ultimately contribute to enriching the diversity of professional nursing at the advanced practice level.”

Among the variety of skills DNP students will learn are how to acquire, evaluate and use health care records to improve patient care, and the health care system overall. Students will learn leadership, advocacy and management skills, and utilize research in an applied way to help better serve patients, analyze data and statistics, and follow and capitalize on trends.

The DNP also prepares nurses for work in increasingly complex health care systems. According to Hughes, to improve health care outcomes, the evidence generated by research must be translated into clinical practice. The DNP prepares practitioners to evaluate the available scientific evidence and use it in clinical practice to provide best-practice interventions, ultimately improving the quality and safety of health care.

Filling an Urgent Need

The U.S. Bureau of Health Professionals projects California will have a shortfall of more than 100,000 nurses within in a decade. A key challenge to closing this projected shortfall has been a limited number of slots available in California nursing programs, which is tied to the number of individuals qualified to serve as nursing faculty.

California and the nation have a staggering need for nurses to care for an aging population. In fact, nearly half of the nursing workforce is comprised of nurses over the age of 50, according to Professor Thomas Barkley, director of Nurse Practitioner and Doctor of Nursing Practice programs.

“The nursing shortage is California is critical and the implementation of the clinical doctorate to educate future educators could not come at a more opportune time,” said Barkley. “With the aging population of the country, and specifically California, we must educate future nursing faculty at the doctoral level to teach future generations of nurses. Without qualified faculty, universities cannot meet the ongoing demand for more nurses in the workforce. Thousands of applicants are turned away each year by nursing programs because of the ongoing faculty shortage.”

Hughes discussed some of the hurdles related to nursing education in California, such as: • resources in the public sector are limited and educational expansion has been uneven at best over the last few years; • clinical resources, where students can practice and study, are restricted by community demand; • increasing higher acuity of hospitalized patients, which results in new graduates having to practice at an extremely high skill level; • and hospitals have to assume an expensive orientation and educational role for new graduates in order to meet these challenges.

While helping to reduce the shortfall, Evans takes pride in what she has already done to help those who require medical attention, and looks forward to the expansion the DNP will have on her career.

“I plan to continue working as a Nurse Practitioner in my current field of cardiology,” she said. “I believe the DNP will provide me with the tools to provide better patient care by being able to critically appraise evidenced-based research and its applications to my patients and practice. I also plan to continue to teach at CSULA as a clinical instructor. I feel that the DNP is specific and pertinent to clinical instruction.”

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