When I graduated with a Master’s of Nursing Administration in 2004, I did not intend on pursuing doctoral education. Similar to many students, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought I had put advanced education behind me. I was ready to enter into the next phase of my career at the management level in a tertiary care facility as the director of a large program providing school health services to area public and private schools. However, I soon found myself drawn into the discussion about an emergent doctoral degree: the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). The American Association of Colleges of Nursing envisioned a degree that would serve not only Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), but also administrative nurses.

To be honest, I had briefly considered enrolling in the Ph.D. in nursing, but knew research was not my passion – I was passionate about practice. I enrolled in a DNP program and the knowledge and skills I gained in the process were invaluable in the advancement of my career. It provided in-depth yet practical skills needed for advanced administrative practice.

To be successful in the fast-paced, ever changing healthcare arena, administrators and APRNs need advanced skill in organizational assessment and systems management. They must have the ability to work with interdisciplinary teams to design, implement, and evaluate health care programs and care delivery models. A DNP education provides APRNs and administrators with the tools necessary to design programs and lead change to improve patient outcomes at the aggregate and population level. While APRNs are experts at working with patients one-on-one and helping them to achieve their highest level of wellness, a DNP-prepared APRN is qualified to go to the next level and develop, implement, and evaluate healthcare programs that impact an entire population of patients.

Nurses are creative people by nature and often have ideas about how to deliver healthcare services in different ways to improve outcomes, but they sometimes lack the tools or knowledge to operationalize their ideas. DNP education provides students with opportunities to apply evidence-based practice to clinical and systems projects that have a genuine impact on patients and healthcare organizations. In my case, the skills learned through my DNP program enabled me to redesign a shared governance program that had been in existence for over twenty years and in desperate need of upgrading. The initiative required leading an organizational change and working with staff who were reluctant to let go of tradition. The success of the new program can be attributed to my abilities to assess the shared governance program from a systems perspective, to collaborate with a diverse nursing staff, and to design and implement a program in an organizational setting – all skills learned in DNP education.

Being doctoral-prepared also opens doors in academia. Many universities now offer tenure-track positions to DNP-prepared nurses. We are practice scholars and often work collaboratively with Ph.D. colleagues on research studies, conduct evidence-based practice projects, or consult with organizations to develop policies and procedures to improve patient outcomes. These experiences transfer to the classroom to help prepare the next generation of DNP graduates.

A DNP education gives APRNs the ability to take their careers to new places, whether that be in the classroom as an instructor or as a leader in a healthcare organization. Today, many healthcare organizations are now seeking DNP-prepared nurses to serve at the highest level of management or administration because they possess the necessary skills to lead change, work with interdisciplinary teams, and design healthcare delivery systems for the future. As healthcare becomes more complex, higher levels of preparation are required. A DNP education provides the skills necessary for APRNs and nurse administrators to excel in any healthcare environment at the highest level.