Doctor of Nursing Practice Programs in Alaska

Alaska does not have a DNP program yet, but there is a place for doctorally prepared nurses within Alaska’s borders. The state’s rural and largely underserved population, in fact, creates a special need. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has come out in strong support of utilizing nurse practitioners in areas where it is hard to attract physicians.

Why are nursing organizations in favor of doctoral level training, though, when studies have repeatedly found that nurse practitioners provide primary care at a level comparable to doctors? It has to do with changes, and also failures, within the healthcare system as a whole.

The IOM’s report “Crossing the Quality Chasm” is about multiple gaps and chasms. The first is the gap between research and practice. The IOM places the lag at seventeen years -- shocking as that is, some organizations have placed it even higher. Another gap is the one that separates practitioners who work in diverse professions or are employed by different institutions. The IOM notes that, while much could be gained from collaboration and shared information and resources, groups of professionals often act like they are islands unto themselves. Still another chasm exists between the needs of patients and the realities they face. The medical field needs to move toward a model that is based on management of chronic conditions; instead it continues to focus on handling acute crises. The end result of these failings? Wasted resources, lost productivity, and lost lives.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing conducted a task force on doctoral education. In the early years of the century; they made the recommendation that all courses for advance practice nurses be moved to the doctoral level by the year 2015. The expanded program was designed to incorporate coursework in areas such as informatics, scholarly research, professional relationships, and leadership issues.

In Alaska, healthcare professionals and patients are often separated by miles of snow and difficult terrain. Do they need to be separated by information as well?

DNP Program Specializations and What to Expect

DNP programs take different forms. Some focus primarily on indirect patient care like management or population health, while others include preparation for clinical nurses (nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse anesthetists).

Nurses have the option of entering BSN to DNP or MSN to DNP tracks. The latter are sometimes termed DNP completion programs. Students have to complete at least 1,000 hours of clinical practice beyond what they did for their baccalaureate; hours completed in master’s training are generally subtracted from the total. Doctoral level clinical hours can be a new challenge as the focus shifts from providing basic patient care to pondering problems that may not yet have solutions. DNP candidates immerse themselves in translational research in order to complete a final scholarly project. This may take one of many forms, including a quality improvement study, pilot study, or educational program.

With the exception of the hours spent in healthcare facilities, DNP candidates can often complete all coursework at home on their computer screens. At this point, online learning may be the best option for Alaska’s students. Students may enroll in master’s level family care or psychiatric nurse practitioner programs at the University of Alaska, and then complete their doctorate from an online school. Some schools are able to match students with preceptors in their own communities.

Of course students often find finances to be the most challenging part of education. Many programs are part time to accommodate working nurses. There are also lucrative national scholarships available to students who are studying at the highest levels. Native Alaskan students should be aware of the Indian Health Services Scholarship, which may fund their education in return for a work commitment.

star Learn about the out of state schools offering DNP Programs Online in Alaska.

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