Doctor of Nursing Practice Programs in Virginia

With the coming of the DNP, advanced practice nursing is becoming more disciplined and professional than ever. The field is following the path of other health professions like physical therapy and audiology. The AACN, which has more than 600 member schools, concluded a two year task force with a big announcement. They announced that doctoral education was the new standard for advanced practice.

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The AACN set a ten year time frame for the transition. In just seven years, the number of practice doctorate programs has grown by well over 100. There have been dissenting voices, of course. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists has set a longer timeline for the programs it accredits, allowing schools until 2025 to make the transition. The American College of Nurse Midwives Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education continues to support multiple entry points into the profession. However, even in these specialties, the mandate — and the reasons behind it — are being felt. Already, there are options to enroll in doctoral level nurse anesthesia courses in Virginia.

The mandate does not change requirements for current nurse practitioners; educational standards and scope of duty are both determined by state legislature. Nurses choose to enroll in doctorate level programs for a number of reasons: to deliver patient care at the highest level possible, to take on positions that require leadership or collaboration with other healthcare professionals, and to attain high-level faculty positions. The AACN noted in their 2004 task force report that nurse practitioner programs included significantly more credits than many master’s programs, but that they didn’t give nurses the credential they needed. Nurses needed a more prestigious degree to work with other practitioners in reshaping healthcare policy.

DNP Program Paths and Competencies

There are two components to the practice doctorate. Some competencies are specific to a person’s specialty. A nurse practitioner who enrolls in a DNP program can expect coursework in advanced diagnosis and care; this can obviously benefit his or her own practice. Other competencies are common to all DNP programs. The AACN has identified eight essential standards. There is significant coursework in emerging technologies, biostatistics, and research-guided practice. Leadership is another area of emphasis.

There are DNP options for nurses who are not nurse practitioners or aspiring ones. At Old Dominion, for instance, one can take a doctorate level program tailored to nurse executives. Some nurses know they want to advance their education, but are unsure whether it is better to pursue a PhD or DNP. A PhD prepares nurses to carry out independent research, while a DNP prepares him or her to aggregate existing research and use it to inform practice and shape policy. Instead of a dissertation, a DNP candidate will often carry out a project that relates to her own specialty. There is still significant academic rigor. At the University of Virginia, for example, the final project results in an evidence-based scholarly work that is of sufficient quality to be included in a peer-reviewed journal. Possible projects would be an evaluation of a healthcare program or a cost/benefit analysis of different program options.

Either the DNP or PhD can qualify a nurse for a faculty position, though particular programs will of course have preferences. The nursing shortage is partly fueled by a lack of highly trained nurses willing to serve as nursing faculty. The University of Virginia notes that loan forgiveness programs will finance the education of some DNP candidates who intend to become nurse educators after graduation.

Contact Information for DNP Programs in Virginia

Marymount University

Contact Information:
2807 N. Glebe Road
Arlington, VA 22207
PH: 703-284-5901


Old Dominion University

Contact Information:
PH: 757-469-6735


Radford University

Contact Information:
P.O. Box 6964
Radford , VA 24142
PH: 540-831-7741


Shenandoah University

Contact Information:
1775 N. Sector Court
Winchester, VA 22601
PH: 540-678-4374


University of Virginia

Contact Information:
P.O. Box 800782
Charlottesville VA 22908-0782
PH: 434-924-0105


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