Texas Health Resources Nurse Executives Embrace National Trend Toward Higher Education

DALLAS — Three Texas Health Resources nurse executives earned their Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees this spring from Texas Christian University, highlighting a major new trend in higher education for nurses.

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a new, doctorate-level degree that has exploded on the scene in the last five years, with the number of DNP programs nationally mushrooming from 20 in 2006 to more than 120 in 2009. Until recently, the most common doctorate-level degree in nursing had been a PhD. This doctorate of philosophy in nursing science was an academic- and research-based degree. The newer DNP, on the other hand, is patient-oriented, focusing on clinical care rather than academic research.

“One of the most exciting things about the DNP program is that its objective is to translate what nurse scientists are discovering in labs as well as academic and healthcare institutions — and apply it to the bedside,” said Cole Edmonson, DNP, RN, FACHE, NEA-BC, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. “The DNP is really about improving the health of the populations in the communities of patients we serve.”

Edmonson was one of the three Texas Health nurse leaders to earn their DNPs this year from Texas Christian University. TCU has graduated three classes of DNP since the program began in August of 2007. This however, is the first cohort of executive leadership focused DNPs.

“The power of a DNP is that it gives nurse leaders the education and training needed to lead in today’s complex health care environment, with a focus on innovation in health care delivery and translating the latest evidence-based research into better patient care,” said Dr. Paulette Burns, dean of the TCU Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

The increased interest in educating more DNP-prepared advance practicing nurses represents a national trend that emerged from a landmark study’s recommendation that nurses embrace life-long learning, pursue certifications in their specialties and strive for advanced degrees. The report called for the nursing profession to double its number of doctorally prepared nurses nationwide by 2020. In Texas, that means doubling the state’s existing 678 doctorally prepared nurses that exist today.

“Choosing the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree was an easy choice for me as a practicing nurse in the service side of healthcare,” said Edmonson. “It was about being a better leader, able to understand the complexity of the world today and able to translate the evidence from literature into practice, both clinical and leadership.”

The Future of Nursing, the major study released by the Institute of Medicine and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation last year, revealed that “profound changes in the education of nurses, both before and after they receive their licenses, are required to develop a more highly-educated workforce.” It further emphasized the need for continued lifelong learning and creation of opportunities for nurses that allow more seamless transition into higher degree programs.

The study assessed critical roles played by more than 3 million nurses in the nation’s healthcare system. It concluded that nurses should be full partners, with physicians and other health professionals, in redesigning health care to provide quality care that is seamless, affordable and accessible.

The report also emphasized that nurses with doctorates are needed to teach future generations of nurses and to conduct research that becomes the basis for improvements in nursing science and practice.

Doctorally prepared advance practicing nurses have the ability to use their enhanced knowledge and leadership skills to help strengthen healthcare delivery.

“The Doctor of Nursing Practice is a degree the practicing nurse can see adding value to their daily practice and credibility in the service side of healthcare,” said Joan Clark, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, CENP, FACHE, FAAN, senior vice president and chief nurse executive for Texas Health Resources. “It provides a welcome alternative for nurse executives and other nurse leaders who want to advance their knowledge and skills in evidence-based practice and translational research.”

A 2010 survey by the American Association of College of Nursing (AACN) indicated that enrollments in doctoral nursing programs continue to trend upward despite widespread funding cuts in higher education that forced nursing schools to turn away more than 67,000 qualified applicants last year alone. The AACN committee recommended that all advance practice nurses pursue and earn the DNP degree by 2015.

“The DNP is the perfect degree for chief nursing officers; the core competencies align well with the expected competencies of the executive nurse,” Edmonson said. “The IOM recommendation is to double the number of doctorally prepared nurses by 2020. That means having 1,290 doctorally prepared nurses in Texas. The DNP will help us meet that goal with accelerated velocity.”

The spring doctoral graduating class of 2011 had more DNP graduates from Texas Health Resources than from any other system in the D-FW area. The graduates are:

  • Joan Clark, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, CENP, FACHE, FAAN, senior vice president and system chief nurse executive for Texas Health Resources
  • Cole Edmonson, DNP, RN, FACHE, NEA-BC, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas
  • June Marshall, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, director of advancing professional nursing practice at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas

Several other Texas Health nurses are pursuing doctoral education, with plans to graduate within the next couple of years.

The Texas Christian University Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences Doctor of Nursing Practice program is fully accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. The program requires a minimum of 30-semester hours of coursework and students must maintain a 3.0 grade point average.

For more information about Nursing at Texas Health Resources, visit TexasHealth.org/Nurses.