Advanced nursing degree positions GVSU for the future

November 14, 2009
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Traverse City resident Jonathon Reed said Grand Valley State University’s new doctorate program in nursing practice fits the bill for him.

Reed, an Army reservist who spent 10 months serving in the infantry in Iraq, is a member of the first class of students in the program, which began this fall.

“I do a lot of work at home, using the Internet and reading and that sort of thing,” he said. “I participate in online discussions with my classmates. Then we meet roughly about once a month.”

The schedule fits a busy life that includes on-call work as a registered nurse at Munson Medical Center, three children ages 2 months, 7 and 9, and wife, Rebecca, a physical therapist.

Reed attended the two-year nursing program at Northwestern Michigan College, then completed a bachelor’s degree in nursing through the University of Michigan. After four years of full-time study at GVSU, he will hold a DNP designation that will qualify him to become a nurse practitioner.

The nursing profession is moving toward increased educational credentials, said Kirkhof College of Nursing Associate Dean Linda D. Scott. In 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing agreed that preparation for advanced nursing practice should be moved from master’s degree to the doctorate by 2015. The doctorate will be required for nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists and nurse-midwives, Scott said.

A nurse who holds a bachelor’s degree can step right into the GVSU DNP program, Scott said, but faces a longer course schedule than someone who already holds a master’s degree.

“The doctor of nursing practice is a terminal degree in clinical nursing practice,” Scott explained. “If you look at the analogy with other professional practice doctorates, it would be the same as the M.D., the J.D. You also see practice doctorates are required for doctor of physical therapy, in pharmacy, the Pharm.D., the Psych.D. This is a similar degree.

“It is not the same as the Ph.D., which is also a terminal degree, but it’s the research-intensive degree in our profession. So both of them are end points as far as the highest level of education within our profession. Our master’s (program) will become an advanced generalist degree.”

Scott said GVSU spent five years developing the program before admitting the first 19 students this fall.

The program offers two general paths: advanced clinical practice, and nursing administration and health care systems. Within advanced clinical practice, students may choose between tracks that focus on the older adult or the child and adolescent.

Those with a bachelor’s degree can expect to be required to fill 90 credit hours and 1,000 clinical, while those who already hold a master’s degree would expect 40 credit hours and 400 clinical hours, according to the GVSU Web site.

“There is a lot of research that’s out there that talks about how there are better patient outcomes with higher levels of education,” Scott said. “So if we go from the baccalaureate and higher to having a master’s degree in nursing, in general, it only makes those individuals better clinicians.”

Even while coping with nursing shortages and the ever-escalating cost of higher education, Scott said the nursing profession continues to push ahead with stronger educational preparation. Many colleges have instituted programs that make it easier for registered nurses, who complete a two-year program, to earn a bachelor’s degree. And although there are thousands of licensed practical nurses in Michigan, who work under the auspice of an R.N. and mostly now in nursing homes, Scott said eventually that entry-level designation may be phased out.

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