In fall 2019, the Connell School of Nursing (CSON) welcomes the first cohort of students to its newest program, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). An academic pathway to the most advanced practice degree in the field, the DNP focuses on clinical practice and translating research findings into practice. DNP candidates will be expected to develop both clinical expertise and a comprehensive understanding of epidemiology, organizational leadership, and health care systems, according to Susan Kelly-Weeder, associate dean for graduate programs at the Connell School.

Rather than writing a dissertation that generates new research—a requirement at the Connell School and in most other nursing Ph.D. programs—candidates for the new doctoral degree will apply their clinical and classroom experience in a rigorous “practice change project” dedicated to improving health care outcomes for a particular patient population.

These projects will apply existing research in practice, develop evidence-based solutions for better patient outcomes, and identify ways and means of delivering more efficient care. Kelly-Weeder expects the project to be completed over the last two semesters of what will be a three-year program for most students (see sidebar).

The landmark 2010 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health recommended improving the education and training of nurses at all levels and expanding their role in meeting patients’ rapidly changing needs. As the IOM and most professional nursing organizations see it, educating more nurses at the DNP level is a key to reducing the lag time between lab bench and bedside, or research and application.

Microscope

The Connell School’s DNP project, says Kelly-Weeder, reflects guidelines established by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in 2015 for planning, implementing, and evaluating student research in the 300 DNP programs nationwide.

Students in the Boston College program will take two courses on evidence-based practice to prepare for their projects. Additional knowledge and skills, in students’ specialty areas of practice—adult-gerontology, family, nurse anesthesia, pediatric, psychiatric/mental health, or women’s health—will be integrated in all coursework, says Kelly-Weeder.

DNP faculty will consult with the Connell School’s clinical partners at outpatient hospital clinics, community health centers, and other primary care settings in Greater Boston, with a goal of identifying enduring practice problems that might reap the rewards of evidence-based research. These could include clinical concerns—for instance, treating the complicated health care needs of individuals with diabetes—or organizational challenges, such as using electronic medical records to monitor patients with particular diagnoses.

Tubes

Connell School faculty and their clinical practice partners will help ensure the projects’ relevance, feasibility, and quality. Students will be matched to project sites based on their specialty areas and scholarly interests, then mentored by a faculty member and on-site clinician during all phases of their projects.

As they complete their individual DNP work, students will also work in small groups of three to five with other Connell School DNP candidates who share their interests and background, says Kelly-Weeder. Students addressing diabetes medication compliance at a community health center, for instance, might focus on identifying barriers that affect different populations—nursing mothers, the elderly, or newly diagnosed patients, for example—and devise multifactorial solutions to advance their care.

The Connell School plans to hold an annual event where graduating students in the DNP program will present their applied research. While DNP faculty advisors will help those students who want to publish their outcomes in scholarly journals, Kelly-Weeder emphasizes that “the primary goal of the DNP project is implementation.” The final phase of the doctoral program, she observes, will demonstrate students’ ability to not only evaluate and manage health care environments serving a diverse range of patients but also to help “lead the change that we so critically need to improve care.”


Apply to the DNP Program

Criteria for admission to the Connell School Doctorate in Nursing Practice program differ and depend on a candidate’s level of academic and professional experience. Registered nurses (RNs) and experienced nurse practitioners (NPs) must meet different criteria than those who enter the program with a B.A. or B.S. in a field other than nursing. Prerequisites for applicants to the nurse anesthetist DNP vary as well.