Will I Have to Have a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) to be A Family Nurse Practitioner?

It takes more knowledge and skills today to be a nurse, and the requirements for nursing proficiency are increasing. The RN with an associate’s degree will need to have a bachelor’s degree by 2020. The nurse practitioner trained at the master’s level is expected to have a doctorate after 2015. What’s happening to cause these changes, and does this mean that the Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) will have to hold a doctorate?

Future Trends in Nursing Education

A seminal report by the Institute of Medicine, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health released on October 5, 2010, made the following two recommendations on the training of nurses: 1) increase the proportion of nurses with a baccalaureate degree from 50 to 80 percent by 2020, and 2) double the number of nurses with a doctorate by 2020. Concerning nurse practitioners, this report was preceded by the Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing, issued by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) in 2004. Their position was to move the level of preparation needed for advanced nursing practice from the master’s degree to the doctorate level by the year 2015.

What’s Behind the Trends?

There are many occurrences that are impacting the health industry. Among these are the aging and multicultural population and an epidemic of obesity. There is a demand for better patient care from both the public and government. Above all, the expansion of knowledge in medical and patient care necessitates further training.

New and expanded skills and knowledge in nurses are needed concurrently with a shortage of nurses and of nursing faculty. As a result, leaders in medical and nursing education are reconceptualizing the nurse practitioner’s role as that of collaborative leadership for research and policy development, for bringing new knowledge, technology and informatics to improve health service delivery, and to design and evaluate excellent nursing practices.

Following the AACN position statement about doctorates in nurse practice, nursing programs in universities began to offer the Doctor in Nurse Practice (DNP) degree. There are now 217 DNP programs offered in 40 states and the District of Columbia, 116 of which are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Does this mean that the Family Nurse Practitioner should pursue a Doctorate?

The fundamentals of nurse practitioner functions will remain as outlined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics: diagnose and treat acute, episodic, or chronic illness including interpreting diagnostic test results and prescribing medicine. In addition, the FNP provides for the health care needs of the family through health assessments, direct care, and promoting family self-care.

Training in these areas are included in current M.S. degree FNP programs. It is the increased knowledge base and expanded roles in research, collaborative leadership and policy development that adds to the learning load for FNPs. DNP programs produce practitioners with these competencies. AACN reports that employers are quickly recognizing the value to their services of these DNP graduates and the demand is increasing. It also reports that a 2009 survey of salaries of nurse practitioners found that DNPs earned $7,688 more than M.S degree holders.

Whether or not a nursing school student aspiring to be a FNP should proceed with education beyond the M.S. degree program would depend on the aspirations of that student. If the central interest is in practicing primary health care with families in a variety of settings, the M.S. degree will meet the current FNP certification requirements of AACN. If the student feels a need to increase scientific knowledge, has a particular interest in research and innovation and wants to be in positions of leadership and teaching, the DNP would be appropriate. Should the doctorate become a requirement, master’s level practitioners can acquire a DNP in one more year of schooling in most universities.

These are demanding but also exciting times in health science. The Family Nurse Practitioner, whether at a master’s or doctoral level, provides a valuable service. When families are healthy and stable, the community and nation can prosper.