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Kim Udlis

With a large increase of Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs across the nation in the past couple of years, Kim Udlis had to know what set these programs apart from each other.

Udlis, assistant professor and assistant director of advanced nursing practice at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s graduate program, along with Josephine Mancuso, adjunct clinical assistant professor at Marquette University, wanted to explore the context and content of DNP programs in the U.S.

“We thought it would be a good idea to start looking at the programs across the nation to get a benchmark and an understanding of what is available to current students and nurses for advanced nursing practice,” Udlis said.

After the UW System Board of Regents approved UW Oshkosh’s DNP as its first doctoral program in 2009, the College of Nursing began enrolling students for summer 2010. During this time, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reported that the greatest growth was seen in DNP programs where enrollment increased by 25.6 percent across the nation.

“There has been a dramatic increase of DNP programs over the last three years. From 2008 to 2009, the number of students enrolled in DNP programs rose from 3,400 to 5,100, and the number of DNP graduates increased from 361 to 660,” Udlis said.

Being the only doctorate degree at UW Oshkosh, the DNP emphasizes the highest level of education to prepare experts in advanced, specialized nursing practice. The main reason behind implementing DNP programs in higher education is to provide increased knowledge and skills in healthcare, remain up-to-date with information technology and combat the nursing faculty shortage across the nation.

According to the AACN, the educational entry level for advanced practice nurses should be at no less than the DNP level. They anticipate that by 2015, it will be the minimum educational level for advanced practice nurses focusing on leadership, management, direct patient care, administration of nursing systems and implementation of health policy.

AACN has produced standards of education for DNP programs called the Essentials of Advanced Nursing Practice. However, Udlis said that even with the essentials, there still is much diversity among the programs.

Udlis and Mancuso began the research process in August 2010. After outlining their plan, they focused on reviewing multiple characteristics of DNP programs by collecting data from each DNP program website, which totals 138 programs.

“The data we collected is based on 30 characteristics. We researched the different types of programs in various states and regions, how they deliver their program, whether or not the program is full or part time, and the amount of credits in comparison with costs,” Udlis said.

What has struck Udlis and Mancuso the most was the difficulty in pulling program characteristics off of DNP websites.

“The way websites are set up and the amount of clicks to get to the right information made the process of extracting and collecting data longer than what we originally expected,” Udlis said. “It’s been very, very time consuming.”

Udlis and Mancuso wrapped up the data collection process the last week of 2010, and they are hoping to publish their findings this year. The two professors also plan on delivering poster presentations to administrators, alumni, faculty, staff and students at their respective institutions.

Read more to learn about the DNP program at UW Oshkosh: