BUFFALO, N.Y. -- What kind of advanced degree is available to an
RN who loves patient care?
Until recently, the PhD was the only terminal degree that
schools of nursing offered.
But with the American Association of Collegiate Nurses' (AACN)
recommendation that the doctor of nursing practice (DNP) become the
new standard for advanced clinical practice in 2015, RNs are being
encouraged to attain the highest level of education possible to be
partners and leaders in health care.
To address this need, the University at Buffalo School of
Nursing initiated a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree (DNP) in the
summer of 2011 and is making the degree more accessible with its
"Go the Distance at UB" campaign which offers the DNP via distance
learning to RNs with a master's degree And offers the PhD through
distance learning for those with either a baccalaureate or master's
"The DNP addresses the demands of our complex health care
environment because it provides the highest level of knowledge and
practice expertise for advanced practice nurses. It also offers
needed competencies for the increasingly complex nurse-leadership
role," said Marsha Lewis, PhD, dean of the UB School of
Why get a DNP instead of PhD in nursing?
UB clinical assistant professor in nursing, Pamela Paplham, RN,
DNP and the first DNP faculty member to be hired at UB, says the
role of a nurse who possesses a DNP and the nurse who has a PhD in
nursing –referred to as a nurse scientist -- not only differ,
but also complement each other.
"The DNP is on the front lines of clinical outcomes for
patients," says Paplham. "Our interactions with patients and the
treatment challenges we face -- the ability to observe in the field
how well evidence-based methods are working -- are what we can
discuss with our PhD colleagues in nursing.
"A nurse with a DNP is an equal at the health-care team 'table'
with physicians, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists, audiologists
and physical therapists. Whereas, a PhD in nursing focuses on
research -- those nurse scientists are experts in developing new
knowledge for healthcare."
Paplham also explains that nurses with PhDs and DNPs can work
together to determine what clinical areas need to be studied,
devise studies, carry out the research study in the clinical area,
record outcomes of the study, publish the research, teach it in the
classroom and in the clinical areas, and help to affect the nursing
policies that drive better results for patients.
Paplham is a board certified family nurse practitioner (NP) who
specializes in oncology and has worked in the bone marrow
transplant unit at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) for 20
years. She was one of the first NPs in the acute care setting at
RPCI and continues to work there as a DNP in addition to being UB
"I was a pioneer as one of the first NPs at RPCI and helped to
evolve that role there. And I continue in the pioneer role in
helping Roswell Park evolve the DNP role."
Paplham also says that her students respect her clinical
experience -- they know that when she's teaching them that she's
"been there, done that" and are more inclined to pay attention.
Laurie Connors, MS, RN, is a nurse practitioner and a UB
clinical instructor in nursing, who began studying for the DNP
because she wanted more of a challenge.
"I wanted to be a principal investigator on clinical studies,"
Connors is one of the UB DNP cohort who started in 2011 and will
be graduating in August. She works at RPCI with women who are at
high risk for genetic breast and/or ovarian cancer and test
negative for the genetic BRCA genes, but have a strong family or
personal history for these cancers.
She explains, "The nursing PhD generates new knowledge. The DNP
builds on current knowledge to improve patient outcomes."
Connors agrees with Paplham that the students respect her
clinical knowledge because they know it comes from experience.
Regarding the important role of the DNP, Connors says, "I think
it's important for nurses not to ride on the tails of doctors -- we
are the largest cohort of health workers; we need to be an equal at
Connors' final project in the DNP program is called "Information
Delivery and Decision Making in Women at Risk for Hereditary Breast
and Ovarian Cancer."
Both Paplham and Connors agree that DNPs can move on to careers
in health care settings, educational settings or as policy makers
or patient advocates.
"I was told in graduate school that you are granted a degree but
you evolve, develop and cultivate your role," Paplham said. "It's
not them or us -- doctors versus nurses, PhDs versus DNPs; it's all
of us working together for the betterment of health care."
The UB School of Nursing offers a post-baccalaureate DNP program
with specialties in adult clinical nurse specialist, adult, family,
and psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner as well as nurse
anesthetist. The post-master's DNP program is available with a
distance learning option and can be completed in five semesters of
For more information, visit http://nursing.buffalo.edu/Academics/DoctorofNursingPractice.aspx
or call (716) 829-2537.