The term “evolution” brings about images of change. However, evolution is change with purpose. Nursing has historically responded to the needs of society by evolving to meet those needs to impact the health and well-being of the population.
From the time of Florence Nightingale and the first hospital-based nursing schools, nursing education has increased in complexity to baccalaureate degree programs, nondegree certificate nurse practitioner programs and master’s prepared advanced nursing practice.
Societal trends are now driving forward a new level of nursing practice in response to the healthcare needs of the nation. Today’s healthcare systems are more complex than ever.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recognized this need and proposed changes in the preparation of healthcare professionals. The IOM identified core competencies that all healthcare providers should possess in order to improve quality and reduce medical errors, focusing on patient-centered care, interdisciplinary teams, evidence-based practice, continuous quality improvement, and informatics.
First UWO doctorate
The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s College of Nursing (CON) has a long history of evolution and innovation. Building on its successful master’s primary care nurse practitioner program, the CON launched the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program in summer 2010, the first doctoral program on the UW Oshkosh campus.
The DNP program educates advanced practice nurses and advanced nurse administrators for the highest level of professional nursing practice and clinical scholarship to meet the educational requirements put forth by the IOM and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). The AACN has called for transition of all advanced practice nurse education to the practice doctorate by 2015.
Anna Christian, a DNP student from Appleton, returned to graduate school at UW Oshkosh to pursue an advanced degree in nursing practice. She has been a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) for 12 years.
“I could feel my practice start to stagnate. When I found out that Oshkosh was offering the DNP program, I jumped at the chance,” Christian said. “I want to be a role model by showing other advanced practice nurses that this is achievable and complimentary to their current roles.”
Christian hopes to expand her nursing role toward career development, corporate decision-making regarding nursing roles and practice, and to change policy relevant to nurse practice acts.
“I feel nursing as a discipline has not been well-represented at most corporate levels of healthcare, and this practice needs to be greatly improved,” she said.
“Role reversals are changing the landscape of healthcare. Nurses no longer merely nurture or educate but are becoming primary caregivers in an ever-changing and more complicated healthcare system. They are not only treating but guiding patients through
a variety of services.”
Graduate education provides the necessary tools for nurses to focus on measures to improve quality outcomes for individuals and society as a whole.
While the current DNP program is for students like Christian who already hold a master’s degree, the BSN to DNP program is slated to begin in fall 2012 for those who have a bachelor’s degree
In becoming a CNL, Hulett will meet her professional goals: continue working in the hospital setting and improve patient outcomes and patient safety while increasing staff satisfaction by decreasing the chaos that exists in the complex healthcare environment.
As a CNL, Hulett will become a leader in the nursing profession to transform care given on the frontline.
“Nurses need to be able to work differently than in the past,” she said. “Graduate school will enhance my ability to help nurses and other healthcare professionals think outside the box, do more with less, and partner with patients and families to make evidence-based practice realistic at the bedside.”
The CNL works with others to fix inconsistencies in healthcare that will, in turn, improve patient and staff outcomes.
After solidifying her decision to go to graduate school, Hulett searched the AACN website and found that UW Oshkosh offered the CNL emphasis.
“I knew that UW Oshkosh had a great nursing program, but I was apprehensive because I lived and worked across the state in La Crosse. From the beginning, the staff at the College of Nursing has been creative and flexible with me and my healthcare organization to make my education a reality.”
Innovations in educational delivery have allowed Hulett to “attend class,” using a variety of distance learning strategies. She also completed all of her clinical hours where she works.
Heather Englund, of Oshkosh, knows that there is a critical shortage of nurse educators nationwide, which in turn, con-tributes to the ongoing nursing shortage.
Students like Englund who enroll in the Nurse Educator (NE) emphasis, are pursuing advanced education so that they can teach the next generation of nurses.
“I chose to attend graduate school to pursue my master’s degree as a nurse educator, because I truly cannot think of anything more rewarding than assisting students to realize their dreams of becoming nurses,” she said.
Currently, while still in school, Englund teaches some medical-surgical clinical courses in the College of Nursing. Her graduate course schedule is flexible, with most of her courses offered online.
“The College of Nursing has consistently shown its commitment to creating a learning environment that fosters both personal and professional growth. We are evolving to meet the educational needs for nurses moving into the increasingly complex healthcare system,” she said.
The CNL and NE programs are offered online, the DNP program and FNP master’s emphasis are hybrid (some online, some face-to-face). Distance learning has greatly opened the availability of educational programs to large numbers of nurses who could not necessarily attend conventional university classes.
Through the use of technology, innovation in the online environment and classroom and a cutting-edge curriculum consistent with the most recent Master’s and DNP Essentials and NP competencies, the CON continues its tradition of evolution in nursing education to produce the highest caliber nursing professionals ready to impact the health of a nation.