The Practice Doctorate in Nursing: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Elizabeth R. Lenz, PhD, RN, FAAN


Online J Issues Nurs. 2005;10(3) 

In This Article

AACN Task Force on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing

Stimulated both by the recommendation by its task force on indicators of quality in doctoral programs that practice-focused doctoral programs be examined separately, and also by the growing interest in practice doctorates, the AACN Board of Directors in March, 2002, established a task force to examine trends in practice-focused doctoral education and make recommendations about the need for and nature of such programs in nursing. The membership of the task force included representatives from universities that already offered or were planning to offer the practice doctorate, from universities that did not yet offer this type of degree, from a specialty professional organization, and from nursing service administration. The task force was given the following charge: Describe patterns in existing practice-focused doctoral programs; clarify the purpose of practice doctorate, particularly as differentiated from the research doctorate; identify preferred goals, titles, and tracks; identify and make recommendations about key issues; and prepare a position paper.

The activities undertaken by the task force included interviewing administrators, faculty, and graduates of five existing and two planned practice-focused doctoral programs and holding open discussion sessions at several AACN meetings. These meetings included conferences on doctoral education in nursing in 2003 and 2004, a conference on master's education in 2003, and AACN semi-annual meetings in 2003 and 2004. In addition, AACN co-hosted with NONPF an invitational stakeholders' meeting to which all major nursing organizations were invited to send representatives. It also hosted a reaction panel comprised of representatives from key stakeholder organizations, such as major employers, e.g., The Department of Veterans' Affairs, American Organization of Nurse Executives, and Association of Academic Health Centers; physician educators, e.g., Association of American Medical Colleges; and policy makers and influencers, e.g., the Council of Graduate Schools and the National Quality Forum.

No formal marketing surveys were carried out by the task force because of time constraints. However, the aforementioned meetings provided informal indicators of marketplace receptivity, as did the groundswell of interest in the topic at meetings sponsored by AACN, NONPF, and several other specialty organizations. In addition, the results of a recent survey of potential employers of DNP graduates by the University of Kentucky indicated enthusiasm for the benefits of employing nurses prepared with the practice-focused doctorate.

The task force drafted a position paper on the practice-focused doctorate in nursing, which was approved by the AACN membership in October, 2004. The text of this position paper can be found on the AACN Web site: Throughout its investigation of practice-focused doctorates and deliberations about the position to be taken, the task force tackled a number of issues that were known to be controversial. The approach was to secure information and input from multiple sources, to weigh the information carefully before crafting a position, and then to request reactions and suggestions from stakeholders. These reactions and suggestions were taken into account in making final revisions.


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