There was a time when, to most people, the word “doctor” was interchangeable with “physician.” If you made a doctor’s appointment, it meant you were going in to see a physician.
That’s not always the case now. Today, a visit to the doctor could just as accurately be described as a visit to the nurse. Nurses are earning a DNP in record numbers, and with those doctorates comes an expanded role in patient care.
So why now? Many events have transpired to lead more and more nurses to take the doctoral path, and understanding how this occurred paints a vivid picture of the modern healthcare and education landscape.
Barriers Broken Down
One of the major reasons there are more nurses earning their doctorates is simple: because they can.
For a long time, nurses have been able to get doctorates that focused more on theory than practice. But the advent of the practice doctorate has only really taken off in recent years, fueled by nursing advocacy groups working closely with state legislatures to remove some of the restrictions that have historically been placed on nurses.
For the greater part of the 20th century, nurses were unable to practice their craft without the oversight of a physician. That has begun to change, with this map outlining those areas that have full and partial practice authority. Without restrictions in place, doctors of nursing and their respective practices have flourished, providing exceptional patient care to those who traditionally would have visited a physician for almost every medical issue.
Supply Meets Demand
Another factor playing into the abundance of nurses with Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees is the demand for such persons, both by employers and the communities that nurses will ultimately serve.
Healthcare costs are going up and the aging Baby Boomer generation will require additional services at local hospitals and clinics. In order to meet this demand, master’s and doctorate-prepared nurses have stepped up in a big way.
Hospitals across the country, particularly in areas that face a dramatic shortage of healthcare personnel, are hiring nurses with the DNP in record numbers. In addition, patients who have experienced the care of these nurses have gone back repeatedly. They truly appreciate the level of service that they’ve gotten from nurses, and that care sometimes comes at a lower cost.
Plus, nurses have never been the type to wait for an opportunity. Certified and credentialed nurses have opened their own clinics in order to better serve patients, work to the full scope of their practice and, let’s be honest, be their own bosses. Some of our very own graduates have gone this route and had immense success as a result.
The demand is there, especially once patients experience the quality of care offered by a nurse working at the top of his or her profession.
Not Limited to Practitioners
Much of what was discussed above pertains to Nurse Practitioners, the most traditional of the roles one imagines when they picture a nurse providing care. But the nurses’ stature in healthcare has dramatically expanded beyond that.
It’s not just individual patient care anymore. There are four categories of Advanced Nursing Practice. In addition to Nurse Practitioner, there’s Clinical Nurse Specialist, Nurse Midwife and Nurse Anesthesiologist.
And that’s only the practice-related positions that nurses are able to pursue. Hospitals and other organizations are always on the lookout for nurses to fill Chief Nursing Officer roles and other executive and cabinet level positions. Many nurses have found a new passion for the profession by teaching in and directing programs at nursing colleges across the country. Still others harness data to improve outcomes through the use of informatics.
The breadth of what a nurse can do is greater than at perhaps any time in history. And once nurses get into these positions, they’re able to transform healthcare in a monumental way that benefits the patient and opens an organization’s eyes to the power of holism.
Healthcare Models Have Evolved
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, reimbursement models within healthcare institutions are moving toward a value-centered structure where previously they relied on volume.
Perhaps no one is better positioned to meet this challenge than nurses. Nurses are the ones who work with patients regularly, checking in on them and seeing firsthand the challenges they experience. Their interactions can mean the difference between a successful recovery or a return to the hospital, and they know the minor and major things that can be done to improve a person’s odds.
It should therefore come as no surprise that nurses have stepped up as they have. Their knowledge from the frontlines of healthcare is unparalleled. They understand not just the technical aspects of their jobs, but the intricate systems at work in a hospital system and the interpersonal dynamics that can shape an entire organization. Most importantly, they know patients.
Is it any wonder, then, that nurses provide an answer to expanded healthcare, increasingly complex insurance issues and heightened demand for services? They’ve been providing answers for as long as nursing has been a profession.
The doctorate degree signifies the culmination of not just one individual’s years of hard work, but all the hard work that’s been accomplished over the course of decades by nursing leaders who were able to alter the landscape of healthcare.
That work continues to this day, and it’s being done by nurses earning their terminal degrees in record numbers.