Online BSN-DNP and MSN-DNP Programs Available in Colorado

With the shortage of primary care physicians in Colorado’s rural, frontier, and underserved urban areas, nurse practitioners and other advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) fill the void by providing vital primary care services to the state’s residents. Colorado’s nurse practitioners can practice independently of physicians and prescribe medication once they fulfill the requirements for prescriptive authority.

While an MSN meets the base requirements for APRN certification and licensure, in recent years the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) has become the default degree for those looking to future proof their credentials by earning the ultimate terminal practice-focused degree. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has advocated for the DNP as the new educational minimum for nurse practitioners and other APRNs. In addition, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation issued a joint report with the Institute of Medicine in 2010 that called for a doubling of the country’s nurses that possess a DNP.

The number of DNP programs based in Colorado doubled between 2012 and 2016 as the demand for this degree increased. The AACN reported that 517 students in Colorado were enrolled in DNP programs as of the fall of 2015. Nearly six times more Colorado doctoral nursing students sought a DNP that year than a PhD, reinforcing the value of a practice-based doctorate in the workplace. Graduates of DNP programs can serve as executive nurse leaders in addition to practicing as APRNs.

A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment publication entitled Colorado Health Workforce Development Strategy, 2014 described the “maldistribution” of primary care providers in Colorado. Seventy-three percent of Colorado’s counties are classified as rural or frontier and typically face a critical shortage of healthcare providers. In 2010, the average rate of uninsured individuals in these areas exceeded the state’s average by 26%.

When assessed by the levels of primary care physicians, nine regions in Colorado faced significant challenges in establishing an adequate number of doctors. Five regions exhibited a particularly dire shortage and were referred to as “hot spots” in this report:

  • Chaffee, Custer, Fremont, and Lake Counties
  • Cheyenne, Elbert, Kit Carson, and Lincoln Counties
  • Clear Creek, Gilpin, Park, and Teller Counties
  • Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Pitkin, and Summit Counties
  • El Paso County

The 2014 report described primary care nurse practitioners as a critical and expanding component of the primary care workforce in Colorado. These highly trained nurses help to compensate for the lack of physicians in many parts of Colorado. Some practices and federally qualified health clinics assign nurse practitioners their own panel of patients to expand the available primary care capacity.

Educating nurse practitioners and other advanced clinicians capable of serving as primary care providers at the doctoral level will have positive ramifications on the quality and availability of healthcare in Colorado. These programs are open to both students with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or to those with a master of science in nursing (MSN).

Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Colorado

All accredited DNP programs are available with specialty tracks in one of two general areas:

  • An advanced practice registered nursing direct care role (nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife)
  • Aggregate/systems/organizational focus in preparation for roles in executive leadership, informatics, public health, healthcare policy, and more)

Post-bachelor’s DNP programs for BSN-educated RNs – Many of the DNP programs available in Colorado are open to BSN-educated nurses. Often nurses enrolled in these BSN-DNP programs obtain an MSN before progressing to the DNP component of the program. Doing this enables these nurses to obtain national certification and state licensure in an APRN role and patient population focus. Typically, BSN-DNP programs involve taking about 90 credits over a 3 to 4-year period of full-time study.

Post-master’s DNP Programs for MSN-educated RNs and APRNs – Nurses that already posses an MSN can enter the post-MSN phases of DNP programs or enroll in post-master’s programs exclusively designed for MSN-prepared RNs and APRNs. Usually they have the choice of an APRN track through which they can further their education in an existing patient population focus or add additional focus areas. Post-master’s DNP programs are also available with an aggregate/systems/organizational focus. Students in post-MSN programs typically earn about 30 credits over an 18 to 24-month period to obtain their DNP.

Colorado’s nurses can find alternatives to the state’s campus-based DNP programs in the many accredited online DNP programs. These programs typically offer a high degree of flexibility and thus enable the students to continue working in their field as they advance their education. DNP programs often offer options such as accelerated study that takes about a year or part-time study that can take about 2.5 years.

DNP Program Components and Clinical Hour Requirements

DNP programs have three main components:

  • DNP core
  • Courses in a chosen focus
  • DNP Project

DNP students must obtain at least 1,000 hours of post-baccalaureate clinical practicum hours. Those who may have already completed post-baccalaureate hours during a master’s program can apply these hours to the 1,000-hour requirement if they have the proper documentation.

Students will perform their clinical practice at sites that have an affiliation with their program, so they must consult with their school ahead of time to identify an appropriate clinic and a preceptor to supervise them.

BSN-to-DNP and MSN-to-DNP Program Available in Colorado

The following DNP programs have been accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), and/or the American Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Other DNP programs not shown here may hold regional accreditation or specialty accreditation through the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs or the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education:

  • American Sentinel University, Aurora
    • Post-MSN program in Executive Leadership
  • Colorado Mesa University, Grand Junction
    • Available as a BSN-DNP
    • Specialization in Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Regis University, Denver
    • Available as a BSN-DNP
    • Post-MSN program in Advanced Practice Registered Nurse
  • University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
    • Post-MSN program
  • University of Colorado Denver
    • Available as a BSN-DNP
    • Offers dual degrees in:
      • DNP/Master of Public Health
      • DNP/Public Health Nursing
  • University of Northern Colorado, Greeley
    • Available as a BSN-DNP
    • Specialization in Family Nurse Practitioner

Opportunities Available to DNP-Prepared Nurses in Colorado

DNP-educated nurses are exceptionally valuable in Colorado because they help ameliorate the shortage of primary care physicians in much of the state by independently providing high-level care to patients in areas lacking an adequate number of physicians.

In addition, DNP-educated nurses who trained in an aggregate/systems/organizational track can serve as nursing faculty. As of 2012, more than 50% of full-time faculty members in Colorado were more than 55 years old and likely to retire within 10 years.

A survey of job listings for DNP-educated nurses in Colorado performed in April 2016 identified both clinical and faculty positions. These vacancy announcements are shown to illustrate the types of positions available to Colorado’s DNP-prepared nurses and are not meant to represent job offers or an assurance of employment:

Nurse Practitioner at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine Division of GI and Hepatology

  • DNP preferred; MSN required
  • Must be a certified APRN
  • Must be a licensed RN in Colorado
  • Prescriptive authority required
  • New graduates welcome to apply
  • Involves working as a primary coordinator for the Hepatology program

Clinical Teaching Track Assistant/Associate Professor – Nursing at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

  • MSN and DNP required
  • Certification as an Adult Gerontological Nurse Practitioner required
  • Involves teaching undergraduate and graduate students in the classroom, laboratory, and clinical settings
  • Involves engaging in active research and scholarship

Instructor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora

  • DNP, ND, or MS required
  • Certification as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner or Certified Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Must have a current Colorado Nursing License
  • Minimum of 3 years experience in:
    • Critical Care
    • Pediatric Healthcare
  • Must have prescriptive authority or be eligible for it
  • Involves serving as a full-time instructor and a Heart Transplant Coordinator

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