The Alaska Workforce Investment Board targeted the state’s healthcare industry as being critical to the state’s workforce and economic needs. A 2010 report by Alaska’s Health Workforce Planning Coalition entitled the Alaska Health Workforce Plan stressed the need for training of high-level healthcare providers such as family and psychiatric/mental health advanced nurse practitioners.
The timing of this report coincided with the release of the highly influential joint report by the Institute of Medicine and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation that called for a doubling of the country’s nurses who possess a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. Programs that offer this degree provide opportunities to specialize in executive leadership or advanced practice nursing—both areas of critical need in Alaska.
In fact, the 2010 Alaska Health Workforce Plan targeted a number of advanced nursing positions as “Priority 1.” Positions frequently held by DNP-educated nurses that required “immediate attention” included:
- Family Nurse Practitioner/Advanced FNP
- Nurse Educator
- Nurse Manager/Executive
- Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
Filling these positions in Alaska has been challenging. For instance, a 2009 University of Alaska study identified a 37.4% vacancy rate among pediatric nurse practitioners in the state that year. The vacancy rate for psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioners in Alaska was 18%, while that for family nurse practitioners was 17%.
The need for highly educated nurses in Alaska is so critical that the state’s first campus-based DNP program started accepting students in the fall of 2015. This program is designed for APRNs who possess a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) who seek to advance to the DNP level can choose from a number of accredited online programs.
Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Alaska
Many DNP programs offer opportunities for nurses with BSNs to obtain the highest level of training in the nursing field. Nurses who enter BSN-DNP programs have the option of earning an MSN en route to their terminal DNP degree. Advantages of doing this include being able to sit for national licensure as an APRN and being qualified for the many nurse faculty positions that require an MSN in addition to a doctorate in nursing. Nurses who start with a BSN will typically take about 3 years to earn their DNP while studying full-time and will take about 90 credits.
Nurses who already possess an MSN can enter the post-MSN phases of DNP programs to advance in their field. These programs offer at least one of two tracks:
- Advanced practice nursing
- Executive leadership
MSN-educated nurses enrolled in DNP programs can either choose to advance in their current field or switch to a new specialty or population focus. MSN-DNP programs usually involve at least 18 months of full-time study and entail taking 30 credits.
With the lack of a campus-based program until 2015, Alaska’s nurses who sought a DNP took advantage of the many accredited online programs available in the state. The DNP program in Alaska is solely designed for nurses who already possess an MSN, so BSN-educated nurses can avail themselves of the online programs that offer a great deal of flexibility in their coursework.
Online programs frequently offer accelerated programs that take about a year to complete compared to traditional full-time DNP study. Both the Alaska campus-based program and numerous online programs offer the option of part-time study. Obtaining a degree in this manner typically takes about 2.5 years.
DNP programs have these three main components:
- DNP core – The core courses of DNP programs include topics such as evidence-based practice, scientific underpinnings for practice, transforming the healthcare organization, and epidemiology.
- Specialty courses in the student’s chosen focus – Depending on the program, nurses have the option to specialize in either executive leadership or advanced practice nursing tracks once they have completed their core courses.
- DNP Project – The finale of a DNP program offers students the chance to showcase their advanced training by performing a research project in their specialty. Such DNP Projects will result in either a manuscript designed for publication or in some cases a formal presentation at a conference. Students will typically travel to their campus to defend their project before nursing faculty members.
Requirements for Clinical Hours of Practice in DNP Programs
Nurses must obtain at least 1,000 hours of post-baccalaureate clinical hours to receive their DNP. Post-MSN students who seek licensure as APRNs will need to complete about 500 clinical hours to sit for national certification. These hours will count towards the 1,000-hour requirement.
Typically students will obtain these hours at healthcare sites that have formal arrangements with their schools. Although their program mentor will work with them to choose an appropriate site, it is the student’s responsibility to make the arrangements.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Division of Public Health provides clinical opportunities for a number of DNP schools through the Alaska Public Health Nursing program. This Department currently has a Memoranda of Agreement with the School of Nursing at the University of Alaska, so that its DNP students can practice at a site in the state.
Currently, Alaska has one campus-based DNP program at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. This DNP program is designed solely for MSN-educated nurses with APRN licenses in these fields who seek to expand their knowledge and skills.
BSN-DNP students can avail themselves of the many online programs available to the residents of Alaska.
Opportunities Available to DNP-Prepared Nurses in Alaska
Healthcare industry leaders in Alaska frequently had to recruit talented nurses from outside of the state to obtain the highly trained nurses needed to adequately care for the state’s aging population. Investing in nursing education is one of the strategies that the state is currently using to obtain highly trained nurses such as those with DNPs who are likely to practice in the state.
DNP-educated nurses in Alaska are poised to help fill voids in a number of advanced nursing fields. The 2010 Alaska Health Workforce Plan identified healthcare fields that had such a shortage of practitioners that they required “immediate attention.” Such Priority 1 professions included a number of positions frequently held by nurses with DNPs.
Two types of APRN professions made this list including family nurse practitioners and psychiatric nurse practitioners. The Plan identified pediatric nurse practitioner vacancies of up to 37% in Alaska in 2009.
Nurses who chose an executive leadership track for their DNP studies also had several specialties on the list of professions that needed immediate attention in Alaska. These specialties included:
- Nurse Executives
- Nurse Managers
- Nurse Faculty
As of 2010, the vacancy rate of nursing faculty in Alaska approached 8%. Nursing faculty throughout the country are aging at a rate faster than the overall nursing workforce, and the average age of Alaska’s nursing faculty was 54.9 years in 2010. Thirty percent of these faculty members were 60-69 years old and thus very close to or at retirement age.
Some DNP programs offer a specialty in health informatics, and the graduates of these programs will have the latest training in this rapid evolving field. The rural nature of Alaska leads health informatics to be even more important than it is in much of the rest of the country, and the workforce plan identified this field as “swiftly growing and evolving” in Alaska.
While the level of growth in this field did not lend itself to being easily quantified in 2010, the workforce plan expected growth to be “dramatic” due to the proliferation of high-tech devices in direct patient care and the federal mandate to expand the use of electronic health records.