According to a report by Alaska’s Health Workforce Coalition entitled the 2017-2021 Action Agenda, nurses continue to be among the state’s occupational priorities.
But it’s not just RNs that are needed in Alaska. According to the Action Agenda, there is a growing demand for advanced practice nurses in psychiatric, perioperative, perinatal, critical care and emergency nursing, as well as nurse practitioners in family and adult-gerontology, since these advanced practitioners are capable of filling the primary care void, especially in the largely rural parts of the state where shortages are most acute.
Whether it’s BSN-prepared RNs making the transition to advanced practice roles or existing advanced practice nurses looking to take on another patient population or specialty certification, the Doctor of Nursing Practice is the degree many nurses opt for. It’s the ultimate level of clinical preparation and a solid way to future-proof APRN credentials amid a growing push to see the DNP become the educational standard for advanced practice nurses.
The University of Alaska Anchorage, upon recognizing the need for more DNP-educated nurses in Alaska, began offering the first DNP in the state in 2015.
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
The largely rural Alaska expanse has resulted in severe physician shortages, which have caused many parts of the state to rely on the highest educated nurses—those with a DNP—to take the reins and provide much-needed care to Alaska’s citizens.
For example, a 2018 case study by the National Academy for State Health Policy revealed that as of 2016, 96% of the land area of Alaska, which is home to 39% of the state’s residents, was designated a Health Professional Shortage Area, which means that primary and preventive healthcare services was limited in these areas.
The following recent job posts reveal just some of the opportunities available to DNP-prepared RNs and APRNs in Alaska:
Adjunct Instructor, University of Alaska, Ketchikan, AK
- Doctorate degree in related field is preferred for upper division courses
Adjust Faculty Member, MSN Programs, Bellin Health, College, AK
- DNP degree required; consideration is given to individuals enrolled in a DNP program
- Minimum of two years’ experience as a family nurse practitioner
Examples of DNP nursing positions were taken from a survey of job listings in January 2020 and are shown for illustrative purposes only. These examples do not represent job offers or positions that are currently available.