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Online BSN-to-DNP and MSN-to-DNP Programs Available in Kentucky

The Commonwealth of Kentucky Health Care Workforce Capacity Report published in 2013 identified large gaps in the health care workforce in Kentucky. These gaps are especially pronounced in rural and underserved areas. The Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange commissioned this study in the wake of concerns that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act would further strain the health care resources in the Commonwealth as 640,000 previously uninsured people sought healthcare. One of the recommendations for how to address Kentucky’s shortage of healthcare providers as laid out in the report is to create learning opportunities for the current workforce to transition into higher level roles. Obtaining a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) provides the highest level of clinical training available to nurses, allowing them to serve in primary care roles as nurse practitioners and other advanced practice registered nurses.

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In fact, two prominent reports strongly recommended increasing the number of DNP-educated nurses in the country. One was the highly influential joint report from the Institute of Medicine and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation published in 2010. The other was the recommendation from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing that all advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) possess a DNP.

The need for DNP-educated advanced practice registered nurses in so acute in Kentucky that one healthcare company started a program to enroll its bachelor’s-educated nurses (BSNs) in a DNP program while they continue working in their current roles. Norton Healthcare in the Louisville area expects to train 150 of its BSN level nurses to become APRNs over the next several years.

The workforce report from 2013 identified a need for nurse practitioners and other APRNs capable of providing advanced clinical care and serving as primary care providers in both rural and urban counties of Kentucky. Urban counties with the greatest need for APRNs included Boone, Pendleton, Grant, and Henry Counties, while the rural counties most in need of these practitioners included Johnson, Elliott, Martin, Magoffin, Knott, and Breathitt counties.

Mental health care providers are in particularly short supply in Kentucky. More than 80% of the Commonwealth’s counties exhibited a workforce supply gap in this specialty. Seventy percent of the need at that time was in rural counties. Several of Kentucky’s DNP programs addressed this need by offering a track for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs).

Kentucky’s nurses are taking advantage of the many opportunities to obtain a DNP in the Commonwealth, with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reporting an enrollment level of 538 students in DNP programs Kentucky as of the fall of 2015.

DNP-educated nurses in Kentucky apply their training in a variety of ways, ranging from advanced clinical practice to serving as executives for major health care organizations. Some of the DPNs who are advancing nursing care and positively influencing healthcare policy in Kentucky include:

  • Lewis L. Perkins, DNP, APRN, GNP-BC, NEA-BC – Board Member at Kentucky Board of Nursing – Norton Hospital
  • Karen Hill, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FACHE, FAAN – Chief Operating Officer/Chief Nursing Officer at Central Baptist Hospital
    Sarah Lester, DNP, APRN, FNP-C, CNRN – Neurosciences Clinical Nurse Specialist at University of Kentucky HealthCare
  • Jaclyn Engelsher, DNP – Family & Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Oriental Medicine Acupuncturist – Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Sarah Cecil, DNP – Owner/Consultant at Kentucky Medical Consultants of the Bluegrass
  • Kathy Noyes, DNP – Acute Care Nurse Practitioner at Premier Physician Services
  • Cathy Velasquez, DNP, RN, CPHM – Owner/CEO at Integrated Education Solutions, LLC

Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Kentucky

DNP programs are available as both post-bachelor’s programs designed for BSNs and post-master’s programs designed for MSN-educated RNs and APRNs:

  • BSN-DNP (Post-bachelor’s) programs are generally designed so that nurses with a BSN can earn their MSN before they transition to a DNP program. Students in APRN tracks would sit for national certification and thus earn their initial APRN license after completing the MSN phase of the program. Executive and organizational leadership tracks are also available. Typically these programs entail taking about 90 credits and studying full-time for more than 3 years.
  • MSN-DNP (Post-master’s) programs are designed so that nurses who already possess an MSN can earn their DNP and advance to clinical leadership and other advanced nursing positions. Frequently, such students are already licensed APRNs who wish to advance their careers. These nurses have two options: they can advance in their current focus or choose an additional specialty or population focus. Executive and organizational leadership tracks are also available. MSN-DNP programs typically entail taking 30-36 credits and studying full-time for at least 1.5 years.

The national accreditation for DNP programs requires that that these students obtain at least 1,000 hours of post-baccalaureate practice hours. As many as 500 post-bachelor’s clinical hours accrued at the master’s level can be applied to the 1,000 total required for a DNP. Also, these programs must offer one of these two tracks:

  • Aggregate/systems/organizational focus
  • APRN direct care focus

Increasingly, Kentucky’s nurses are choosing to enroll in more flexible accredited online programs instead of obtaining their DNP at a campus-based program in the state. These programs offer coursework online, but students still must complete their clinical requirements at locations that have partnered with these programs.

Many online and campus-based DNP programs offer flexible formats to accommodate their student’s needs. These include part-time and accelerated formats that are usually completed in:

  • Traditional DNP programs: about 1.5-2 years
  • Accelerated programs: 1 year
  • Part-time DNP programs: about 2.5 years

DNP programs have three main components:

  • DNP core – Core DNP courses include such topics as:
    • Analytical Methods for Evidence Based Practice
    • Informatics in Healthcare Delivery
    • Theory Application for Doctor of Nursing Practice
    • Public Health Policy
    • Healthcare Economics and Finance Organizational Leadership
  • Specialty courses in the student’s chosen focus – Specialized courses in either an aggregate/systems/organizational or advanced practice nursing track.
  • Final project – Students complete their DNP program with a DNP Project which allows the nurses to showcase their advanced training by completing a research project on their advanced nursing focus. These projects typically consist of a research paper suitable for publication, or in some cases, a formal presentation at a conference. Typically, students must travel to their school to formally defend their DNP Project. Examples of DNP Projects from schools in Kentucky include:
    • An Evaluation of a School Based Asthma Protocol
    • An Evidence-Based Toolkit to Prevent Meningococcal Meningitis in College Students
    • Chronic Pain in Society: A Unique Approach for Primary Care Advanced Disease: A Pilot Study
    • Consequences, Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity

Post-Bachelor’s BSN-to-DNP Programs for BSN-Prepared Nurses

Virtually all of the BSN-to-DNP programs enable nurses with a BSN to earn both their MSN and DNP in a combined program. These programs typically require about three-four years to complete.

BSN-DNP programs that are specific to one of the four APRN roles require their students to earn an MSN in their chosen APRN role and patient population focus. These students must then meet all of the clinical requirements required for an MSN. Typically this entails about 500 hours of practice before the students can sit for national certification in their role and primary patient population focus.

Although MSN programs vary depending on the nursing specialty that the students have chosen, the core MSN courses remain the same:

  • Program evaluation
  • Quality and safety
  • Interprofessional collaboration
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Policy and advocacy
  • Informatics
  • Clinical prevention/population health
  • Organizational and systems leadership

MSN programs in an APRN role also include the following as part of the core:

  • Advanced pharmacology, including:
    • Pharmacodynamics
    • Pharmacokinetics
    • Pharmacotherapeutics of all broad categories of agents
  • Advanced health assessment
  • Advanced physiology/pathophysiology

Accredited BSN-to-DNP and MSN-to-DNP Programs Available in Kentucky

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) (current as of 2016). 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.

  • Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond
    • Post-MSN
      • Focus on Organizational Leadership
  • Frontier Nursing University, Hyden
    • ADN-DNP, BSN-DNP, MSN-DNP, BS-DNP
      • Nurse Practitioner
      • Nurse-Midwife
    • Post-MSN focuses on rural and underserved areas:
      • Adult Nurse Practitioner
      • Certified Nurse-Midwife
      • Family Nurse Practitioner
      • Geriatric-Adult Nurse Practitioner
      • Geriatric Nurse Practitioner
      • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
      • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
      • Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner
    • Murray State University, Murray
      • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
        • Family Nurse Practitioner
        • Nurse Anesthetist
    • Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights
      • Post-MSN
        • Advanced Practice Nurse Focus
        • Executive Leadership Focus
    • University of Kentucky, Lexington 
      • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
        • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
        • Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist
        • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
        • Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
        • Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing
        • Population and Organized Systems
    • Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green
      • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
        • Family Nurse Practitioner
        • Nurse Executive

Opportunities Available to DNP-Prepared Nurses in Kentucky

Numerous opportunities exist for DNP-educated nurses in Kentucky. Many DNP-prepared nurses such as advanced practice registered nurses continue with their current employer, but advance to a higher-paying position. Others become entrepreneurs and open up their own practice or provide consulting services to other nurses.

Nurses that graduate from a DNP program with an executive leadership track have a number of options ranging from clinical leadership to hospital administration.

Sixteen nursing schools offered campus-based training to Kentucky’s students in 2015 according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). The AACN reported that the average age of Kentucky’s nursing faculty was 52 as of 2015, so many of these professors are approaching retirement age. Thus, 23 faculty positions became available in 2015 alone. In the past, nursing faculty typically held MSNs as their terminal degree, but with the advent of doctorate level training for nurses, many of these educational institutions prefer candidates with a DNP or even require applicants to have this level of education.

A survey of job listings for DNP-educated nurses in Kentucky performed in April 2016 is shown below. These vacancy announcements are shown to showcase the types of positions available to DNP-trained nurses in Kentucky, but are not meant to provide an assurance of employment:

Assistant/Associate Professor of Nursing at Bellarmine University in Louisville

  • Tenure track
  • Doctoral degree preferred and required for tenure track
  • Must be licensed to practice in Kentucky or able to obtain such licensing

Instructor/Assistant Professor of Nursing at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green

  • Tenure track position requires a doctorate or ABD status
  • Must be licensed as an RN in Kentucky or a compact state
  • At least 2 years of nursing practice within the past 5 years and/or recent clinical teaching experience required

Nurse Practitioner/Physician Assistant with Women First of Louisville, PPLC

  • Requires DNP or MSN
  • Must be licensed as an RN and Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant in Kentucky
  • Prior experience as a Labor and Delivery nurse preferred
  • Must have at least 3 years of staff nursing experience and at least 2 years of experience as an OB/GYN Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant

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