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

Concerns about a looming shortage of nurses in Wisconsin led the state legislature to require that RNs complete a survey in order to renew their licenses. These nursing workforce studies provide invaluable data on the educational level of Wisconsin’s registered nurses and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). The Wisconsin Center for Nursing published the Wisconsin 2014 Registered Nursing Survey Report in 2015.

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The analysis of this data indicated that a higher proportion of Wisconsin’s nurses were pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree rather than a PhD across all of the regions in the state. The education of nurses in DNP programs prepares them to implement the scholarly findings of PhD level nurse researchers in their advanced clinical practice and as executive leaders such as nurse faculty.

Enrollment in Wisconsin’s DNP programs increased from 323 to 521 between 2012 and 2014, thus highlighting the value of this degree in preparing nurses for high-level clinical and leadership positions. The level of enrollment in PhD programs stayed the same over this period.

This workforce study identified significant differences in enrollment in DNP programs throughout Wisconsin’s regions, and the number of students enrolled in DNP programs as of 2014 is shown below:

  • Southeastern – 169
  • Southern – 127
  • Northern – 73
  • Northeastern – 72
  • Western – 32

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing called for all APRNs to have a DNP by 2014. Wisconsin’s APRNs have been heeding this call. The percentage of APRNs who had a DNP doubled throughout all the regions of Wisconsin between 2012 and 2014. This resulted in 195 of Wisconsin’s APRNs having a DPN in 2014, while only 66 had a PhD. Thus, 4.4% of Wisconsin’s ARPNs were DNP-educated that year.

DNP-educated nurses in Wisconsin contribute significantly to advance the condition of healthcare in the state. Some of these many individuals are shown below:

  • Julie Olson, DNP, MS, RN, CQIA – DNP: Health System Leadership & Quality for Navitus Health Solutions
  • Beth Houlahan, DNP, RN, CENP – Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer for University of Wisconsin Health
  • Pam White, DNP – Chief Nursing Officer of the Northwest Wisconsin Region of the Mayo Clinic Health System
  • Susan Breakwell, DNP, RN, APHN-BC – Marquette University School of Nursing

Earning a Wisconsin Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree

DNP programs in Wisconsin require that the nurses who seek to enroll in them possess either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master in Nursing (MSN).

  • BSN-DNP programs enable BSN-prepared nurses to first complete an MSN before they transition into their DNP program. The advantage to obtaining an MSN as part of a DNP degree program is that nurses are able to obtain national certification and earn their APRN license. BSN-DNP programs typically entail more than 3 years of full-time enrollment that involves earning about 90 credits depending on the specialization.
  • MSN-DNP programs enable nurses who may already have an APRN license to complete their DNP, so they can advance to become executive leaders or other types of advanced nursing specialists. Such programs offer the option of advancing their expertise within their current specialty or adding an additional certification in a patient population focus or another APRN specialty. MSN-DNP programs typically require at least 18 months of full time study and 30-36 credits depending on the specialization that the nurse is seeking.

Many of Wisconsin’s prospective DNP students are choosing to enroll in accredited online schools that offer a great deal of flexibility in their studies. While the didactic courses are taken online, the DNP students still need to complete their clinical requirements at healthcare sites that have a partnership with their school.

Many campus-based and online DNP programs offer flexible formats to accommodate their student’s needs. These include accelerated and part-time formats. Instead of the 1.5 to 2 years of study for a traditional DNP program, accelerated programs are typically completed in a year. Part-time programs typically take about 2.5 years to complete.

There are three main components to a DNP program:

  • DNP core – DNP core coursework includes such topics as methods for clinical scholarship, epidemiology, evidence-based practice, and transforming the healthcare organization
  • Specialty courses for the nurse’s chosen focus – Specialty courses focus on an APRN or executive/administrative focus
  • Final project – The culmination of a DNP program is the student’s final project in which they demonstrate their mastery of their nursing specialty by conducting research in a healthcare area in their focus. DNP Projects usually consist of a manuscript suitable for publication in a peer-reviewed journal and/or a formal presentation at a conference. In many programs, students must come to campus to defend their research project.

BSN-to-DNP Programs for BSN-Prepared Nurses

Most DNP programs, both campus-based and online, offer their students who possess a BSN the opportunity to earn both their MSN and DNP in one combined program. Doing this enables a seamless transition to a DNP program immediately after completing their MSN. Such programs require about four years of study

The national accreditation standards for DNP programs require that their students obtain at least 1,000 hours of post-baccalaureate clinical hours. Hours obtained before the student started their DNP program can count towards this requirement if they are appropriately documented.

BSN-DNP programs that are specific for APRNs require their students to earn an MSN in a chosen advanced practice nursing specialty. Students must satisfy all of the clinical requirements for their MSN—typically about 500 hours—which count towards the 1,000-hour requirement. After this, the nurse can obtain national certification in their chosen APRN field and patient population focus.

Nationally Accredited MSN-to-DNP and BSN-to-DNP Programs Available in Wisconsin

The following DNP programs have been accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) (current as of 2016).

A larger selection of both CCNE and ACEN (American Commission for Education in Nursing)-accredited DNP programs are available online.

Concordia University Wisconsin

  • Post-MSN
    • Advanced Clinical Practice

Marquette University

  • BSN-DNP and Post-MSN
    • Advanced Clinical Practice
    • Nurse Administration

University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire

  • BSN-DNP and Post-MSN
    • NP
    • CNS
    • Nurse Executive

Edgewood College

  • BSN-DNP and Post-MSN
    • Leadership

University of Wisconsin – Madison

  • BSN-DNP and Post-MSN
    • NP
    • CNS

University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee

  • BSN-DNP, MSN-DNP, DNP/MBA
    • FNP
    • CNS
    • Community Health/Public Health Nursing
    • Nurse Executive
    • Informatics

University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh

  • BSN-DNP and Post-MSN
    • FNP for BSN-prepared nurses

Viterbo University

  • BSN-DNP and Post-MSN
    • Nurse Practitioner

Other DNP programs in the state not shown here may be regionally accredited or hold specialty accreditation through the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs or the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education.

Opportunities Available to DNP-Prepared Nurses in Wisconsin

Graduates of Doctorate of Nursing Practice programs learn the skills to take part in the most important clinical and administrative careers in nursing. Often, nurses with a DNP will remain with the same employer, but advance in their roles. Other nurses who earn a DNP take leadership roles with a new employer that requires the expertise of a doctorate-prepared nurse. Such roles range from serving on the faculty of nursing colleges in Wisconsin to being the chief nursing officer of a healthcare organization.

The Wisconsin Center for Nursing expressed concern about the relatively low number of DNP-educated nurses in the state. Its 2015 report noted that the number of graduates of nursing doctoral programs in Wisconsin is too low to meet the growing need for nurse faculty to educate nurses at the baccalaureate level, since a large number of nursing faculty are older and nearing retirement.

Data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) augments this analysis with data indicating that Wisconsin had 27 faculty vacancies in 2015. In addition, the AACN reported that the average age of Wisconsin’s nursing faculty exceeded 50 years of age that year. Policy experts expect a wave of retirements among current nursing faculty that will exacerbate this shortage.

The substantial increase in the number of nurses who obtain DNP degrees changed the status quo for the hiring of nursing school faculty. In the past an MSN often sufficed to apply for a faculty position. Currently, academic institutions prefer candidates with a doctorate-level education.

The following job listings for doctorate-prepared nurses in Wisconsin were surveyed in March 2016. They are shown for illustrative purposes only and are not meant to represent job offers or provide any assurance of employment.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at the Monroe Clinic in Monroe

  • DNP or MSN required
  • Recent graduates must have a psychiatric practicum
  • Works in collaboration with physicians to plan, implement, coordinate and evaluate behavioral health care for patients in an outpatient setting

Full-Time Nursing Faculty at the Milwaukee School of Engineering in Milwaukee

  • DNP or PhD
  • Desired specialty in medical/surgical
  • Ideal candidate will have relevant clinical experience and experience in developing curriculum and teaching undergraduate and graduate students

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