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

Several highly influential organizations advocate for increasing the number of nurses with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). The 2010 report on the Future of Nursing from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and the Institute for Medicine strongly recommended doubling the number of doctorate-prepared nurses in the country by 2022.

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In addition, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has openly stated that they believe all advanced practice registered nurses should possess a DNP, and originally hoped to see this implemented by 2014. In 2016, the AACN published an analysis called Advancing Healthcare Transformation: A New Era for Academic Nursing in which the agency designated workforce development as an area where academic nurses could provide leadership in the development of advanced nursing practice curricula designed to produce doctoral prepared nurses.

Wyoming lacks an adequate number of nurses. The Nursing Workforce Project of the Wyoming Center for Nursing and Healthcare Partnerships projected a shortage of 3,307 nurses in the state by 2014. Nurse practitioners and other advanced practice nurses capable of serving as primary providers are particularly critical to the health of Wyoming’s residents since 70% of the state’s citizens live in rural and frontier population areas that lack an adequate number of doctors. The Wyoming Department of Health considers all of the state to be rural/frontier except for Laramie and Natrona Counties.

As such, nurses in Wyoming who have a DNP are poised to make a significant difference in the state’s health care system. The increase in the number of doctorate-prepared nurses in Wyoming mirrors the national trend reported by the AACN that showed an explosion in the number of nurses with a DNP between 2005 and 2014. While a Wyoming Department of Employment workforce study on nursing in the state performed in 2002 didn’t even mention a doctorate, 1.6% of the nurses who responded to a 2014 workforce survey held a DNP according to the agency’s Nurses Returning to School publication.

The AACN reported that 40 students were enrolled in DNP programs in Wyoming as of the fall of 2015. Nearly twice as many of Wyoming’s nursing students were seeking a DNP as were seeking master’s degree.

The award given to Dr. Cathy Fliris, DNP, FNP-C at the American Academy of Nurse Practitioner’s 26th National Conference in 2011 highlighted the valuable work conducted by Wyoming’s DNPs. Dr. Fliris received the Wyoming State Award for Nurse Practitioner Excellence. Constance Schmidt, DNP, MHA, RN, FACHE also advances the state of healthcare in Wyoming through her service as the Vice President/Clinical Services/Chief Nursing Officer at the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.

Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Wyoming

DNP programs require nurses to hold an active RN license and at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Of course, many students also enter DNP programs with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN):

  • BSN-to-DNP programs enable nurses with a BSN to first complete their MSN before they transition to DNP curriculum, all in one accelerated program. Doing so enables these students to obtain their initial APRN certification, since possessing an MSN enables them to sit for their national certification exam and become a licensed APRN. BSN-DNP programs usually require more than 3 years of full-time study and entail taking about 90 credits, depending on the student’s specialization.
  • MSN-to-DNP programs accommodate APRNs with an MSN, allowing them to advance to clinical or organizational leadership roles. Students in these programs can choose to advance their expertise within their existing specialty or add an additional certification in another specialty or patient population focus. MSN-DNP programs typically involve at least 18 months of full-time study and 30-36 credits depending on the student’s specialization.

The standards for national accreditation of DNP programs require that all students obtain at least 1,000 hours of post-baccalaureate clinical hours. Hours completed during a master’s program in the same track would be applied to this total. DNP students in Wyoming sometimes complete their clinical hours out of state in north central Colorado or southern Montana.

In addition to obtaining their DNP through the program available in Laramie, an increasing number of Wyoming’s nurses are choosing to obtain their DNP through accredited online programs. While these programs offer a great deal of flexibility in didactic coursework, students still must complete their clinical requirements at partner clinical sites. Students may have to travel to complete these requirements where there are established partnerships.

Many campus-based and online DNP programs offer flexible formats to accommodate their student’s needs. While a traditional DNP program typically takes about 1.5 to 2 years of study, accelerated programs can be completed in about a year. Part-time study is another option and takes about 2.5 years to complete.

Currently, students in Wyoming who wish to enroll in a campus-based Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)-accredited DNP program have one option, however a larger selection of both CCNE and ACEN (American Commission for Education in Nursing)-accredited DNP programs are available online.

  • University of Wyoming, Laramie
    • Also available as a BSN-DNP
    • Specialties include:
      • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
      • Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (FPMHNP)

The University of Wyoming offers the FPMHNP track in conjunction with the University of Colorado. Thus, this program is primarily online, although travel to Colorado is minimal.

DNP programs consist of three main components:

  • DNP core – The core coursework for DNP programs includes such topics as clinical scholarship, transforming the healthcare organization, methods for evidence-based practice, epidemiology, and scientific underpinnings for practice.
  • Specialty courses for the student’s chosen focus – Courses for the student’s chosen focus will involve either executive leadership courses or an APRN focus.
  • Final project – The final project in a DNP program enables the nurses to demonstrate that they have mastered an advanced nursing specialty by conducting research in an area relevant to their focus. DNP Projects typically consist of a manuscript that is suitable for publication and/or a formal presentation at a conference. Students typically have to come to the school’s campus to defend their DNP Project before faculty members of their program.

In addition, the University of Wyoming requires that its DNP students complete an additional one-week practicum with its Innovative Practice Models course at an integrative health care facility. Previous students have completed this practicum at these healthcare centers:

  • Mayo Clinic
  • Kaiser Permanente
  • Denver Health
  • Wyoming Mason

BSN-to-DNP Programs for BSN-Prepared Nurses

Most DNP programs, both on-campus and online, offer their students who possess a BSN the opportunity to earn both their MSN and DNP in a combined program. The students transition to their DNP program as soon as they have completed their MSN. Such programs take about three to four years to complete.

BSN-DNP programs that are specific to one of the four APRN roles (nurse practitioner, nurse-midwife, nurse anesthetist, or clinical nurse specialist) require their students to earn an MSN in their chosen advanced practice nursing specialty. This entails satisfying all of the clinical requirements for an APRN (usually about 500 hours) and, depending on the student’s chosen specialization, sitting for national certification in their chosen APRN role and patient population focus.

At the master’s level, nurses typically complete 30 core credits and additional coursework based on their chosen concentration. Core MSN courses typically cover topics including:

  • Health promotion
  • Examining evidence
  • Ethics and legality of health policy
  • Epidemiology
  • Advanced nursing roles
  • Advanced practice nursing theory

Opportunities Available to DNP-Prepared Nurses in Wyoming

Doctorate of Nursing Practice graduates have the skills to work in nursing administration in Wyoming’s most prestigious medical facilities or serve as leaders in advanced clinical practice. DNP-prepared nurses often continue with their existing employers and expand their current roles or advance to a higher paying position.

The Wyoming Department of Health reported that the entire state is a designated shortage area for mental health care, so graduates of the Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner track are poised to help fill this void.

The expertise of nurse leaders is sorely needed in Wyoming, so much so that the state received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to initiate the Wyoming Nurse Leadership Institute, which uses experienced nurse leaders to help ameliorate the critical shortage of nurses in the state.

Nurse executive leaders hold positions ranging from Chief Nursing Officer to that of nursing school faculty. The AACN reported that the average age of Wyoming’s nurse faculty was 56 as of 2015. Thus, many of these experienced nurse leaders are at or nearing retirement age. This has manifested in a growing demand for new faculty members, with the AACN reporting that there were 13 nursing faculty vacancies in Wyoming between 2010 and 2015. While candidates with an MSN could apply for faculty positions in the past, educational institutions are increasingly requiring that applicants for these positions possess doctoral level training such as a DNP.

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