The first students in Chaminade’s new online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program start in August.
The new doctoral degree is designed for the registered nurse or advanced practice nurse who wants to provide evidence-informed practice to culturally diverse populations and take a leadership role as an advocate for health and social justice using the latest technology for learning and practice.
Dr. Pamela Smith, Associate Dean of Chaminade’s School of Nursing and Health Professions, says potential students should know the school truly cares that each student has a positive and successful experience.
She says that’s why interviews are part of the application process. “We want to know what a student’s goals are, so we know we can help them succeed. We want it to be a good match.”
Three DNP degree paths
Students will choose one of three Doctor of Nursing Practice tracks: Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) or Executive Leader (EL).
The FNP and PMHNP, both nurse practitioner tracks, will allow graduates to work as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who manage patients’ conditions. Smith says APRNs diagnose, provide treatment and manage patients’ care in a holistic, comprehensive manner.
“They’ll have the tools and learn the skills to provide quality improvement in their patient population in their clinics and hospitals,” she says. “They’ll be able to review the evidence-based literature and make clinical decisions based on that evidence.”
“The focus is on being able to determine a need and create a plan, implement that plan and evaluate its effectiveness in terms of looking at organizational improvement, or patient outcomes improvement or delivering care as a Nurse Practitioner.”
The nurse practitioner tracks are for nurses who have their BSN and are ready to advance their nursing education and clinical practice.
The Executive Leader track is for the qualified nurse who wants the skills, knowledge and career opportunities that come with a DNP degree but chooses to focus on nursing leadership.
“Executive leaders are nurse managers and leaders in a hospital, or clinical nurses looking to be able to lead their organization or their unit to improve patient outcomes,” she says. “These nurses have their master’s degrees and want the education and career advancement that the DNP provides but do not have the desire to become a nurse practitioner. They want to take their nursing role to an advanced level.”
The Post-MSN to DNP option is designed for the advanced practice nurse or registered nurse who already has a Master of Science degree in Nursing (MSN) and wants to follow the Executive Leader track.
The need for DNPs: shortage of healthcare professionals
There’s a shortage of primary care providers not only in Hawai‘i right now but throughout the country, says Smith, and nurse practitioners can help meet the needs. “Nurse Practitioners can deliver accessible care as a provider.”
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for strong healthcare and nursing leadership. “Many advanced practice registered nurses pivoted to providing patient care via telehealth in order to provide accessible care and serve the patient population safely.”
And, she says, Chaminade will have the state’s only psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program. “There’s a huge need for this program because of an increased need for mental health services.”
Healthcare needs keep changing, and she points out that “adaptation and change” is one of the Marianist values that Chaminade embraces. “That’s exactly what is happening with COVID,” she says. “We continue to learn new information about COVID. How do we keep our patients and our staff safe? What do we need to do to make a new policy, implement it and carry it through until we realize we have to change it again? These are the problems being solved by well-prepared DNPs.”
She says the DNP program is positioned to deliver content that will adapt and change as healthcare and nursing evolves. “We’re very willing to implement new technologies and new evidence-based material as they present.”
The pandemic, she says, has illuminated the need for strong nursing leadership skills. “Nurse leaders know what their staff and patients need. They know what the day-to-day and system needs are, and our graduates will have the skillset to come up with effective solutions.”
An online DNP program with wraparound support
“We wanted to provide a personable, online program that’s accessible to people in many different areas across the nation,” says Smith. “Many of our students might be from the neighbor islands, and we might have students from rural parts of America, where it’s challenging to drive to a campus while balancing family and work in order to receive a high quality education.”
The year-round DNP program consists of two 15-week sessions (in the fall and spring) and a 12-week summer session. The two nurse practitioner programs take three years to complete, and the executive leader program can be completed in just under two years. There are three annual multi-day immersion sessions on campus.
“The immersions will provide an opportunity for connectedness to the community and for students to gain a sense of place, of where we are. We serve the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations, and as a university, we feel it will be valuable for all our students to understand the culture in which we provide care, even if they’re from the mainland. Because understanding the culture, the health and health disparities of a specific region allows that information to be applied to other communities of need.
“Say somebody is coming from another state, and they learn about the populations we serve here in Hawai‘i,” she says. “They can take many of those models of care, or awareness, and apply them where they live for the cultures they serve. We’re hoping the immersions will bring light to many of the vulnerabilities our community faces, so that students will recognize the vulnerabilities in their own patient populations.”
The DNP program focuses on serving high-need communities. Smith says they want students to learn how to address health disparities and plan optimal and comprehensive care.
“One of our Marianist values is social justice—service, justice, and peace.” She says they wove those values into the new curriculum and program goals.
“Vulnerabilities need to be identified, and we need to pay attention to the people that need care the most. Not only for their benefit, but for the community as a whole. By determining high need areas, and learning how to provide care and striving for health equity, we improve the health of all people.”
The first immersion session, in August, will be an introduction to the islands’ culture, an opportunity to connect with peers, and a time to strengthen writing and statistical skills. “They’ll meet the faculty and leadership team, and learn about library resources and other components of our university,” says Smith.
Chaminade President Dr. Lynn Babington says that although the degree program is online, students will have close relationships with faculty and students of their cohort. “The faculty will support students and connect them with a network of field experts and opportunities.”
The second and third immersions will continue to offer unique learning opportunities such as standardized patient simulations, suturing, casting and splinting and project management. “It’s some of the nuts and bolts of what the students are going to see in their clinical environments,” says Smith.
The cohort model, in which small groups of students progress through the program together, creates a supportive peer-learning environment. Each student is also paired with a DNP faculty member, who will provide guidance and support through the program until they successfully complete a scholarly project.
“The student can come with a project already in mind, something they’d like to implement in their own workplace, or we will assist them in selecting from a menu of projects needed in our community that are appropriate for their specific track and their specific interests,” says Smith.
She says they want students to do scholarly projects they’re interested in. “And they’ll all learn how to truly care for patients and their populations and communities in a way that is meaningful.”
She stresses that the program is very hands-on. “Students are treated as individuals, in terms of what their interests and strengths are, and we will have writing and statistical support for them. It sounds so cliché, but they are not just a number. This is a personalized and intimate university program where we have a lot of collegial support and also opportunities for networking.”
She says the potential applicants she’s been meeting with have so far been unique and very strong candidates.
“In terms of where they’ve been as nurses so far, they come with strong backgrounds and have much to offer the world. We want to cultivate those strengths and also discover what their deficiencies are, their gaps, so we can fill those for them.”
That’s the purpose of the interview, she says. “We want it to be a good match between the student and our organization. We really do care about each individual and optimizing their pathway.”
A Marianist foundation
The new program’s goals fit well with Chaminade’s Marianist values and the idea of improving one’s community. Another Marianist value carefully woven into the new degree program is educating the whole person. And then there’s Chaminade’s family spirit, of course, which means caring for each other at the university as well as in the community.
Dr. Rhoberta Haley, Dean of the School of Nursing and Health Professions, says they will care for the DNP students by offering them all the support they need. “Advanced degrees at that level take time and dedication. We want the students to be successful, and that takes time, dedication, and a lot of support, which we’ll give them.”
Smith points out one more benefit of the DNP degree—that it opens doors. “That advanced practice degree on your resume can help even if you don’t change jobs. You’ll have the tools and skills to perform better, to look at things from a different lens, and to be able to problem-solve with more capabilities.
“It’s not just a degree,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to improve yourself, and therefore improve others.”