Health care, thanks to reform efforts, has become a cohesive team sport. Hospitals need providers at the top of their game, but the emergence of one professional has some administrators scratching their heads about the best way to put these individuals to work.
From 2009 to 2010, the number of graduates from doctorate of nursing practice programs nearly doubled to 1,300, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. After completing the degree, these nurses apply science and research to improving patient care and health systems performance.
C-suite executives have noticed the advanced skill set associated with the DNP, says Mary Terhaar, R.N., interim director of the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing's DNP program. But many still grapple with maximizing these nurses' capabilities.
"CNOs, CEOs, and CFOs know DNPs can find signals pointing toward something actionable to address problems or enhance best practices," Terhaar says. "Many just don't know how to put a DNP in that position."
Returning a DNP nurse to his or her previous job isn't enough, however. For these nurses to enhance patient care or improve workflow, hospital administrators must provide resources, she adds. DNPs need data, clear directives on problems to attack, an infrastructure conducive to transprofessional collaboration, time during the workweek to pursue projects, and a publicly supportive C-suite champion.
For some hospitals, though, reaching this goal can be difficult.
"The DNP is so new many hospital administrators don't really understand what it is and what these nurses can do," says Mary Chesney, R.N., clinical assistant professor in the University of Minnesota School of Nursing. "As we move toward accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes, the DNP can make this transition more successful."
With proper support, DNPs can affect noticeable change in their hospitals, says Judy Pechacek, vice president of patient care at Minnesota's Fairview Southdale Hospital. One of Fairview's DNPs analyzed obstetrics protocols and improved delivery outcomes associated with vacuum-assisted births.
Additionally, some DNPs have employed their skills to move into administration. Valerie Overton leveraged her education from enrollment to graduation this January from UMSON. She secured medical home certification from the Minnesota Department of Health for Fairview's 40 clinics by designing a system to integrate all care provider services. Her work took her from nurse practitioner to a vice president of quality role.
She recommended that administrators actively work to understand what DNPs offer.
"Ask a DNP to show you his or her toolkit," Overton said. "Once you see the value of these skills, you'll see how they can apply to future projects."