No DNP? No Problem. 2015 Deadline Not a Reality

Prospective nurse practitioner students are understandably stressed about the prospect of the 2015 DNP requirement. Guidelines, released about ten years ago by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), recommend that nurse practitioners be prepared with doctoral, rather than master’s degrees and that master’s programs for NPs be phased out by 2015. With 2015 right around the corner, we can now clearly see that the DNP will be postponed, and likely not pan out for a number of years.

As 2014 rolls on, nurse practitioner programs continue to actively market master’s level NP programs. Many schools have added a DNP curriculum to keep up with the times, but most have not, and don’t plan to phase out the MSN degree for prospective nurse practitioners by the recommended 2015 deadline. Changing curriculum and certification policies takes time and resources, and at this point, mandating a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree will not take place by next year.

In an interview earlier this week with Dr. Shelley Hawkins, Director of DNP and MSN programs at the University of San Diego, I got some further insight into the future of the DNP degree. Dr. Hawkins says:

“Given that 2015 is right around the corner, I don’t anticipate nor have I heard in any national meeting that we are literally going to shut down MSN programs. I don’t envision this will be a situation where they are no longer approved, accredited, and so forth. the deadline in itself is more of a motivational component. Many people will move forward with transitions or complete projects if there is a deadline attached to it. Having said that, I don’t think that we are going to achieve by the 2015 DNP mandate, a DNP only education for nurse practitioners. I do think we are well on our way to going there though. There is a growing proliferation of DNP programs and you are beginning to see that some schools have made the decision to close master’s programs. Or, they have their own timeline where they anticipate closing their masters programs. To a great extent this has to do with resources. We don’t have enough nursing faculty”.

My conversations with faculty from other NP programs have echoed this sentiment. Mr. Clay Hysell, Assistant Dean of Admissions at the University of Virginia, says that “for the foreseeable future, the MSN will remain a viable path to the nurse practitioner profession for most”. Dr. Richard Redman, Director of the DNP Program at the University of Michigan, offers a similar take on the DNP mandate calling the 2015 deadline an “ideal” but “not a feasible target date”. Yes, it is likely that in the distant future becoming a nurse practitioner will require a doctorate degree. That time, however is not now and likely won’t be for many more years.

If you plan to become a nurse practitioner and are torn between DNP and MSN programs, Dr. Hawkins recommends choosing one over the other in relation to your career goals. “Bottom-line, there is a difference between a master’s and a doctorate degree regardless of subject” she says, “The role of a nurse practitioner is exciting and demanding and the DNP is giving nurses the opportunity to be clinical leaders“.


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