BSN to DNP Prepares Future Clinical Leaders
By Catherine Duncan
With the U.S. health care system focused on patient-centered care and improved outcomes, the School of Nursing has responded by offering a B.S.N. to D.N.P. degree program, which will now include the nurse practitioner tracks previously offered with the M.S.N. program. The first cohort began in the fall of 2019.
Sara L. Gill, Ph.D., RN, IBCLC, FAAN, professor and associate dean for graduate studies, said in this complex health care environment, clinical nurses need to be educated at the highest level.
“The B.S.N. to D.N.P. program allows nurses to receive a broader education. The curriculum emphasizes core courses in health care policy, leadership, health informatics, epidemiology and health care economics,” she said. “In addition, students learn scientific inquiry based on translational science and evidence-based practice, population health, and advanced specialty clinical practice.”
The new program is designed for nurses who already hold a bachelor’s degree. These post-B.S.N. nurses can choose from Advanced Practice tracks including Adult Gerontology-Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner-Primary Care, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, and Public Health. Those specializing in Public Health receive a certificate from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health in San Antonio when they complete their coursework.
The degree program has a hybrid format with no more than 50 percent of instruction online. Students usually attend class two days a week. Those attending full time complete the program in three years. Students going part time complete it in 4½ years.
Dr. Gill said nursing faculty worked on the new curriculum for 1½ years and added innovative new classes. The curriculum is very contemporary and prepares students to work in clinical settings with a focus on vulnerable populations. “We are expanding their clinical experience to include populations in rural communities. There is a great need for advanced practice registered nurses in rural areas.”
San Antonio is surrounded by rural communities in desperate need of health care services, Dr. Gill said. In South Texas, mental health is the area with the greatest need.
While participating in the clinical experience, students identify an aspect of health care that needs improvement for a specific group of patients or in a specific setting, and they design a Quality Improvement Project to improve health care systems.
“Our students take evidence-based practice courses to learn how to find solutions to health care problems,” she said. “The D.N.P. students learn skills and tools to enact changes in health care practice. These students will have the skill set to fix broken systems at practice facilities. That will improve overall patient care. The D.N.P. prepares graduates to better understand health care economics and policy so they can be advocates for health delivery,” she said.
Heidi J. Worabo, D.N.P., FNP, assistant professor and track coordinator for the Family Nurse Practitioner Program, said she believes the school’s ability to offer the D.N.P. degree will enhance the preparation of future NPs.
“This degree has more of a population health focus. We are seeing patients with more complex chronic diseases. Performing more clinical hours and taking more classes will better prepare these D.N.P. graduates for the health care environment,” she said.
Dr. Worabo said she is particularly excited about the Applied Pharmacology courses in Pediatrics for FNP and PNP students, in Critical Care for AG-ACNP students, and in Psychopharmacology for PMHNP students. “This will really enhance their knowledge of medical management of their selected populations,” she added.
The professors and students also are thrilled about the new Clinical Skills and Laboratory Science course. The hands-on classes are designed for the specific NP specialty. “Students will graduate with advanced skills,” she said. “In addition, our PMHNP students will have the opportunity to take a dedicated Psychotherapy course. All of these courses will really give our students a leg up in the specialty areas of their tracks.”
Jordan Mohammed, B.S.N., RN, is in the first cohort of students who started the program in August 2019. He earned his B.S.N. at the School of Nursing in 2017 in the accelerated program having already received a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from The University of Texas at Austin. After graduation, he worked as an RN at Methodist Specialty and Transplant Hospital in the medical surgical ICU.
“Last year, I started thinking about working on my M.S.N. I was so excited to learn that I could apply for the new B.S.N. to D.N.P. degree,” he said. “I think getting my D.N.P. is important because I have goals to help rural underserved communities. I think getting my D.N.P. will allow me to do that.” Mohammed said he also is interested in later pursuing a career in academia.
“Like my fellow cohort members, we are all about patient advocacy. This degree will allow us to help patients locally, statewide and nationally—which means we will be able to improve health care for individual patients,” he added.