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On October 25, 2004, the members of the AACN endorsed the Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing. AACN member institutions voted to move the current level of preparation necessary for advanced nursing practice from the master's degree to the doctorate level by the year 2015.
Doctoral programs in nursing fall into two principal types: research-focused and practice- focused. Most research-focused programs grant the Doctor of Philosophy degree (PhD), while a small percentage offers the Doctor of Nursing Science degree (DNS, DSN, or DNSc). Designed to prepare nurse scientists and scholars, these programs focus heavily on scientific content and research methodology; and all require an original research project and the completion and defense of a dissertation or linked research papers. Practice-focused doctoral programs are designed to prepare experts in specialized advanced nursing practice. They focus heavily on practice that is innovative and evidence-based, reflecting the application of credible research findings. The two types of doctoral programs differ in their goals and the competencies of their graduates. They represent complementary, alternative approaches to the highest level of educational preparation in nursing.
The concept of a practice doctorate in nursing is not new. However, this course of study has evolved considerably over the 20 years since the first practice-focused nursing doctorate, the Doctor of Nursing (ND), was initiated as an entry-level degree. Because research- and practice-focused programs are distinctly different, the current position of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN, 2004) [detailed in the Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing] is that: “The two types of doctorates, research-focused and practice-focused, may coexist within the same education unit” and that the practice-focused degree should be the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Recognizing the need for consistency in the degrees required for advanced nursing practice, all existing ND programs have transitioned to the DNP.