AACN Adopts a New Vision for the Future of Nursing Education and Practice

Position on the Practice Doctorate Approved by AACN Member Schools

WASHINGTON, DC, October 27, 2004: In a historic move to help shape the future of nursing education and practice, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has adopted a new position which recognizes the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree as the highest level of preparation for clinical practice. At its Fall Semiannual Meeting held October 25, 2004, AACN member institutions voted to move the current level of preparation necessary for advanced nursing practice roles from the master's degree to the doctorate level by the year 2015.

"This courageous move on the part of nursing education represents a milestone in the evolution of the nursing profession," said AACN President Jean E. Bartels. "This bold first step puts in motion a future that recognizes and validates the unique expertise of nurses engaged in clinical practice at the highest level."

Currently, advanced practice nurses (APNs), including Nurse Practitioners, Clinical Nurse Specialists, Nurse Mid-Wives, and Nurse Anesthetists, are prepared in master's degree programs that often carry a credit load equivalent to doctoral degrees in the other health professions. AACN's newly adopted Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing calls for educating APNs and other nurses seeking top clinical roles in Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs. The changing demands of this nation's complex health care environment require the highest level of scientific knowledge and practice expertise to assure high quality patient outcomes.

The Practice Doctorate is designed for nurses seeking a terminal degree in nursing practice, and offers an alternative to research focused doctoral programs (i.e. PhD programs). Though only a handful of practice doctorates currently exist, more than a dozen new programs are taking shape nationwide, and several have expressed interest in seeking accreditation. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the nation's premier accrediting agency for baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs, has agreed to initiate a process for the accreditation of practice doctorates.

To facilitate this sweeping change in nursing education, the AACN Board of Directors created two task forces with diverse representation from both large and small nursing institutions. The first task force is charged with creating an "Essentials" document for practice doctorates which outlines the basic competencies that must be built into these educational programs. This document will be similar in nature to the other Essentials documents originated by AACN for baccalaureate and master's degree education. The second task force will focus on implementation of the new position statement and will address issues related to moving existing APN programs to the doctoral level and providing efficient bridge programs for master's prepared nurses interested in pursuing a DNP degree.

As part of its work, AACN will continue its collaboration and consensus development with a variety of stakeholders, including advanced practice nursing groups, the higher education community and healthcare providers. "The transition to the practice doctorate will take careful planning and require the collective efforts of all AACN member institutions and the larger nursing community," said Dr. Bartels. "Nursing education has a unique opportunity here to rally around a shared vision for the future and work together to move the profession forward."

AACN's Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing may be downloaded at www.aacnnursing.org/News-Information/Fact-Sheets/DNP-Fact-Sheet. To further clarify its position and address constituent concerns, AACN has developed a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) sheet to further explain the move toward the practice doctorate. The FAQs may be accessed online at www.aacnnursing.org/DNP/About/FAQ. Please direct any questions, concerns or comments related to this AACN action to jstanley@aacnnursing.org.