AACN Issues New Report on Doctor of Nursing Practice Education

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is pleased to announce the release of a new study summary titled The State of Doctor of Nursing Practice Education in 2022. This report provides the latest national data on trends in Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs; insights from employers, graduates, and program administrators on the value and impact of DNP education; and recommendations for ongoing engagement with practice partners and certification organizations to support the DNP for entry into advanced practice nursing.   

In July 2020, the AACN Board of Directors voted to move ahead with a new national study to assess the current state of graduates from DNP programs. With a focus on nurses in practice and academia, a study was developed, which considered the current utilization of DNP-prepared nurses, including employer, faculty, and student perceptions of DNP preparation, as well as the impact of DNPs on patient and system outcomes, quality of care, leadership, education, and policy development. In September 2020, AACN issued a request for proposals and selected IMPAQ (now part of the American Institute for Research), a leading global policy research and analytics firm, to complete the study, which was conducted from February 2021 to February 2022. 

This study, titled The State of Doctor of Nursing Practice Education in 2022, builds upon the AACN-commissioned RAND study from 2015 by performing new analyses that provide a comprehensive picture of the DNP degree. To accomplish this goal, a mixed-methods approach was performed with a thorough investigation of the status of the DNP degree in 2021–2022, including a literature review; an analysis of the curricula of 50 nationally representative DNP programs; 42 key informant interviews with DNP graduates, employers, and academic leaders to gather perceptions about DNP curricula and the skill sets and experience of DNP graduates; an analysis of AACN survey data to provide a comprehensive picture of DNP student and program trends between 2005 and 2020; and a survey of over 800 DNP graduates to assess a wide range of topics, such as satisfaction with the DNP degree and the impact of the DNP degree on their skills and preparation for various types of employment.

Key report findings include:

  • The number of DNP programs and enrolled students has steadily increased. DNP graduates are highly satisfied with their education. 
  • Increases in the number of DNP programs and students have occurred in both BSN-to-DNP and MSN-to-DNP tracks. Since 2010, the majority of DNP students were enrolled in BSN-to-DNP tracks. 
  • Racial/ethnic and gender diversity of DNP students continues to increase. 
  • DNP graduates add unique value in key areas such as evidence-based practice, organizational change, quality improvement, and leadership.
  • Isolating differences in the clinical skills of MSN and DNP graduates is difficult. 
  • Data do not currently exist to carry out DNP outcome studies. 
  • Some employers are uncertain about the skill set of DNP graduates and what roles they are prepared to assume.
  • Stakeholders have numerous suggestions on how to improve DNP education, including greater standardization in curriculum and rigor.

The report concludes with recommendations for academic and practice leaders to consider, including clarifying the goals and purpose of the DNP degree, identifying hallmarks of high-quality DNP programs, educating employers about the unique competencies of DNP graduates, collecting systems-level data on DNP effectiveness, and conducting research on the impact of DNP-prepared nurses on patient outcomes. The report also calls for engaging APRN certification organizations to build momentum for requiring the DNP for entry into advanced practice nursing and for establishing academic-practice partnerships focused on DNP education and practice. For more information about the new report, contact Dr. George Zangaro, AACN Chief Policy and Scientific Officer, at gzangaro@aacnnursing.org

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