Rounds with Leadership: Shaping the Future of Doctoral Nursing Education

Welcome to Rounds with Leadership, a forum for AACN’s Board Chair and President/CEO to offer commentary on issues and trends impacting academic nursing.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

Nelson Mandela

Strengthening doctoral nursing education is a top priority for AACN. Throughout the association’s history, we have remained committed to enhancing the health of all people through the discovery, dissemination, and application of nursing knowledge. We recognize that initiatives underway to transform health care, advance sound policy, and achieve health equity will not be possible without a robust cadre of nurses prepared in PhD and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs.

Earlier this year, the Pathways to Excellence task force completed its work to update AACN’s position statement on the PhD, which was endorsed by the membership in April 2022. The resulting document, titled The Research-Focused Doctoral Program in Nursing: Pathways to Excellence, sets forth the expectations and recommendations to meet the growing demand for nurses who can engage in scientific inquiry, steward the profession, and educate tomorrow’s nurse researchers.

We have heard from many stakeholders, including several practice leaders, that this new vision for the research-focused doctorate is energizing and will generate renewed interest in the PhD and careers in nursing science. We hope you share this excitement as we work together toward a preferred future for the PhD.  

In June, AACN released findings from a two-year study titled The State of Doctor of Nursing Practice Education in 2022. This report provides the latest national data on trends in 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.  

The study used a mixed-method approach to assess the current state of the DNP, which included a literature review, curriculum analysis, key informant interviews, and a survey of more than 800 DNP graduates. Key findings include:

  • The number of DNP programs and students have increased in both BSN-to-DNP and MSN-to-DNP tracks. Since 2010, the majority of DNP students were enrolled in BSN-to-DNP tracks.
  • 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.
  • 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.

For the latest data and analysis on doctoral nursing education, see these additional AACN resources: