AACN Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing


Download PDF Version 


Practice-focused doctoral degree programs in nursing are not a recent development. The first such program, offering the Doctor of Nursing (ND), was established at Case Western Reserve University in 1979 and offered an entry-level nursing degree. Since then, several practice-focused doctoral programs and degree titles have emerged. Over the last several years, an increased interest in developing a viable alternative to the research-focused degrees, [Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS, DNSc, DSN)] has occurred. Currently, eight clinical or practice doctoral nursing programs exist or are in the approval stage. In March 2002, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Board of Directors charged a task force to examine the current status of clinical or practice doctoral programs, compare various models, and make recommendations regarding future development. The exact charge to the 11-member Task Force on the Clinical Doctorate was:

  • clarify the purpose of the professional clinical doctorate, specifically core content and core competencies;
  • describe trends over time in clinical doctoral education;
  • assess the need for clinically focused doctoral programs;
  • identify preferred goals, titles, outcomes, and resources;
  • discuss the elements of a unified approach versus a diverse approach;
  • determine the potential implications for advanced practice nursing (APN) programs;
  • make recommendations regarding related issues and resources; and
  • describe potential for various tracks or role options.

To address this charge the Task Force carried out the following activities:

  • reviewed literature regarding professional practice doctorates in nursing and other disciplines and printed materials and web pages from all institutions offering practice-focused doctoral programs in nursing; established a collaborative relationship with the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculty (NONPF); the Chair of the NONPF Practice Doctorate Task Force, Dr. Lucy Marion, serves on the AACN Task Force and Dr. Elizabeth Lenz, AACN Task Force Chair, participated in a teleweb conference sponsored by NONPF in February, 2003;
  • interviewed key informants (deans, program directors, graduates, and current students) at the eight current or planned practice-focused doctoral programs in the United States;
  • held open discussions regarding issues surrounding practice-focused doctoral education at AACN’s Doctoral Education Conference (January 2003 and February 2004), Master’s Education Conference (March 2003), and Spring Annual Meeting (March 2004);
  • co-sponsored with NONPF an open discussion on practice doctorates to which representatives from key nursing organizations and schools of nursing offering or planning a practice doctoral program were invited (December 2003).
  • invited an External Reaction Panel, consisting of 10 individuals representing a wide array of perspectives and disciplines outside of nursing, to respond to the Draft Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate (February 2004). The list of External Reaction Panel members is shown in Appendix A.

Read more