Prospective DNP Students
In May 2012, I entered an online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. I had chosen to pursue the DNP because I viewed myself as a clinician and I had no interest in becoming a white coat researcher. After a great deal of investigation, I chose the school that most closely conformed to my tightly controlled schedule. I could go online and complete assignments at any time that I chose and there were no obligatory meetings where the student must sign in at a certain time. The program promised the possibility of completion in 18 months (admittedly the strongest incentive to choose that program) with a commitment of about 17 hours per week. Divided into 16 week semesters, the student was expected to take six credits per semester to remain with the original cohort. My original cohort had 20 students from various backgrounds and scattered through four time zones.
It didn't take long for the reality of the situation to sink in. It soon became apparent that 17 hours per week would not begin to cover the time needed for the completion of the readings and writings that were assigned to us (in fairness, we were the first cohort so it was purely a guesstimate). In reality, the time commitment was often in excess of 30 hours per week and there were hard deadlines to be met. Many of the students could not meet the time requirements and their social and occupational obligations suffered greatly. Our 20 dwindled to 10 and in December 2013, six of us graduated in the 18-month window. The other four graduated at 24 months. Surprisingly to me, the online program brought me closer to the faculty and my classmates than I ever felt in any brick and mortar school. We talked or chatted daily, sometimes several times a day. We worked in groups and completed projects together. By the time we attending hooding and graduation on campus we felt as though we had been friends for years.
There were other surprises. We were all surprised at the spotlight on research and the lack of clinical courses. I'm not sure what we expected but we all expected some clinical component in the program. Other than a course on epidemiology, it could be argued that all of the courses were focused on writing, research, and leadership. This is not to say that we conducted research on the scale of the PhD nursing students, but research was a big part of what we did, and the completion of that capstone research project was the stumbling block to graduation for several of the students.
So is this blog an attempt to discourage potential DNP students from pursuing that terminal degree? It absolutely is not. It was a fantastic experience and I would recommend it to anyone who can commit the time that the program demands. Rather, this is an opportunity to encourage the potential student to look closely at the curriculum and to have a realistic understanding of what it will require to add DNP to the signature block. The focus is to prepare us as nursing leaders and the DNP accomplishes that goal.