The University of Arizona College of Nursing has one of only five dual doctoral degree programs in Nursing offered by major universities within the United States. While dual degree programs for physicians have existed for more than 60 years, nursing programs only adopted the model beginning in 2010. In hopes of moving the dual nursing degree forward nationally, UArizona Nursing professors Lois Loescher, PhD, RN, FAAN, and Terry Badger, PhD, RN, were authors on a recent article published in the Journal of Professional Nursing, “Breaking new ground? The dual PhD-DNP doctoral degree in Nursing.” Their purpose was threefold: to provide background information on the PhD-DNP dual doctoral degree, specifically historical perspectives and existing programs; to describe UArizona Nursing’s PhD-DNP program as an exemplar to illustrate program data challenges and solutions; and finally, to discuss the national landscape of the dual doctoral degree program.
“The impetus of the article was our realization during attendance at national doctoral education meetings that under-discussion of dual doctoral degree programs stemmed largely from lack of their evaluation and dissemination of evaluation findings,” Dr. Loescher explained.
“The impetus of the article was our realization during attendance at national doctoral education meetings that under-discussion of dual doctoral degree programs stemmed largely from lack of their evaluation and dissemination of evaluation findings,” ~ Lois Loescher, PhD, RN, FAAN
"According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), fundamental differences exist between the DNP and the PhD degrees," the authors write in their introduction. While the DNP degree is the terminal degree for nursing practice -- preparing graduates to generate new knowledge to improve health or health outcomes through practice change -- the PhD degree in nursing prepares graduates to develop the science, steward the profession, define its uniqueness, and maintain its professional integrity.
But PhD-DNP-prepared nurses blend research and practice, where clinical observations can be transformed into clinically relevant studies that provide an opportunity for active translation of research knowledge into practice. “Thus,” the authors write, “PhD-DNP nurses are well-positioned to accelerate the knowledge cycle from clinical problem, to research questions and results, to clinical practice change, and ultimately, to policy…PhD-DNP nurses also are well positioned to compete for funding from the National Institutes for Health and other federal funding.”
In their article, the authors pay special attention to the UArizona Nursing dual degree program. They examine its inception and evolution as well as its structure, demographic breakdown and benefits. Student outcomes, despite a daunting academic load and a strong emphasis on productivity, have been positive. Dual doctoral degree students choosing the College’s manuscript dissertation option write three publishable manuscripts emanating from their practice-focused study, submitting at least one manuscript to a refereed journal prior to the final defense. “Based on extant literature on publication by nursing doctoral students, we anticipate that these strategies and others will enhance the productivity of matriculating dual doctoral degree student,” the authors write.
Longer-term outcomes for the program have demonstrated impressive results. UArizona Nursing dual degree graduates have not only generated new knowledge about a host of disciplines but they have successfully translated that knowledge into practice and dissemination of that knowledge. Eighty-seven percent of dual degree graduates have forged advanced practice and research in areas such as orthopedic trauma, skin cancer prevention and detection, cardiovascular health, chronic illness in older adults, and the use of technology to enhance accessibility of both education and clinical care. Half of the graduates have published a total of 27 publications since the first PhD-DNP graduation in 2012. Two are a principal or co-investigator on an externally funded grant and one student went on to complete a postdoctoral fellowship.
In their conclusion, the authors argue that although the dual PhD-DNP degree is a decade old, it has yet to gain a foothold on the national stage. “There is demand for the program by nursing doctoral students,” they write, “however, few programs exist to train these students, and little data are available from those programs on the successes or challenges of training. National nursing leaders...need to develop metrics and collect data that will lend support to the visibility and sustainability of the dual doctoral degree in nursing on a national level.”