University’s 20th doctoral program designed to enhance health care

Monday, February 25, 2013

Changes and challenges to America’s health care system will require an advanced level of leadership to respond to the needs of patients, many of whom will be entering the system when they are much sicker.

UNC Charlotte’s recently approved Doctor of Nursing Practice, the University’s 20th doctoral program, will help prepare graduates to analyze systems of health care that will improve patient safety and quality of care, and at the same time, enable them to implement evidence-based care practices. The program will be offered as part of a consortium with Western Carolina University.

The impetus for the degree program is a result of a number of factors, said Dee Baldwin, associate dean and director of the School of Nursing in the College of Health and Human Services.

“As Americans, we are an aging society. We are living longer with multiple diseases - what we call co-morbidity,” said Baldwin. “In the past, individuals in their 50s who had a heart attack often died. Now, a greater percentage of Americans are living into the 70s and 80s, and many have multiple medical conditions that must be managed. This is a new phenomenon.”

Practitioners with bachelor’s and master’s degrees are prepared to provide individualized patient care, but with more Americans living longer, there is a need for a practitioner who can design care for large groups of patients, Baldwin explained.

“Graduates from our Doctor of Nursing Practice program will be able to design models of care for populations,” Baldwin stated. “This person will look at the multiple risk factors that groups have and implement a plan to keep them well.”

Another factor is the Affordable Care Act that will increase the number of citizens who have access to health insurance. Baldwin said more than 32 million Americans who were uninsured will become insured. Planning on how to care for this new population is critical.

“The majority of this population will need education related to prevention and wellness. Instead of a bachelor’s level nursing professional accustomed to providing individual care, we’ll need more advanced professionals to address the collective needs of patients and their care – someone who can design care models that will provide plans that follow patients throughout the process,” stated Baldwin.

Currently, plans are to enroll six students in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at each institution starting this fall as a post-master’s program. Students who have completed a Master of Science in Nursing will be able to continue for two additional years of study to earn their doctorate. In the future, students who have completed a bachelor’s degree in nursing will be able to enroll.

Joan Lorden, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, noted the Doctor of Nursing Practice will benefit the University’s service region and all of southwestern North Carolina. “The advanced nursing professionals will be in demand in hospitals, physicians’ practices and ambulatory settings to provide leadership on the changing nature of health care and patient needs. The graduates will  also play an important role in educating the next generation of nurses. By offering the program in collaboration with Western Carolina University, operational costs will be lower as the two institutions will share faculty, library and other resources.”

The UNC Board of Governors gave final approval to the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program at its Feb. 8 meeting.