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UW-Eau Claire to award first nursing doctoral degrees during May 19 commencement

May 17, 2012
 DNP Group Shot
UW-Eau Claire will award its first doctoral degree in any discipline when 15 nursing students earn their doctor of nursing practice degrees during commencement May 19. UW-Eau Claire's DNP meets the new national educational recommendations for advanced practice nurses, which take effect in 2015. A professional doctorate, the DNP is similar to the doctorates required of physicians, dentists, pharmacists and attorneys. The DNP prepares nurses to assume leadership roles in the areas of advanced clinical practice or nursing administration. Photo credit: UW-Eau Claire.
EAU CLAIRE — When Paula Hensel walks across the stage Saturday afternoon to receive her doctor of nursing practice degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, she literally will make history.

Hensel will be among those receiving the first doctoral degrees ever awarded by UW-Eau Claire in any discipline, and she will be the first to earn her bachelor's, master's and doctor of nursing degrees all from UW-Eau Claire.

"I think of the DNP degree as my Triple Crown of UW-Eau Claire nursing," Hensel said. "I earned my nursing bachelor's degree in 1991, my master's of nursing in 1999 and now my DNP in 2012."

Hensel, a nurse practitioner at the Marshfield Clinic Urgent Care in Marshfield, is one of 15 students who will receive their DNP degrees May 19 from UW-Eau Claire.

"This is a huge accomplishment for these students and for UW-Eau Claire," Provost Patricia A. Kleine said, noting that UW-Eau Claire is one of just two comprehensive campuses in the UW System to have a doctoral program. "The DNP graduates now will have new professional leadership opportunities, and UW-Eau Claire is demonstrating how it can respond to changes in the nursing profession while helping to meet a statewide demand for well-prepared health care professionals."

All 15 of the students in the first DNP graduating class already had their master's degrees, but their professional experiences varied widely, said Dr. Mary Zwygart-Stauffacher, director of graduate nursing programs. Some of the graduates have worked in the nursing field for just a few years, while others have three-plus decades of experience in the health care field, she said.

"They brought different experiences but these all were exceptional students and they were trailblazers," said Zwygart-Stauffacher, who was among those who helped launch the DNP program at UW-Eau Claire. "This is a very new degree but these individuals — many of whom already are leaders within the nursing and health care communities — stepped up to the challenge. They saw the program as a way to meet a personal goal, but they also recognized that this is where nursing and health care needs to be in the future."

UW-Eau Claire's DNP meets the new national educational recommendations for advanced practice nurses, which change the entry-level degree required from a master's to a doctorate. The recommendations — determined by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing — take effect in 2015.

A professional doctorate, the DNP is similar to the doctorates required of physicians, dentists, pharmacists and attorneys. The doctoral program prepares nurses to assume leadership roles in the areas of advanced clinical practice or nursing administration.

The DNP degree reflects the combination of the highest level of scientific knowledge and practice expertise to assure high-quality patient outcomes, said Dr. Linda Young, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

"The DNP already is essential to addressing the changing demands of this nation's complex health care environment," Young said. "The need for advanced practice nursing in our state and nation is vast, and UW-Eau Claire is helping to meet that need through this program."

UW-Eau Claire's current and future DNP graduates will serve the region, state and nation in new and innovative ways, said Dr. Debra Jansen, associate dean of nursing.

"They will enhance the quality of care for the patients they serve," said Jansen. "The changes this group of graduates already have begun in their health care agencies, and the roles they will take on in the future, will truly be transformative."

Kathryn Olson, director of patient care services at St. Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield, said pursuing her DNP was a way to enhance her skills while also showing her support for the new degree requirements for advanced nursing practice.

"I felt it to be very important to serve as a role model to others by embracing and pursuing the DNP, as it is the right thing to do for the nursing profession," Olson said. "The DNP is the terminal degree for advanced nursing practice, and as a leader I should hold this degree."

 Left to right: Kathryn Olson, Jodi Arriola and Paula Hensel.
Left to right: Kathryn Olson, Jodi Arriola and Paula Hensel.
The DNP program also has prepared her to be an even more effective leader within the constantly changing health care field, Olson said.

"I have been positioned to build upon my leadership skills, engage in advocacy for health policy, collaborate equally with other disciplines to improve patient outcomes, manage and analyze data to support needed changes, and to influence the health care system to advance goals," Olson said.

Earning her DNP has given her more respect among health care professionals and others, and has changed how she thinks about health-care related issues, Hensel said.

"The DNP program taught me to look at issues in health care, from the individual patient to system issues, differently," Hensel said. "I have increased my appreciation for evidence-based research and actions based on that research. I am making changes in my clinic system based on my DNP experience, and I have other projects planned. I'm working closely with the assistant medical director of the clinic, an opportunity I never would have dreamed of without the DNP program."

Hensel already has put her DNP training to work in the Marshfield Clinic's Urgent Care, where she has found herself at the front line of the prescription drug abuse epidemic. Through her DNP-required capstone project, she was able to focus on creating a policy and process for prescribing medications that have the potential for abuse, she said.

"I noticed more people trying to obtain narcotics, muscle relaxants and sleeping pills," Hensel said. "As I became more aware, I began to notice changes in behaviors and the overall health of some of our more frequent patients. I had conversations with colleagues and researched prescription drug abuse. I learned there wasn't a policy about situations when patients ask for early refills, demand medications or don't follow through with recommended treatments. Dr. Edward Krall, the assistant medical director of the Marshfield Clinic, was supportive of my determination to do something to help patients at risk, to help educate and support the providers facing these issues, and to create clinic policy. In June, clinic leaders will review the policy I wrote with the help of a team of providers and administrators."

Jodi M. Arriola — a clinical director of inpatient nursing at St. Joseph's Hospital in Chippewa Falls — also said the DNP program has given her the tools to create meaningful change in her health care organization.

"The DNP degree has allowed me to move nursing practice into the future at St. Joseph's Hospital by encouraging and bringing current nursing knowledge, research and best practice to the patients and families that are served," Arriola said. "Organizations, communities, the nation and the world need clinical doctors of nursing to challenge the assumptions of health care providers, and to bring nursing research and nursing evidence to the patients/families served. The DNP nurse has the tools, strategies and political savvy to make this happen. The DNP degree provides the knowledge, skills and leadership strategies to shape the future of nursing."

During the 2011-12 academic year, the DNP was offered as a post-master's option only. Beginning in the 2012-13 academic year, students can enroll in the doctoral degree program with a master's or a bachelor's degree. Already, 27 students are enrolled in the program for fall 2012.

"It's an exciting new degree program that is attracting exceptional people," Zwygart-Stauffacher said. "The success of our first class of DNP graduates is a major accomplishment for our campus."

For information about UW-Eau Claire's DNP program, contact the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at 715-836-5287or



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