- Published on Thursday, 11 July 2013 22:18
By Laura L. Acosta
UTEP News Service
When Laura Rodriguez joined the UTEP School of Nursing in 2007 as an adjunct faculty member, she knew that furthering her own education would help her become a better educator.
Rodriguez was eager to enroll in the school’s first Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) program cohort in 2011. She not only learned new methods of patient care, but she also put into practice the lessons she learned through her final project, which involved educating children at La Fe Preparatory School and their parents about proper nutrition.
“The D.N.P has opened my eyes,” Rodriguez said. She and seven other graduates were the first to earn their Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees from UTEP in May. “It’s made me much more aware (about) what influences the provision of health care, such as government regulations and changing health care policies.”
This summer, Rodriguez, a clinical instructor, is opening the eyes of the 56 students in her maternal child course by supplementing the information in their textbooks with information about current health care trends and professional development.
“I’m able to share things that I learned in the D.N.P. program to plant the seed in my students about keeping aware of changing trends and the problems that they see in the community to improve our health status,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez is part of a movement in the nursing profession to raise the educational standards for nurses in order to meet the demands of the nation’s complex health care system.
To meet the demand, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has adopted a position that the educational preparation standard for advanced practice nurses transition from the master’s degree to the doctoral level by 2015. The school also is committed to the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation to double the number of nurses with a doctorate by 2020.
Rodriguez and Hector Morales, a clinical instructor in the School of Nursing, who also graduated from the D.N.P. program this spring, have joined the ranks of doctorally prepared faculty in the School of Nursing. They will be promoted to clinical associate professors in the fall.
According to school officials, 40 percent of the school’s faculty members have a Ph.D. or a D.N.P. Four faculty members are currently on track to earn their doctorates.
A doctoral education allows nursing faculty to build upon the knowledge they received when they acquired their master’s degree, said Leslie Robbins, Ph.D., D.N.P. program director and assistant dean for graduate nursing at UTEP.
A Ph.D. program in nursing prepares students for careers in research, while students in a D.N.P. program put that research into practice.
Faculty members with doctorate degrees are needed to educate the next generation of nurses.
“A D.N.P. gives nurses new tools that will help them positively impact health care and become better practitioners,” Robbins explained. “If they’re better practitioners, then they’re going to be better nursing educators. A Ph.D. not only gives us the background to teach nursing but it also gives us the foundation to do original research.”
Faculty members who chose to pursue a doctoral education can benefit from the generous support of community partners.
For the past five years, Del Sol Medical Center has awarded Faculty Stipend Awards to assist with the development of more doctorally prepared nursing faculty at UTEP and to consequently increase the pipeline of nurses within our growing community, said Cindy Stout, D.N.P., Del Sol Medical Center’s chief nursing officer.
“At Del Sol Medical Center we are very proud of our relationship with The University of Texas at El Paso,” Stout said. “We are especially proud of our collaboration with the School of Nursing and our scholarship program, which assists current or potential nursing faculty members to pursue doctoral degrees. Del Sol is highly committed to the development of future health care workers and the retention of these highly educated nurses within our community.”
In January, the school celebrated the first Paso del Norte Health Foundation Fellows in Nursing. The eight students in the D.N.P.’s first cohort each received up to $3,500 to support their studies and enhance their research activities.
The fellowship was made possible by an endowment that was created through the Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP), which matched funds from a $1.5 million grant that UTEP received in 2009 from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation to support the University’s Center for Simulation.
The funds helped Morales implement his capstone project, which involved searching for a more effective marital/couples therapy for law enforcement personnel.
Morales, a clinical nurse specialist, said studying for the D.N.P. has changed his approach to mental health. He is using his newly acquired skills in his private practice and is looking forward to putting his ideas into practice with his students this fall and making sure that they are clinically prepared to deal with clients in the community.
“When you get your doctoral degree, your view of the world expands,” Morales said. “The challenge is going to be to re-size it and focus on one thing at a time in order to be more effective.”