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The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a terminal professional degree that focuses on the clinical aspects of a disease process. The curriculum for the DNP degree generally includes advanced practice, diagnoses, and treatment of diseases. The DNP is intended to prepare a registered nurse to become an independent primary care provider. Furthermore, the DNP is intended to be a parity degree with other health care doctorates such as psychology, medicine, and dentistry. Primary practice roles in nursing include the nurse practitioner (NP), certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), certified nurse midwife (CNM), and the clinical nurse specialist (CNS). Although approximately 52% of nurse anesthetist programs will award the DNP, the remaining 48% may use the title Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP) for their terminal degree.
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), transitioning advance practice registered nursing programs from the graduate level to the doctoral level is a "...response to changes in health care delivery and emerging health care needs, additional knowledge or content areas have been identified by practicing nurses. In addition, the knowledge required to provide leadership in the discipline of nursing is so complex and rapidly changing that additional or doctoral level education is needed." According to the AACN, "...benefits of practice-focused doctoral programs include:
The AACN recommends that all entry-level nurse practitioner educational programs be transitioned from the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree to the DNP degree by the year 2015. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists has followed suit, requiring the DNP (or DNAP-Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice) degree for entry-level nurse anesthetist programs by the year 2025. Nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists currently practicing with either an MSN or certificate will not be required to obtain the DNP for continued practice.
There are two terminal doctorate-level degrees in nursing: The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Previous doctorate level degrees have been, or are in the process of being, phased out and converted to one of the two terminal degrees. The Doctor of Nursing (ND, not to be confused with Naturopathic Doctor ND) and the (DrNP) have transitioned into the DNP whereas the Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc, DNS or DSN) has transitioned into the PhD. The PhD in nursing is generally considered the academic and research-oriented degree, whereas the DNP is the practice-oriented or professional terminal degree.
Currently there is a controversy over the title “Doctor” being used within the clinical setting by the DNP. Although MDs, DOs, and DNPs all nominally hold a terminal degree, in a medical setting the term "doctor" has historically referred to Doctors of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), Podiatrists (DPM), Dentists (DDS or DMD), and Optometrists (OD) but not to Nurse Practitioners (NP), who generally do not hold doctorate degrees. However, the DNP has evolved like the other clinical doctorates or optometry, podiatry, and chiropractic, and, some argue, the public uses the term "doctor" generically to describe that person who is a licensed professional and is in the primary decision making role for their care. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing and six other professional nursing organizations contend that the term "doctor" is an appropriate term to describe a Doctor of Nursing Practice. However, a 2008 survey revealed considerable confusion among Americans regarding the credentials and qualifications of many healthcare providers, and that an overwhelming majority favor all healthcare providers to clearly designate their skills, training, and level of education. These findings prompted the American Medical Association to launch the "Truth in Advertising Campaign" in 2011 to promote transparency in how all healthcare providers market themselves, stating, "Patients deserve to know who is providing their care." They further contend that "Confusion among Americans about who is and who is not qualified to provide specific patient care undermines the reliability of the healthcare system and can put patients at risk.".
As of 2013, five states specifically prohibit DNP's from using the title "Doctor" with their patients (Arkansas, Connecticut, Maine, Oklahoma, Oregon), while four more states require them to clarify that they are not physicians (New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Virginia).