Even absent passage of the ACA, the need for APRNs, nurse faculty, and nurse researchers would have increased dramatically under any scenario (Cronenwett, 2010). Not only must schools of nursing build their capacity to prepare more students at the graduate level, but they must do so in a way that fosters a unified, competency-based approach with the highest possible standards. Therefore, building the science of nursing education research, or how best to teach students, is an important emphasis for the field of nursing education. For APRNs, graduate education should ensure that they can contribute to primary care and help respond to shortages, especially for those populations who are most underserved. For nurse researchers, a focus on fundamental improvements in the delivery of nursing care to improve patient safety and quality is key.

Numbers and Distribution of Graduate-Level Nurses

As of 2008, more than 375,000 women and men in the workforce had received a master’s degree in nursing or a nursing-related field, and more than 28,000 had gone on to receive either a doctorate in nursing or a nursing-related doctoral degree in a field such as public health, public administration, sociology, or education12 (see Table 4-5) (HRSA, 2010b). Master’s degrees prepare RNs for roles in nursing administration and clinical leadership or for work in advanced practice roles (discussed below) (AARP, 2010 [see Annex 1-1]). Many nursing faculty, particularly clinical instructors, are prepared at the master’s level. Doctoral degrees include the DNP and PhD. A PhD in nursing is a research-oriented degree designed to educate nurses in a wide range of scientific areas that may include clinical science, social science, policy, and education. Traditionally, PhD-educated nurses teach in university settings and conduct research to expand knowledge and improve care, although they can also work in clinical settings and assume leadership and administrative roles in health care systems and academic settings.

The DNP is the complement to other practice doctorates, such as the MD, PharmD, doctorate of physical therapy, and others that require highly rigorous clinical training. Nurses with DNPs are clinical scholars who have the capacity to translate research, shape systems of care, potentiate individual care into care needed to serve populations, and ask the clinical questions that influence organizational-level research to improve performance using informatics and quality improvement models. The DNP is a relatively new degree that offers nurses an opportunity to become practice scholars in such areas as clinical practice, leadership, quality improvement, and health policy. The core curriculum for DNPs is


Nursing-related doctoral degrees are defined by the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses as non-nursing degrees that are directly related to a nurse’s career in the nursing profession. “Nursing-related degrees include public health, health administration, social work, education, and other fields” (HRSA, 2010b).

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