The statistics are staggering and cited often: Between 2000 and 2030, the U.S. population of older adults is projected to double as the Baby Boomer generation turns 65 (He, Sengupta, Velkoff, & DeBarros, 2005). These increased numbers of older adults bring more complex health care needs, including startling epidemics of obesity and diabetes, and higher acuity during a nursing shortage that is only projected to get worse (Auerbach, Buerhaus, & Staiger, 2007). Escalating retirements of clinical nurse experts and leaders contribute to this worsening nursing shortage (Hader, Saver, & Steltzer, 2006), as do faculty shortages that result in qualified applicants being turned away from undergraduate and graduate nursing programs (American Association of Colleges of Nursing [AACN], 2007).
The expanding number of Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs represents a positive step forward in addressing older adults’ health care acuity and complexity by preparing expert clinicians with enhanced clinical, leadership, and research skills (AACN, 2004). The practice doctorate offers an exciting opportunity for advanced practice nurses (APNs) to strengthen the bridge between gerontological nursing science and practice through practice inquiry. DNP-prepared clinicians will be adept at translating research data into the practice arena to improve care for older adults, as well as generating new approaches to address deficiencies in the health care system. In addition, DNP graduates with clinical expertise in gerontological nursing will be well prepared to provide high-quality mentorship to APNs caring for older adults and address current and future shortages by moving into educator roles at academic institutions (Brown et al., 2006).
We invite you to join other “early adopters” of this trend (Hathaway, Jacob, Stegbauer, Thompson, & Graff, 2006), seek DNP preparation, and support the education of DNP graduates with gerontological expertise. Early adopters have a greater opportunity to shape DNP academic programs and clinical practice while demonstrating—to other professionals, policy makers, and funding agencies—that the DNP offers an innovative solution to health care and workforce needs.
How can you be an early adopter in ways that will enhance gerontological nursing?
- Inform promising students within and outside of nursing about this opportunity for professional practice that can meet the growing health care needs of older adults.
- Develop practice doctorate programs in your schools or expand such programs to include opportunities for focused or in-depth study in gerontology. Funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration or other sources may be available for such efforts.
- Encourage policy makers and funding agencies (e.g., National Institutes of Health, John A. Hartford Foundation) to provide training and fellowship opportunities to DNP students.
- Use the increased practice hours required during DNP preparation as an opportunity to attract students with a broader focus toward care of older adults by offering specialty clinical experiences (e.g., chronic illness management).
- Offer or develop “capstone” opportunities (i.e., clinical investigation projects) within clinical agencies or institutions that can serve as practice inquiry experiences that are also relevant to the agencies themselves.
- Facilitate the recruitment of DNP graduates into geriatric practitioner roles within diverse health care settings where they can serve as preceptors to other DNP students.
The DNP is an idea whose time has come. Be the first on your block and consider being an early adopter. How often do you have the opportunity to be a pioneer?
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing2004. AACN position statement on the practice doctorate in nursing. Retrieved November1, 2007, from http://www.aacn.nche.edu/DNP/pdf/DNP.pdf
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing2007. Special survey of AACN membership on vacant faculty positions for academic year 2007–2008, June 2007. Retrieved November1, 2007, from http://www.aacn.nche.edu/ids/pdf/vacancy07.pdf
- Auerbach, DI, Buerhaus, PI & Staiger, DO2007. Better late than never: Workforce supply implications of later entry into nursing. Health Affairs (Project Hope), 26, 178–185. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.26.1.178 [CrossRef] doi:10.1377/hlthaff.26.1.178 [CrossRef] doi:10.1377/hlthaff.26.1.178 [CrossRef]
- Brown, MA, Draye, MA, Zimmer, PA, Magyary, D, Woods, SL & Whitney, J et al. 2006. Developing a practice doctorate in nursing: University of Washington perspectives and experience. Nursing Outlook, 54, 130–138. doi:10.1016/j.outlook.2006.02.005 [CrossRef] doi:10.1016/j.outlook.2006.02.005 [CrossRef] doi:10.1016/j.outlook.2006.02.005 [CrossRef]
- Hader, R, Saver, C & Steltzer, T2006. No time to lose. Nursing Management, 377, 23–48.
- Hathaway, D, Jacob, S, Stegbauer, C, Thompson, CR & Graff, C2006. The practice doctorate: Perspectives of early adopters. Journal of Nursing Education, 45, 487–496.
- He, W, Sengupta, M, Velkoff, VA & DeBarros, KA2005. U.S. Census Bureau, current population reports, P23–209, 65+ in the United States: 2005. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.