Journal of Nursing Education

Major Article 

Hiring and Incorporating Doctor of Nursing Practice–Prepared Nurse Faculty Into Academic Nursing Programs

Charlotte A. Agger, MA; Marilyn H. Oermann, PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN; Mary R. Lynn, PhD, RN


Semistructured interviews were conducted with 15 deans and directors of nursing programs across the United States to gain an understanding of how Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)–prepared nurses seeking academic positions are hired and used in schools of nursing. Interviews sought to gain information regarding (a) differences and similarities in the roles and responsibilities of DNP- and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)–prepared faculty, (b) educational advancement and mentoring of DNP-prepared nurse faculty, (c) recruitment of doctorally prepared nurse faculty, and (d) shortages of nursing faculty. DNP- and PhD-prepared nurse faculty are hired for varying roles in baccalaureate and higher degree schools of nursing, some similar to other faculty with master’s degrees and others similar to those with PhDs; in associate degree in nursing programs, they are largely hired for the same type of work as nurse faculty with master’s degrees. Regardless of program or degree type, the main role of DNP-prepared faculty is teaching. [J Nurs Educ. 2014;53(8):439–446.]

Ms. Agger is a doctoral student, and Dr. Lynn is Professor and Assistant Director, Quality and Training, Office of Human Research Ethics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill; Dr. Oermann is Thelma M. Ingles Professor and Director of Evaluation and Educational Research, Duke University School of Nursing, Durham, North Carolina.

Support for this research was provided by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Evaluating Innovations in Nursing Education (70185).

The authors have disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

Address correspondence to Charlotte Agger, MA, CB 3500, 202 Pea-body Hall: Graduate Student Lounge, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599; e-mail:

Received: November 07, 2013
Accepted: February 19, 2014
Posted Online: July 24, 2014


Semistructured interviews were conducted with 15 deans and directors of nursing programs across the United States to gain an understanding of how Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)–prepared nurses seeking academic positions are hired and used in schools of nursing. Interviews sought to gain information regarding (a) differences and similarities in the roles and responsibilities of DNP- and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)–prepared faculty, (b) educational advancement and mentoring of DNP-prepared nurse faculty, (c) recruitment of doctorally prepared nurse faculty, and (d) shortages of nursing faculty. DNP- and PhD-prepared nurse faculty are hired for varying roles in baccalaureate and higher degree schools of nursing, some similar to other faculty with master’s degrees and others similar to those with PhDs; in associate degree in nursing programs, they are largely hired for the same type of work as nurse faculty with master’s degrees. Regardless of program or degree type, the main role of DNP-prepared faculty is teaching. [J Nurs Educ. 2014;53(8):439–446.]

Ms. Agger is a doctoral student, and Dr. Lynn is Professor and Assistant Director, Quality and Training, Office of Human Research Ethics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill; Dr. Oermann is Thelma M. Ingles Professor and Director of Evaluation and Educational Research, Duke University School of Nursing, Durham, North Carolina.

Support for this research was provided by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Evaluating Innovations in Nursing Education (70185).

The authors have disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

Address correspondence to Charlotte Agger, MA, CB 3500, 202 Pea-body Hall: Graduate Student Lounge, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599; e-mail:

Received: November 07, 2013
Accepted: February 19, 2014
Posted Online: July 24, 2014

The shortage of nursing faculty is expected to continue as faculty members retire over the next decade (American Association of Colleges of Nursing [AACN], 2012c; National League for Nursing, 2010; Potempa, Redman, & Landstrom, 2009; Wyte-Lake, Tran, Bowman, Needleman, & Dobalian, 2013). This shortage is particularly salient at the doctoral level, as less than 1% of nursing faculty (approximately 26,000 educators) are prepared at the doctoral level (Nardi & Gyurko, 2013; Potempa et al., 2009). The AACN’s Special Survey on Vacant Faculty Positions (2010d) revealed 1,181 full-time and 753 part-time faculty vacancies during the 2012–2013 academic year. Over the past several years, the number of Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree programs has increased significantly in schools of nursing. Whereas only a handful of DNP programs existed in 1999, currently at least 235 schools offer DNP programs in 47 states (AACN, 2013). In 2011, the number of DNP graduates exceeded the number of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) graduates (AACN, 2012b), which is a potential indicator of the imbalance that will soon occur between the graduates of these two degree programs.

With the rapid growth of DNP programs, many experts have explored the shift in roles, advantages, and challenges associated with introducing a new professional doctoral degree (Chase & Pruitt, 2006; Dracup, Cronenwett, Meleis, & Benner, 2005; Edwardson, 2010; Milton, 2005; Riley, 2010). As evidenced in the literature, the DNP degree has been met with ready adoption by some and outright rejection by others (Meleis & Dracup, 2005). Despite a clear divide in opinions over the usefulness and role of the DNP-prepared nurse, the DNP is here to stay. Over the past decade, a noticeable shift in research on the DNP degree has occurred. Whereas older articles focused primarily on the differences and similarities between the DNP and the PhD and the merits of each, more recent work has focused on the incorporation of DNP-prepared nurses in schools of nursing.

Recent research has suggested that distinct challenges and issues are associated with adopting the DNP degree. Dreher, Glasgow, and Cornelius (2012), on the basis of data from a nationwide survey, found that departmental acceptance issues and hesitation to embrace a professional doctorate were present in many schools. Several common themes emerged from the study, including tension between DNP and PhD program faculty, the knowledge that a practice degree (e.g., Doctor of Nursing Science) had already failed, concern over a future shortage of faculty able to conduct and guide research, and the creation of a class system between DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty.

Despite the acceptance issues created by having a DNP program, especially in a program with an existing PhD-degree program, and the resulting tension found in some schools, others have argued that PhD and DNP degrees should be viewed as complementary, with these two types of faculty members working together to create new knowledge to be understood and used in practice settings (Edwardson, 2010). Other scholars have echoed this sentiment of DNP and PhD graduates taking a collaborative approach. Melnyk (2013) noted that translation of real-world clinical issues (a specialty of the DNP graduate) and rigorous research (a specialty of the PhD graduate) are simultaneously needed to improve the current health care system. Further, Sebastian and Delaney (2013) argued that to meet a goal of the DNP degree, translating nursing research into practice, working across DNP and PhD programs is necessary.

There has been some research on implementing the DNP degree within the area of programmatic shifts of introducing the DNP in schools of nursing. For example, Minnick, Norman, and Donaghey (2013) examined how the influx of DNP degree holders affects faculty resources, program expansion plans, and quality improvement efforts. They found that schools introducing more DNP-prepared faculty members should be particularly aware of capacity issues (i.e., involving faculty ratios) and how well prepared they will be to guide students’ research. They called attention to the need for more education-related courses and refinement of advanced clinical skills. They also argued that addressing these issues in the incorporation of new DNP-prepared faculty hires should lead to better prepared nursing faculty and nurses who can deliver care, resulting in better outcomes than those with less education.

Research on capacity issues has also explored scholarly interactions and institutional culture within schools of nursing that offer both DNP and PhD programs. Merrill, Yoon, Larson, Honig, and Reame (2013) used social network analysis to examine both faculty and student networks after a series of strategies were implemented that aimed to increase collaboration between research and clinical doctoral tracks. They found a significant increase in student and faculty networks, most notably with students from both programs working together more frequently, and communication was less central to faculty members and more dispersed among students. This research emphasizes how, within DNP and PhD in nursing programs, it is possible to boost collaborative thinking across these two types of programs. Furthermore, the research implies that DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty members who have had educational experiences emphasizing collaborative practices will likely bring these tools to the schools in which they are hired in the future.

More than half (55%) of new DNP graduates are interested in occupying nursing faculty positions (Loomis, Willard, & Cohen, 2007). One of the most important and salient questions related to accommodating new DNP-prepared faculty members as teachers concerns the implications of their clinical (and not academic) preparation on their ability to assume the faculty teaching role. Faculty members, regardless of their highest degree, should be prepared for their teaching roles and have essential competencies for teaching in nursing. If they do not participate in teaching-focused courses or have teaching experiences in their graduate programs, new faculty members will need additional education to be fully capable in the academic role.

With an increase in the number of part-time faculty members in schools of nursing, including those holding both DNP and PhD degrees, it is important to examine how these varying faculty roles influence student learning. Both Umbach (2007) and Baldwin and Wawrzynski (2011) found that faculty members who were not in a tenure-track position, but who were employed full time, used teaching strategies more aligned with tenure-track faculty. Both full-time clinical or fixed term–track faculty and tenure-track faculty used more active and collaborative techniques, spent more time preparing for class, and interacted with students more. Because little is known about how part-time faculty compare to full-time faculty (fixed term or tenure track), with an increase in the number of DNP-prepared clinicians being hired for part-time teaching roles, their impact on student learning needs to be monitored, along with their competencies in the area of academic and research advisement of students, as is relevant in particular programs.


Although there has been extensive literature published on the purpose and introduction of DNP programs, much is still unknown about the how the availability of DNP-prepared faculty applicants has influenced hiring practices and, once hired, what changes will be needed to accommodate them and their influence on the organizational structures of nursing programs. Given these knowledge gaps, our overall purpose was to gather deans’ and directors’ perceptions and experiences regarding the hiring, incorporation, and utilization of new DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty members and to consider the similarities and differences that might exist in each of these areas when looking at applicants and then faculty of each educational preparation. In addition, the authors explored the existence and implications of any shortage of nursing faculty for each program.


The current study is the first phase of an ongoing national study focused on investigating opportunities for new doctorates in nursing. The phase discussed in this article uses a descriptive design with semistructured interviewing of deans and directors of nursing schools across the United States. These interviews were focused on the (a) hiring processes for both DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty members and (b) differences, if any, in faculty roles (e.g., teaching, research, service) between faculty with a DNP and those with a PhD degree. Fifteen deans and directors were interviewed, seven from associate degree in nursing (ADN) programs and eight from baccalaureate and higher degree programs (BSN+). The institutional review board approved this study.

The method of semistructured interviewing was deliberately chosen because although an established set of questions for the interview existed, the authors wanted to allow those interviewed to assist in identifying additional areas in need of exploration. Semistructured interviewing provided a balance between objective and subjective questioning that elicited both factual responses and anecdotal experiences among respondents.

The study used nonprobability convenience sampling to select deans and directors from both types of programs to interview. The deans or directors contacted were from schools of varying sizes, both public and private, and in diverse geographic locations (e.g., urban, rural, suburban) that offered different nursing degree options to provide a range of circumstances and backgrounds for the sample. The ADN programs were located in five states located in the northeastern, western, midwestern, and southern regions of the United States, and the BSN+ programs were located in eight different states in the northeastern, midwestern, and southern regions (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). Demographic information on the participating schools of nursing may be found in the Table.

Characteristics of Participating Schools of Nursing


Characteristics of Participating Schools of Nursing

Interviews with the program administrators were conducted via telephone by a member of the research team (C.A.A.), contained closed (mostly demographic) and open-ended questions, and lasted approximately 30 minutes for ADN programs and 1 hour for BSN+ programs. The difference in time was generally because some of the questions about hiring, incorporating, or deploying doctorally prepared faculty were not applicable to any of the ADN programs, despite the a priori sense to the converse. For example, “What decisions, if any, has your school/ department of nursing made about the appointment type of PhD-prepared faculty?” was not answered by any of the ADN program administrators because they had no plans to target or hire doctorally prepared faculty, despite some programs having one or more doctorally prepared faculty on staff. This may have been due to an existing faculty member earning a doctorate while teaching in the ADN program or a doctorally prepared nurse relocating to the area and choosing employment in the ADN program, regardless of the fact that their doctorate was not a job requirement or consideration.

Interview questions covered the following areas: (a) general demographics about the program, the person being interviewed and the geographic area in terms of a shortage of nursing faculty; (b) recruitment and hiring of doctorally prepared faculty; (c) differences and similarities in roles and responsibilities of DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty; and (d) educational advancement and mentoring of doctoral nurse faculty. After each interview was completed, the recording was transcribed verbatim and analyzed using content analysis (Neuendorf, 2002). In the content analysis, rules were established for coding, interviews were coded for key words and phrases, all relevant information was retained, and subsequent analyses were performed. Content analysis was chosen as the analytic approach because the interviews were conducted to obtain baseline information, to refine the interview guide (identify questions that elicited analyzable answers), and to identify additional questions from the key words and phrases that emerged. Instructions were created for the content analysis (e.g., a word count was not done, but commonly used key phrases and categories would be identified). Interviews were read and coded by one member of the research team and then validated independently in a second coding done by another member of the team.


Work and Roles of DNP- and PhD-Prepared Faculty

When asked about the specific roles of DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty members, deans and directors of ADN programs reported similarities in faculty roles. In ADN programs, directors noted that faculty members with either a DNP or PhD degree (or other doctoral degree) had virtually the same roles as the faculty in their programs. One director of a community college, who had both DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty members on staff, explained, “Our DNPs function equivalently with the PhD-prepared faculty. There’s no difference in assignment... predominantly teaching responsibilities and advisement.”

However, in baccalaureate and higher degree programs, deans explained that DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty were often hired for different roles and had varying responsibilities within the school. For example, among these eight deans, only one reported that the DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty members held the same roles. Most likely, this was due to the fact that this school offers only the BSN degree, and all faculty members, regardless of doctoral preparation or tenure status, have the same responsibilities. In the remaining seven programs, the roles between DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty members differed significantly. The main roles of DNP-prepared faculty members were to teach and coordinate courses in prelicensure and DNP programs, with the PhD-prepared faculty teaching in all degree programs offered.

One notable difference was that PhD-prepared faculty assumed more research and service responsibilities. As one dean noted, “The difference between the two is that the teaching expectation is lighter for the PhD faculty than for the DNP faculty.” With this lightened teaching, PhD faculty members were expected to secure extramural research funding to support their research. In two of the schools, the deans reported that their DNP-prepared faculty members were also expected to “conduct research.” Those deans explained that DNP-prepared faculty members were responsible for producing and disseminating research. However, they made the distinction that the research of DNP-prepared faculty was broad and had a pedagogical focus, not an empirical one. In fact, in explaining the research activities of their faculty, both deans indicated their support of Boyer’s (1990) model of scholarship, which emphasizes a broader view of research and scholarship, including the scholarship of teaching and learning. As one dean explained:

The DNP is a practice degree and not a research degree and I believe we’ve confused ourselves profoundly. Why [do] we have a DNP, what [do] we intend to achieve with it and [what is its] differentiation from our research degree? They [DNP-prepared faculty members] need to have the knowledge to be able to do clinical data analysis but not our traditional research that those in [National Institute of Health] focus-funded schools must be “about.” They [DNP faculty] are not prepared for that.

One other difference in responsibility noted was that PhD-prepared faculty members were expected to engage in service in professional nursing organizations and the nursing community, as well as hold leadership positions in their school. Similarly, some schools had expectations for DNP-prepared faculty members to be involved in community-based service efforts (e.g., volunteering at a local clinic) and to have leadership positions in the school of nursing, but not necessarily in professional organizations, either local, regional or national.

DNP-prepared faculty members are, for the most part, fulfilling teaching responsibilities in schools of nursing. Although their main role is teaching and course coordination, many DNP degree programs provide no preparation to limited preparation in curriculum development, teaching, and assessment, which suggests a need for structured faculty development (Barksdale et al., 2011). It is worth noting that PhD-prepared faculty members may need similar preparation for their teaching role if they are not exposed to academic preparation in education during their graduate education.

Adequacy of Educational Preparation

Deans and directors were asked about the adequacy of the DNP and PhD degree preparation for faculty members to assume their respective roles in their schools. Half of the deans and directors currently had DNP-prepared faculty on staff and were clear that, as several deans noted, “The educational preparation of DNP-prepared faculty members is adequate as long as their focus is clinical.” One ADN director commented, “I think DNP faculty members are ideally prepared for a community college role.”

However, two of the deans indicated that the educational preparation of DNP-prepared faculty members was not adequate for their roles. One of those deans explained, “The short answer is no, unless they [DNP-prepared faculty] have had courses in curriculum development and teaching strategies.” The other dean provided a similar answer and explained that the DNP-prepared faculty member on staff was doing the same work as before attaining the DNP: “I think we have to figure out something new and different that this degree-educated person brings to the environment.” Another dean echoed this, stating, “What will [the DNP-prepared faculty member] do differently since getting the DNP?… We haven’t figured that one out yet.”

The remaining deans and directors gave varying perceptions of the adequacy of educational preparation of DNP graduates. One dean noted that:

the curriculum for most DNP programs…is for advanced clinical practice and there has been concern expressed among the faculty, as well as the administration, about the fit for academe, because that’s not really the emphasis for most DNP programs…. I think, philosophically, most people recognize the contribution of the DNP to advancing clinical practice, but that’s within the context of a practice site as opposed to higher education.

Overall, deans and directors emphasized that DNP-prepared faculty members need to be prepared educationally for their teaching role. Many schools still struggle with how to best use the DNP skills in nursing programs. One dean emphasized the need for the overall field of nursing to look critically at practice degrees and how they fit in academic institutions:

I don’t think in this discipline that we’re clear yet about what we expect from people who hold a terminal practice degree. I think that’s going to be a challenge until we get greater clarity on the outcomes of the degree itself and therefore what we can expect those people to bring to an academic environment…. I think practice has to be an inherent part of whatever we figure out for people with a DNP and it matters both in the education of the student by creating sites and in generating revenue streams just like the revenue streams generated to support research.

In terms of adequacy of academic preparation, it seems that schools are still exploring the expectation for DNP-prepared faculty and how these faculty members are best used.

Tenure Processes

The AACN (2012a) suggested that a DNP faculty member would compete favorably with other practice doctorates in tenure and promotion decisions. However, granting tenure to DNP-prepared faculty is a contentious issue among faculty and administrators, with many taking sides over whether DNP graduates should hold tenure-track or clinical-track positions (AACN, 2012a; Gardenier, 2011; Nicholes & Dyer, 2012). Grey (2013) recently called for more emphasis on the roles of faculty in their schools, the types of schools in which they work, and whether their responsibilities and achievements align with tenure requirements regarding the determination of tenure eligibility. Honig, Smolowitz, and Larson (2013) partially addressed this call by defining clinical and research nursing faculty roles and offering a comprehensive guideline for appointment and promotion, highlighting the overlap and distinguishing aspects of the work of DNP and PhD faculty. Yet, despite these new frameworks and recommendations, we found that in many baccalaureate schools, DNP-prepared faculty are still held to similar tenure expectations as PhD-prepared faculty, which is why many are not or will not be considered for tenure.

Of the seven ADN programs included in the current study, only one had a tenure process for faculty. However, one of these community colleges offered a “full professor status” rank after 3 years of employment, contingent on the faculty member’s fulfillment of requirements and performance. Conversely, all eight of the baccalaureate and higher degree schools of nursing had a tenure track for qualified faculty members; however, schools differed in whether DNP-prepared faculty were considered eligible for tenure-track positions. In only three (37.5%) of the eight schools could DNP-prepared faculty apply for tenure. One dean offered this view, which was consistent with the other deans:

When someone who has a DNP degree considers a position here at the university, the requirements for tenure/tenure track are such that that would not be a good fit because they are not doing research. It would be a rare circumstance that somebody with a DNP degree would meet the criteria for tenure track because it requires that they have a research program and that they have a track record of research.

Another dean noted that if the DNP-prepared faculty members were faced with the same targets and deadlines as the PhD-prepared faculty in meeting tenure, they might not be able to fully meet those expectations and requirements. That dean explained:

I think the challenge is that they don’t have the deadlines that the PhD faculty on the tenure stream have and therefore may not push as fast to move up in the ranks. From every other standpoint, they have no challenge in meeting the expectations for progressive rank than the tenure-stream faculty members have for meeting expectations in their ranks.

Faculty Advancement

In all but one of the schools, there was some type of strategy in place aimed at advancing faculty education. This investment in faculty higher education was apparent through encouraging the pursuit of advanced degrees or professional development (e.g., further developing teaching strategies, helping faculty with obtaining research funding, or maintaining work–life balance). Some deans and directors mentioned explicit programming (e.g., connections to advanced degree programs at other universities, tuition reimbursement, reduced teaching load) aimed at encouraging their current faculty to obtain higher-degree education, whereas others pointed to more intangible elements that promoted advancement, such as an institutional culture of pursuing more education through providing information and encouragement to faculty members. One school offering a baccalaureate degree cited invited talks and educational series on teaching and methodology as a way to increase interest in advanced-degree options.

However, just because the schools offered resources for nursing faculty advancement did not mean they took advantage of them. In one case, a dean noted that her aging workforce was simply not interested in pursuing advanced education, despite the abundance of resources. She noted, “I encourage them all to get advanced degrees, but my faculty are older so they’re not interested.” Other deans and directors pointed to the institution’s inherent culture of continuing education and learning, saying that the culture itself served as the main motivators for faculty advancement. One dean explained:

We have a culture of encouraging faculty to earn their doctoral degrees and as a result I probably have more doctorally prepared faculty at my school than the university up the street…. We support, we encourage, we provide information about different program options, we have virtually every doctoral degree represented here so we can provide differences [among programs].

The interviews emphasized the large stake that nursing programs have in faculty advancement, whether it was support in the school for obtaining a higher degree or achieved via concrete packages to facilitate advancement.

Acceptance Issues and Meeting Expectations

Overall, there seemed to be little evidence of tension and lack of acceptance of DNP-prepared faculty in schools of nursing. DNP-prepared faculty, as reported by deans and directors, are fully accepted into the organizational climate. Furthermore, as different expectations for DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty are outlined by schools of nursing, deans and directors are able to evaluate how DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty meet their respective set of expectations. In response to the question, “Do you think DNP-prepared faculty members are meeting the full expectation of a faculty member in your school?” one dean commented:

I do because they’re doing a great job with their teaching. They’re actively engaged in relevant professional associations. They’re providing great service to the school through their committee activities and so on, and for the most part, the majority of them are publishing.

Although the overall account of accepting DNP-prepared faculty members was one without many issues, there were some feelings of division, particularly at the university level. For instance, one director of a community college (who also taught at a university) pointed out that she had witnessed a slower acceptance of the DNP degree among faculty members in the university setting. She explained:

When the degree came out, there was a lot of “what does that mean” and “is this going to be something that goes away in a few years?” I think now you’re seeing more widespread acceptance. Now that being said, I think people with PhDs want to form barriers. If you were hiring a faculty member to teach nurse practitioners, I would think a DNP would be a better choice than a PhD. If you are hiring faculty members to teach a rigorous course, I could argue that they are equally valuable and there should be no discrimination. I teach part-time [for university] and I perceive that people who currently have PhDs are concerned that the DNP is less of a degree and not at their level.

Future Hiring Trends

All of the deans and directors noted that they would be willing to hire DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty in the coming years. Yet, for ADN programs, whether schools would actually hire doctorally prepared faculty was a different matter; many of the ADN schools had not hired (or did not currently have) doctorally prepared faculty due to factors such as low salaries overall, a lack of differentiation in the work performed, and inability to compensate the faculty member for having earned the DNP degree.

One of the most prevalent reasons deans and directors gave for hiring new nurse educators was an aging faculty. All but one of the deans believed that the shortage of nursing faculty would increase in the future, particularly with many baby boomers retiring and salaries remaining stagnant. The only interviewee who did not believe there would be a shortage of nursing faculty noted that her program was in a metropolitan area with a large pool of nurse educators. One director of an ADN program explained that this shortage is not only at the doctoral level—it applies to master’s-prepared faculty as well: “It’s [at the] master’s, DNP and PhD [level]. I have so few people applying and I don’t believe it’s because we are underpaying [them].” When asked about the reasons underlying the shortage of qualified applicants, many cited that the time commitment and costs of completing a doctoral degree in nursing were prohibitive for many master’s-prepared faculty members.

Deans and directors were also asked about academic and nonacademic competitors in terms of hiring doctorally prepared nurse faculty. Most (87%) of those interviewed acknowledged that other local academic institutions were strong competitors for hiring doctorally prepared nurses, and hospitals, health departments, and independent research firms also hire DNP- and PhD-prepared nurses, reducing the potential applicant pool. One additional hiring trend that one interviewee mentioned was that long-term care facilities might begin to hire DNPs.


This article expands on extant literature covering the rise, impact, and nature of DNP programs to address the contributions of DNP graduates in the current academic workforce. The proliferation of DNP graduates, coupled with rising retirement among nurse faculty and an increasing shortage of doctorally prepared nurses (Potempa et al., 2009), has created a need for more information on the hiring and utilization of DNP-prepared nurse faculty in nursing programs. Given these shifts in nursing education and the hiring landscape, the current study sought clarification and to gather more information on several current topics, including the roles of DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty, acceptance issues, current and future hiring practices, and tenure in ADN and baccalaureate and higher degree programs across the United States.

In terms of overall trends, the main role of DNP- prepared faculty members is teaching; this is true across schools and degree types. Expectations for research for DNP-prepared faculty members varied, although the majority of DNP-prepared faculty members were not involved in research. In the few schools in which DNP-prepared educators engaged in research, their studies were pedagogically focused. There are several implications for this finding. Given that the main role of DNP-prepared faculty is teaching, their clinical knowledge and real-world experience should be recognized and used to meet the teaching needs at different degree-offering nursing schools and programs. Their clinical expertise can be recognized through teaching clinical courses and mentoring and advising students. More specifically, the expertise of DNP-prepared faculty is particularly useful in guiding students throughout the DNP capstone process (Nelson, Cook, & Raterink, 2013). In addition, schools should create avenues for collaboration between DNP and PhD-prepared faculty in the translation and dissemination of knowledge to advance health outcomes (Melnyk, 2013; Sebastian & Delaney, 2013).

Second, approximately half of the interviewees said that the DNP education was adequate for the particular roles into which they are placed. The other half either expressed their belief that DNP education was not adequate for a teaching role or were concerned about the fit of DNP-prepared faculty in academia, noting that not all PhD-prepared faculty applicants had sufficient education. Given that the main faculty role of DNP-prepared faculty members is teaching, they need to understand curriculum development, the teaching process and methods, assessment of learning, and other roles of the educator. Some of those in hiring positions in schools of nursing are still unclear about DNP-prepared faculty roles, especially considering the clinical emphasis of their role preparation, even after years of having master’s-prepared clinically oriented faculty members on staff. This finding reflects overall sentiment about the level of clarity of the expectations and roles of DNP-prepared faculty. Recent work that has advanced understanding of doctorally prepared faculty roles (Melnyk, 2013; Sebastian & Delaney, 2013), and adequate resources needed for DNP programs (Frantz, 2013) should be incorporated into existing practice.

Third, only a few of the programs provided the option of applying for tenure for DNP-prepared faculty. This suggests another avenue through which DNP-prepared faculty are differentially acknowledged in schools of nursing and is congruent with other work on DNP-prepared faculty and the tenure process (Nicholes & Dyer, 2012). Fourth, nearly all of the schools contacted offered strategies or practices aimed at advancing faculty education, and whether faculty took advantage of those programs was a separate consideration. Fifth, deans and directors were generally positive about new DNP-educated faculty members. However, some deans of baccalaureate and higher degree programs were clear that they struggle with role assignment between DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty members, as well as with the acceptance of DNP-prepared faculty by faculty members with PhD preparation. One suggestion for handling acceptance issues includes holding open dialogue discussions among administrators and faculty members, where the purposes, educational processes, and end products of DNP and PhD education are fully articulated. Resources exist that discuss how the DNP degree can be harnessed to educate nursing students and translate health care issues (Edwardson, 2010); how to address the appointment and promotion of DNP-prepared faculty (Honig et al., 2013); information on DNP faculty development (Sebastian & Delaney, 2013); and what the current directions for the DNP are within the field of nursing (Grey, 2013).

Finally, deans and directors were open to hiring DNP-prepared faculty in coming years, even those without any doctorally prepared faculty members at the time of the interview. Yet, these deans and directors also realized that the many non-educational career options available to DNP graduates seeking employment may diminish their availability for faculty positions. Almost all deans and directors agreed that the shortage of nursing faculty would continue and, perhaps, worsen in the near future.

Schools of nursing at all degree levels face potential changes in faculty constitution with the hiring of DNP-prepared faculty, especially in the face of the existing and increasing shortage of nurse educators. Given the results of this study, schools should (a) examine their current faculty to identify and address any acceptance issues before DNP-prepared faculty are hired; (b) ensure that the roles for DNP-prepared faculty use their clinical knowledge and experience; (c) structure faculty development for DNP-prepared (and other) faculty members, as applicable in the areas of curriculum development, classroom and clinical teaching, student assessment, and other faculty expectations and responsibilities; (d) clearly delineate the roles of DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty in the nursing program; (e) create channels for communication across education programs and between faculty with different educational preparations; and (f) enable DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty members to collaborate on teaching and scholarly activities.

As more faculty members with DNP degrees are integrated in schools or programs of nursing, it is critical that their knowledge and competencies are valued and that opportunities are available for their career advancement. At this point in time, the extent to which DNP-prepared faculty will have an option to apply for tenure-track positions is not clear. It is important for schools to examine their criteria for advancement to ensure that faculty with DNP degrees are recognized and rewarded for excellence in performance, even if they cannot achieve tenure. As more nursing programs examine strategically how DNP-prepared faculty are best used in their schools, clearer delineation of the roles of DNP- and PhD-prepared faculty should emerge.


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Characteristics of Participating Schools of Nursing

ProgramYears in ExistenceNumber of StudentsFaculty CompositionsaDegrees OfferedRegion
ADN5640713 full timeADN/PNMidwest
820320.65 FTE/17 facultyADNortheast
1217112 full timeADNortheast
4115011 full timeADNSouth
2614811 full timeADNSouth
4220011 FTEAASSouth
6141034.1 FTE/24 full time/63 part timeADN/LVNWest
Baccalaureate and higher degree1001,24277 full time/60 to 80 part timeBSN/MSN/DNP/PhDMidwest
78304b172 total facultyBSN/MSN/DNP/PhDMidwest
5616810 full timeBSNMidwest
3089070 FTE/75 facultyBSN/MS/DNP/PhDMidwest
741,06584 full timeBSN/MSN/DNP/PhDNortheast
2029618 full time/35 adjuncts/30 nurse anesthesia preceptorsBSN/MSNortheast
3130026 full timeBSN/MSNSouth
1201,00038 full timeBSN/MSN/PhDSouth


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