Nurses form the backbone of a hospital’s workforce, typically accounting for two-thirds of its personnel. So, when one talks about being a health care leader, understanding nursing is paramount.
Nurse leaders throughout the country are earning the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, which has become the gold standard for the profession in terms of leadership, according to Jennifer Matthews, Ph.D., RN, A-CNS, FAAN, a professor of nursing at Shenandoah University’s Eleanor Wade Custer School of Nursing, which offers both a DNP in nurse practitioner specialties and a DNP in Health Systems Leadership, as well as a Certificate in Health Systems Leadership.
The university recently instituted the health systems leadership programs in response to the needs of health care systems, where nurses with leadership abilities are highly valued. For example, Dr. Matthews said, there are health system chief nurses who oversee 40 hospitals in four states. These nurses are savvy and seeking out more nurses like themselves, she said. “They’re seeking nurses who are highly educated and skilled in leadership complexities, who can be administrators across multiple layers of a system or an organization.”
A nurse with a DNP is a professional who can assess needs and address challenges with a thorough understanding of nursing protocols and practices. A DNP also understands research and can implement research conducted by nursing colleagues with Ph.D. degrees, Matthews said.
The DNP can also help young nurses step into leadership roles sooner, Matthews said. Shenandoah’s program allows Registered Nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing to study for the DNP in Health Systems Leadership. One such nurse, Elizabeth Sibert ’08, BSN, RN, was the first student to sign up for the Shenandoah program.
“My passion in nursing really lies on the management/leadership level,” said Sibert, who is studying on a part-time basis while working full time as an emergency room case manager in the Care Coordination Department at Sentara RMH Medical Center in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
This degree, Sibert said, will position DNPs with extensive clinical experience at the executive level in health care. These leaders will understand what nurses encounter every day and can pinpoint areas that need improvement while also seeing the broad health care picture.
Shenandoah’s programs (DNP and certificate) are primarily offered online, with occasional in-person, day-long immersion events. Synchronous and asynchronous courses allow nurses to study as they build their careers, and if a student can’t make it to an immersion event, they can Skype or Zoom in, if necessary, Matthews said. No one at Shenandoah will say, “It’s two in the afternoon, and I know you’ve got board meetings, but we’ve got class.” Instead, nurses will be able to work on schedules that work well for them, addressing real-world challenges with their peers in class. And, nurses may study on full-time or part-time schedules.
Nurses with master’s degrees, including MBAs, can also study for a DNP in Shenandoah’s program, with a variety of courses taken at the master’s level counting toward the DNP. Clinical practicum hours are also an integral part of the DNP, and Shenandoah’s program requires students to earn 1,000 clinical hours in health care leadership before conferring a DNP.
The Health Systems Leadership DNP features not only nursing courses, but also extensive business and health systems leadership specialty classes. Shenandoah’s specialty courses include
- Healthcare Quality Measurements and Methods
- Supply Chain and Logistics Management for Healthcare Systems
- Health Systems Leadership in High-Performance Organizations
- Negotiations, Mediation and Conflict Resolution in Healthcare
- Business Forecasting in Healthcare and Accountable Care Organizations
- Populations Theory and Collaboration Across Settings
- Emergency Preparedness-Disaster Management – Health Systems Focus
Debra Myers, DNP, RN, ’93, ’98, ’00, ’12, earned her DNP at Shenandoah prior to the establishment of the new leadership-focused degree. Dr. Myers, recently named the clinical coordinator of the Advanced Valve and Aortic Center at Valley Health’s Winchester Medical Center, said a business education is beneficial for health care leadership positions. However, she gained her business knowledge on the job. “If I only had a little more business intertwined into my degree – that would have been very helpful.”
Health systems leadership is such an important field that the Eleanor Wade Custer School of Nursing also designed a certificate, which plucks some important courses from the DNP’s specialty slate, providing additional skills to professionals with master’s degrees (nursing, social work, business administration, hospital administration) who are working in health care environments. Registered nurses who earn the certificate can transfer clinical practicum hours earned for it, as well as the coursework, to the DNP program, as well.
To learn more about nursing, the DNP, or the certificate, contact Matthews at 540/678-4347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.