A possible shortage of 150,000 doctors over the next 15 years is spurring moves by some universities to offer alternate programs and training, such as providing advanced degrees in nursing.
Doctors of nursing practice degrees have been on the rise lately, and as of 2009, there were 100 DNP programs in 36 states and Washington, D.C., according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. That year, 5,165 students were enrolled in such programs, up from 3,415 in 2008 and up from 70 in 2003.
A university with branches in Iowa and Missouri recently announced the progress of its new nursing doctorate program, according to the Independence, Missouri Examiner. The program started in August with 12 students - all but one of whom earned a bachelor's or master's degree from the university.
"Nurses need to get that advanced preparation to deliver primary care to their patients," the institution's associate dean of graduate programs told the newspaper. "We have to be strong agents of change and advanced education helps us deliver better quality care. Having nurses with a DNP will also help with the huge shortage in family practice physicians."
The university's program was spurred by a recommendation by the AACN that urges schools to put in place doctorate programs for four advanced-practice nursing positions - nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse specialist and nurse practitioner.
A large university network in California also recently announced it would debut a doctorate in nursing program, which will have about 90 students, according to the Los Angeles Times. The schools will be the first public institutions to offer the degree, are some that exist that offer research-based programs.
Health professionals in California expect the state to face a nursing shortage of about 100,000 in the next 10 years. Not only will the university's new program - which will debut in fall 2012 - help address that shortfall, it will help nurses gain more respect from colleagues and patients. Nurses who earn a doctorate degree also may be in prime position to be appointed a top administrator at a hospital.
The AACN said more factors behind the movement include: the rapid expansion of knowledge underlying practice; increased complexity of patient care; national concerns about the quality of care and patient safety; and increasing educational expectations for the preparation of other members of the healthcare team.