Nurse anesthesia department welcomes inaugural class of doctoral students

Aug 20, 2012

By Andi Enns

The University of Kansas Department of Nurse Anesthesia Education welcomed its inaugural class of doctoral students this summer. The accrediting body for the program, the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA) approved the curriculum change from a master’s degree to the doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree.

Donna Nyght, CRNA, DNP, chair of the program, says all 112 nurse anesthesia programs in the nation have been instructed to transition into offering doctorates instead of master’s degrees by 2025. Currently, 11 nurse anesthesia programs offer the DNP.  

“It’s very exciting for KU to be in the first 10 percent of nurse anesthesia programs in the nation to offer an entry level clinical doctorate,” said Nyght.

Additionally, KU's program is the only one of its kind in Kansas and the Kansas City metropolitan area.

“At the May meeting of the Council, three universities applied for accreditation,” said Nyght. “But we were the only one approved.”

The change was announced in 2004 following the release of a position paper by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

“This program being a master’s degree was a sort of academic injustice,” Nyght said. “For example, to get an MBA takes a year, but to get a master’s in nurse anesthesia takes three years at KU.”

After the AACN announced the change, Nyght said the department faculty immediately began to work towards earning their own doctoral degrees. As of the start of the 2012 academic year, four have earned DNPs and two are working towards Ph.D.’s in related fields.

She said other health professions programs have undergone similar changes, such as occupational therapy and pharmacy. As such, it only makes sense to have a more appropriate degree for the volume and level of knowledge required.

The curriculum has changed a bit, Nyght said. For example, KU students will learn about policy, epidemiology and statistics in addition to their anesthesia courses.

“As the pendulum swings towards more schools offering the DNP, I think it’ll benefit KU to be on the leading edge,” Nyght said. “Why would they want a master’s when the degree is becoming obsolete?”

Nyght says the change in degree name doesn’t yet reflect industry changes.

“Nursing has always changed academically,” Nyght says. “In the beginning, all you had to get was a diploma from a hospital to become a nurse. Then it became an associate’s or bachelor’s degree to become an RN and then a master’s to do advanced care. Now we have the terminal degree - a doctorate.”

“For the nurse anesthesia DNP, people have to really want it,” Nyght says. “You have to have a bachelor’s degree and two years of full time experience as an RN. Then you can apply here and if accepted, study full time for three years to reach the ultimate goal of becoming a CRNA.”

Students currently enrolled in the master’s program will have to finish it before enrolling in a post-master’s DNP program, as mandated by the accrediting body.  The entry level master’s degree will phase out when the class of 2014 graduates.

Regardless of what program they’re enrolled in, Nyght says nurse anesthesia students at KU get an outstanding education.

“They start with clinicals right here in KU Hospital,” Nyght says. “The sheer volume and acuity of patients here means they’ll get lots of experience before they graduate. This, and the rotations at affiliate institutions, really makes our program stand out.”

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