WCU’s doctor of nursing practice approved by UNC Board of Governors

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors gave its approval Friday (Feb. 8) for Western Carolina University to begin offering the doctor of nursing practice degree, and the first students are expected to start the program in the fall.

The DNP program will be offered jointly by WCU and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, with face-to-face courses taught at UNCC and at WCU’s new instructional site at Biltmore Park Town Square in Asheville.

The DNP will be WCU’s third doctoral-level academic program. The university already offers doctoral degrees in educational leadership and physical therapy.

Judy Neubrander, director of WCU’s School of Nursing, said the new program will offer specialties in family nurse practitioner, nurse anesthesiology and nursing administration. The DNP will begin next fall as a post-master’s program, giving students who have completed requirements for a master of science in nursing degree the option of continuing for another two years of study to receive a doctor of nursing practice degree.

In 2016, the program will begin enrolling students who have bachelor’s degrees to start three years of study to earn their doctoral degrees in one of the three specialty areas, Neubrander said. After 2016, WCU will offer both the post-master’s and post-bachelor’s DNP in the three specialty areas, as well as an already existing master of science in nursing degree in the specialty areas of family nurse practitioner, nursing administration and nursing education.

Shawn Collins, interim associate director for WCU’s graduate nursing programs, will direct the DNP program. “The DNP will prepare students to practice at the highest level of clinical nursing and to provide leadership in our dynamic health care systems,” Collins said. “Graduates of the program will be able to analyze systems of care and provide high-level leadership to improve patient safety and quality of care and to implement evidence-based culturally competent care practices.”

The UNC Board of Governors last June approved the requests of six UNC campuses, including WCU, to start planning DNP programs. External reviewers examined those proposals and concluded that the state has been slow to transition from master of science in nursing programs to doctoral-level programs in the field, compared to other states. Reviewers also determined that the current and growing demand for advanced practice nurses and the existing student interest justify the programs, especially considering the specialized programs of study that will be offered statewide. The Board of Governors approval was for all six UNC campuses.

WCU and UNCC students who enroll in the program will begin each semester by participating in three days of intensive training at one site, and then they will transition to the other university’s instructional site for the remainder of the face-to-face courses that semester. Slightly less than half the course work will be offered online.

For more information about the new DNP program, contact the WCU School of Nursing at 828-227-7467.