Taking Nursing to the Next Level

The DNP online program enrolled its first class in 2010.
The DNP online program enrolled its first class in 2010.

By Carlyn Worthy ’12

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) online program is preparing students for executive leadership careers in health care.

The College of Social Sciences School of Nursing, first established at Loyola University New Orleans in 1979, has graduated more than 1,000 baccalaureate and 700 graduate students who have left Loyola with the knowledge necessary to positively impact the lives of thousands. Three years ago, this renowned school made a decision to further enhance educational opportunities for its students. In 2009, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) online program was born.

The Beginning

During the new program’s planning stages, the faculty administered a needs assessment to students enrolled in the master’s program in order to gain insight on what they would like to receive from a doctoral program. The faculty also talked with local health care organizations to determine their needs in terms of employment.

The program received approval from the Board of Trustees in May 2009. Shortly thereafter, it received SACS accreditation, and in 2012, was accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Louisiana State Board of Nursing. It is fully accredited through June 15, 2017. With the stamp of approval, the program was open for business, and advertising began in July 2009. The School of Nursing reached out to current students and alumni who they believed would benefit from the higher-level program.

The program enrolled 25 students in May 2010, and the response to the program’s induction was favorable. The program offers three tracks—one post-BSN to DNP and two post-master’s to DNP. The program was designed to offer nurse practitioners the opportunity to acquire the skills necessary for executive leadership. The mission of the faculty and staff at the School of Nursing is to prepare students to transform the system for the betterment of patients and their loved ones by means of a rigorous Jesuit education. It is currently one of 182 such programs in the country and the only DNP program provided by a Jesuit university in the coastal states from Virginia to California.


I met with Ann Cary, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N., director of the School of Nursing and RWJ Executive Nurse Fellow (2008 – 2011), and Gwendolyn George, D.N.P., A.P.R.N., F.N.P.-B.C., assistant professor and coordinator of the DNP program, to discuss the changes and their profound impacts on the students and faculty.

“The first cohort that we admitted was exclusively nurse practitioners. When we admitted our class last year, we also admitted executive leaders,” George says. “So, while nurse practitioners will historically practice in clinics where they see individual patients and with their doctoral degrees be prepared to change the system, we also wanted them to reach out to nurses in the executive suite who are working in large hospitals.”

We discussed the expectations of students in the program, which is primarily hosted through online interactive instruction. Students come to campus once a year in face to face learning communities and to build a professional rapport.

Cary explains how community outreach is implemented into the program.

“DNP students have practicum courses so they’re out working in their community with other providers and nursing and health organizations. In order to confer the doctoral degree, students have to complete a minimum of 1,000 hours of practice. Some of those hours are credited at the master’s level. Most of the nurse practitioners in our first cohort received credit for 500 of the hours earned at the master’s level. In the DNP curriculum, they perform an additional 540 practice hours at the doctoral level. So the total number of hours will be well over 1,000.”

We later discussed the differences between an education in nursing at the master’s level and the doctoral level. Cary and George ensured that the doctorate builds on the master’s degree and challenges students to go beyond their usual means to accommodate patients.

“It requires more in-depth knowledge. At the master’s level, students are certainly critically thinking and analyzing, but do not go to the same level of scholarly inquiry or depth. Also, for nurse practitioners, it’s the difference between taking care of patients and their families and how to navigate the system and execute change at the system/organization level. I think that probably the biggest difference that students notice is that when they’re in their master’s program they’re more focused on, ‘How do I take care of this one individual person? How do I impact their life? How do I impact the family?’ At the doctoral level, the focus is to change the system so the individual benefits from the highest and most innovative approaches to health and care delivery. Doctoral education transforms the student, the practitioner, and the patients and systems in which they practice.”

Transformational change lies at the root of the system. This is one of many principles of health care emphasized by the program. Nurses are prepared to lead health care systems and teams to advance quality of care.

Ignatian Values and the Program

The practice of incorporating Ignatian values is one of our many accolades at Loyola. Our tradition of spirit is one of the major factors that contribute to the success of our alumni. Changing the world for the better one person at a time is a pillar in the education of our nursing students.

The DNP program saw its first graduating class walk across the stage on May 12. Of those students, two spoke with us about the impact their education had on their careers.

Yolanda Hill, D.N.P. ’12, says her career was changed for the better from the leadership skills implemented in the program. Hill conducted research for her capstone project at LSU’s Health Science Center in Baton Rouge, La. The project identified effective ways to implement healthy lifestyle changes among parents of overweight and obese children. She developed a program for nurse practitioners that would aide them in assessing parents and provide them with the skills and factual support necessary to foster change in their dietary habits.

“I needed to be a critical leader in order to get this project implemented,” Hill says. “I don’t think this project would have been as successful without it.”

Michelle Midkiff, D.N.P. ’12, has been a member of the Loyola community for more than 10 years. She “danced with Loyola in the late ’80s” when she enrolled in BSN courses. She finished her undergraduate degree at the University of South Alabama, but came back because of Loyola’s unique program. She says she learned the importance of evidence-based practice, recognizing a need for change and not just for change’s sake.

Midkiff’s capstone project focused on spirituality in health care and the efficacy of the 12-step principles. She administered Dr. Jerry Hirschfield’s The 12 Steps For Everyone…Who Really Wants Them and offered them to patients who were suffering from mild to moderate depression. Over the course of 12 weeks, patients were responsible for reading a chapter per week. After completing the 12-step program, she followed up with patients via phone.

Midkiff not only saw a vast improvement in symptoms, but she also realized that the 12 steps were strikingly similar to the virtues of St. Ignatius. Midkiff recognized a strong connection between faith and healing. She hopes to continue implementing this strategy into her work.

Both Hill and Midkiff say that their doctoral education prepared them for the capstone change projects without realizing it. They were able to justify their research, apply new skills, and implement leadership into their projects, qualities that will undoubtedly continue to help them now that they have graduated.

An Optimistic Outlook

The School of Nursing hopes that time and resources will allow it to expand the DNP online program, which is already enjoying great success. Now in its third year, the program is celebrating its first graduating class, the induction of 77 new students, and a “Top Five Online Program” ranking from U.S. News & World Report. This program is only headed for bigger and better things, but it will never stray from what matters most.

“The faculty is committed to student centeredness—the student is at the heart of everything we do,” says George. “I think when that’s your philosophy, it translates to your teaching and scholarship—everything you do.”

For more information on the Doctor of Nursing Practice online program, visit css.loyno.edu/nursing/doctor-nursing-practice

2012 DNP Graduates and their Doctoral Projects

Carlyn Worthy ’12 (communication) worked as the publications intern for the Office of Marketing and Communications during the spring 2012 semester.

View the complete summer 2012 issue of LOYNO.


Hi there,I'm a current BSN

Hi there,I'm a current BSN stenudt. It all depends on what you came into the program with.For example- I am missing some libs, which isn't part of my curriculum- so although they're included in my tuition, I have to do them on my own time- whether its evening classes, summer or online.So far, I have had to do two evening classes in one semester, and this summer I did 2 online courses. Some days are long, so don't bet on having time to do courses during the day. The best bet is to get everything done ahead of time.It also depends on how your school is set up- mine is set up so with each semester you get more clinical hours- so its easier to take such courses in the beginning vs the end, when you are do final placements that are basically full time work hours.

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