A DNP tailored for executive leaders

The first group of Executive Leadership DNP students during orientation.

When Vanderbilt launched its Doctor of Nursing Practice program a decade ago, all DNP students followed an advanced practice track that they tailored to their specific clinical interests.

Over the years, VUSN officials heard from potential applicants and students interested in a different curriculum, one focused on specifically strengthening leadership skills. VUSN had been attracting high-level nurses, chief nursing officers and associate chief nursing officers to its DNP program and tailoring the program of study to meet their needs. In 2017, the school launched an executive leadership DNP track for nurses in top organizational roles and enrolled its first eight students.

The Executive Leadership DNP prepares nurses in leadership to bring evidence-based knowledge into the practice arena and to respond to emerging trends and issues in health care and nursing practice. It also emphasizes development of sustainable programs that are innovative, economically feasible and significantly affect health care outcomes.

Those enrolled in the executive leadership track must have an MSN in health care leadership or nursing administration, an MSN in another advanced nursing practice specialty, or a BSN with a master’s degree in a non-nursing health-related field such as a health care MBA, Master’s of Public Health or Master’s in Health Administration.

Executive leadership doctoral work includes studies in lean methodology, epidemiology, advanced health care economics, informatics and evidence-based management, as well as the development of a DNP scholarly project tailored to each student’s interests and that demonstrates the student’s knowledge, practice application and original discovery.

Thomasena Moore

Thomasena Moore, MSN, MHA, is a member of the first executive leadership class. A surgical quality management nurse consultant with the Durham Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, Moore said she intends to use her DNP education to visualize and implement ways to help the VA close gaps in care and shine in a positive light.

“I would like to highlight improvements in quality of care and help the organization sustain a healthy relationship with veterans and the general public,” Moore said. “I expect to be able to use the research and evidence-based techniques that I learn in my DNP program and apply them to making necessary improvements for the veteran population.”

As with the advanced practice DNP track, the program’s coursework uses a mix of brief, infrequent on-campus sessions and online and distance learning technologies. The ability to do the coursework on one’s own time anywhere in the world and limited on-campus visits make the program particularly appealing to top nurse executives and their senior management.

Doctor of Nursing Practice Program Director Terri Allison, DNP, says that another draw for working nurse leaders is Vanderbilt’s experienced and doctorally prepared faculty who have experience as nursing leaders in complex health care organizations.

“Even with distance-learning students all over the country and some internationally, the faculty are accessible,” said. “What sets us apart from other DNP programs is the level of engagement between our very experienced nursing leader faculty and students. We are there to walk down the path with them, mentor and guide them. It’s really my philosophy that we maintain that culture.”

Moore said she had several reasons for choosing to earn her DNP at Vanderbilt, but a key one was its DNP alumni and faculty. “I am interested in gaining as much information and experience as I can from them so I can, in turn, grow my leadership career in nursing, and keep the field of nursing growing in a positive direction,” she said.

by Nancy Wise