OGDEN — Weber State’s new doctoral program for nurse practitioners, the doctor of nursing practice (DNP) — and the first doctorate offered at Weber State — has attracted a full class of 35 students for its inaugural year, but some students said they won’t actually be getting a raise after they complete their degrees.
Nurse practitioners are nurses with additional training that allows them to diagnose health problems and prescribe medication. Many work in clinics with physicians, but some have their own practices, depending on the state. Nurse practitioners currently must earn a master’s in the field to practice.
Why then are these students, many of whom are full-time professionals with years of experience under their belts, paying tuition and spending time away from their families to get doctorates?
“Income wasn’t the main motivation in going back to school,” said Brenda Toone, a registered nurse and resident of Layton starting the DNP program for nurses who already have a bachelor’s degree in the field. She works in women’s health.
“My motivation is my desire to practice at a higher level and my desire to have primary care relationships with my patients,” Toone continued. “I think of the experiences that I’ve had with my kids’ pediatrician, and with our family practice doctor, and I think of the parts of those relationships that I value, and I want to be that person for someone else.”
“It improves your education level and your ability to lead in your field, but it won’t change salary for me,” said Cathy Harmston, a resident of Ogden who is already a practicing nurse practitioner at a rural clinic in Malad, Idaho.
It’s an hour each way, but Harmston doesn’t drive up there every day. A graduate of Weber State’s nursing program, she’s ready to head back to school because her last child has graduated from high school.
Weber State has launched a new DNP program with two tracks, one for students who have bachelor’s degrees in nursing and one for nurse practitioners with master’s degrees who are already working in the field — or nurses with bachelor’s degree who have a master’s degree in a related field, like public health.
This year, the program is enrolling 20 students with bachelor’s degrees in nursing and 15 students who already have master’s degrees.
The post-bachelor’s students participate in a hybrid program, while the post-master’s program is online.
Students said they’re enrolling in Weber State’s DNP programs because they want to improve care for their patients who are facing problems that health care professionals are still learning how to treat.
They think the program at Weber State, which emphasizes the application of medical research to the clinical setting, will equip them with the skills to meet these needs.
“That’s what’s so great about the DNP ... you’re supposed to find something in your clinical ... expertise ... where there’s a gap in knowledge or clinical practice that you can improve upon,” said Mindy Robert, a resident of Ogden enrolled in the post-master’s to DNP program. She’s a nurse practitioner who works in outpatient neurology at Ogden Clinic.
As part of the program, students complete a long-term project that’s “evidence based,” or based on medical research. Many will be implementing their projects in clinics where they already work.
Robert plans to develop a chair yoga class for patients with multiple sclerosis and other movement disorders, helping to improve their flexibility and prevent falls. She hopes to integrate mindful breathing and meditation to help them manage the high stress levels that can come with chronic health problems.
Her clinic has already indicated an interest in continuing the program she develops even after her project is complete.
“I’m also hoping that maybe, informally, it can turn into a support group,” Robert said. She hopes participants will think “’Oh look, I’ve met other people in this class, and they’re ... going through the same thing that I am,’” she said.
“And it doesn’t just help her patients,” Harmston said in a joint interview with Robert, “but ... she may publish, and then it will help nurse practitioners everywhere to read her project and how she implemented it.”
Toone is looking forward to researching incidents that she’s noticed as a practicing registered nurse, but didn’t have time to dive deep into. She has several ideas for a potential projects, from how urinary tract infections are treated to how virtual appointments affect patient outcomes.
Brian Maynard, a resident of West Haven who is flight nurse specialized in critical care and emergency medicine, said that his job is physically demanding, and he’s not getting any younger. He needs something to transition to when he takes a step back from emergency response.
Maynard has also become increasingly interested in preventive care.
“For 20 years, I’ve done treatment, treatment, treatment,” Maynard said. “Everybody I take care of, I think, ‘A lot of this could have been prevented. So where’s the gap?’ ... When you look around at health care, there’s a huge hole in the prevention side of it.”
He said he’s also interested in using research and statistics to answer these questions, something he never expected, since he swore at the beginning of his career that he wouldn’t become that “geeky numbers statistics guy.”
Maynard, who got his bachelor’s degree in nursing at Weber State, also said being part of history was enticing, since the DNP is the first doctoral program at the university.
Students said that the local nature of the program had a lot of appeal. It was convenient and would allow them to network with other local professionals in the field. If they had questions, they could meet with a study group or faculty member in person.
Weber State is also a lot cheaper than other options. Robert estimated she’d save $15–20,000 by getting her DNP at Weber State compared to other online DNP programs, and she looked at several.
The new DNP programs at Weber State were launched in part because the field is changing. The master’s has been the entry-level degree, but the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties announced in 2018 that it would be moving all entry-level nurse practitioner programs to to the DNP degree by 2025, according to a university press release.