At your next visit to the doctor, your care provider will likely  have earned his or her advanced degree online.

onlinedegreeAs demand for health services booms, odds are increasing that your next visit to the doctor will mean meeting a specialized nurse—one who may have earned his or her advanced degree online through courses similar to more offerings at local colleges.

“With the Affordable Care Act there could be an additional 32 million to 38 million covered with health insurance,” Misericordia University professor and director of graduate nursing Brenda Hage said. “We need to have more advanced practice nurses to care for those people.”

When most people talk of nurses they are thinking of a registered nurse, usually a status obtained with an associates or, increasingly, a bachelor’s degree.

But as the face of medicine changes, nursing is changing as well, with many getting master’s degrees as advanced practice nurses able to order tests and prescribe medicines.

(Next page: Why online degree options are exploding)

A growing number are going on to a Doctor of Nursing Practice, acquiring the skills not only to offer direct help to patients, but to assist in management and program development, incorporating findings from new research more quickly into the real world, Hage said.

“It typically takes 13 years from the time research is done to the time the findings are applied to change patient practices,” Hage said. Part of the training in getting a DNP is designed to help shrink that lag time.

More degrees now

The explosion of options in both health care degrees and how one gets them is partly due to a shift in how medical treatment is viewed, Wilkes University professor and director of graduate nursing Deborah Zbegner said.

As health care professionals try to curb costs while improving outcomes they increasingly look at the whole patient, including family situation and lifestyle, trying to prevent problems and not just treat them.

The Affordable Care Act is accelerating that development, pushing the market into creating a “continuum of care,” Zbegner said. Advanced nursing degrees fit well into the idea because nursing has always been about the person and not just the ailment.

“Nursing deals with the response to the illness in all human dimensions,” Zbegner said. “Not only the physical part, but the psychological, social, financial and even spiritual concerns.”

The entry level nursing programs still require a lot of classroom time and clinical work, but the advanced degrees can increasingly be done with a mix of online and clinical practice, Luzerne County Community College Dean of Nursing and Health Science Deborah Vilegi-Peters said.

The DNP can be done with little or no class time.

That makes it easier for a person to move up the professional ladder while still holding down a job. “Who can just take a year off and spend $100,000 to go back to school?” Zbegner asked. “The adult learner is raising a family. They are often the sandwich generation, taking care of elderly parents as well as their own children.”

And the pressure for those advanced degrees is expected to grow. Both Zbegner and Hage pointed out that the American Association of Colleges of Nurses has taken the position that all advanced practice nurses should have a doctorate.

Wilkes University has been offering a mostly online DNP course for several years, Zbegner said. Misericordia is introducing an all-online DNP this fall. Other schools, including King’s College and LCCC, have been increasingly offering hybrid health care courses that are part online and part classroom.

Advance practice nurses specialize in one of four areas: Nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, or nurse midwives, Zbegner said.

The DNP degree takes their practice an important step forward, Hage contends.

“Some refer to the doctorate of nursing practice as transformational,” Hage said, “in that they are going to help transform the health care landscape.”

©2014 The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.). Distributed by MCT Information Services

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