The University of Texas School of Nursing at Houston will begin offering the doctorate of nursing practice degree this fall. Dr. Joanne Hickey is the coordinator of the new DNP program and says the degree is for nurses who want to achieve the highest level of direct patient care.
"The doctor of nursing practice is a practice degree as opposed to a research degree. It's a doctoral degree that focuses on developing expert practitioners as opposed to a Ph.D., which prepares people to be expert researchers."
Hickey says 16 students will make-up the first class, nurse practitioners who have already completed their masters degrees.
"They will have to have approval by the state to practice as a nurse practitioner and they'll have prescriptive privileges. We're building on that foundation. It's not like we're starting at the baccalaureate level. These people alreay have a masters degree and we will build on that level of education."
There are 11 other current doctorate of nursing practice programs and almost 200 programs in the planning stages across the country. That concerns Dr. Diana Fite, an emergency physician and president of the Harris County Medical Society. She says degrees that allow nurses to call themselves doctors could be stretching the lines of credibility.
"It's confusing to patients to call yourself a doctor and yet not have gone through medical school or residency but to be an advanced nurse practitioner. That is one of the main things, is they'll be able to call themselves doctors and perform services that will confuse the patients into thinking that they are indeed doctors."
But Dr. Elizabeth Fuselier, who is the only doctorate of nursing practice educated nurse practitioner in Texas and an assistant professor at the UT School of Nursing at Houston, says the title will not create confusion.
"Currently we have pharmacists who are referred to as doctors. We have physical medicine personel who are referred to as doctors. The Ph.D. researcher is referred to as doctor. This gives us the tools to be able to collaborate with those physicians and form intercollaborative teams to provide the highest quality of care for our community of patients."
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the UT Nursing School at Houston's plan for the new degree last month.