Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, a Haitian earthquake, terrorist attacks and Ebola outbreaks.
Disasters and emerging diseases continue to challenge healthcare clinicians. Wagner College on Staten Island, N.Y., aims to prepare the next generation of experts through its new DNP program, which has a unique focus on disaster preparation. It is the colleges first doctoral level program.
We thought it would make a great focus to prepare clinical leaders, people with a doctor of nursing practice, who could serve as leaders during a disaster, said Kathleen Ahern, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, CNE, director of graduate nursing studies at the school.
The program builds on the colleges long-standing interest in disaster response and emerging health concerns, including travels to national and international events. As primary care providers, [graduates] will have additional tools and knowledge and a systems idea of what goes on in disaster preparedness, said Paula Dunn Tropello, EdD, RN, FNP-BC, CNS, dean of the Evelyn L. Spiro School of Nursing at Wagner. She said she expects graduates will serve as high-level leaders, working on government and corporate teams, after completing their doctoral degree.
We cannot prevent disasters, but we can better prepare, Ahern said.
The DNP program fosters interdisciplinary collaboration. Several of the professors hail from the disaster preparedness community and other college departments, including a philosophy professor teaching a medical ethics course, a science professor teaching biostatistics and a microbiologist co-teaching a course on infectious diseases with nursing faculty. We are totally interdisciplinary, which gave us buy-in [from other faculty members], Tropello said.
Disaster preparedness and population health is woven throughout the curriculum. Biology, for example, incorporates ways to handle a bioterrorism event. Additionally, students will take courses in clinical prevention in population health with a focus on epidemiology, PTSD assessment and treatment, finances for health systems and systems approaches to disaster preparedness. There does not seem to be a blueprint for handling [disaster] situations, and we hope to assist with that, Tropello said.
The 15 DNP students are nationally certified, masters-prepared family nurse practitioners, working in a variety of settings. They will earn an additional 39 credit hours in the DNP program. Moving forward, Wagner will open the DNP to FNP students.
Clinical practice will include caring for people in real disaster situations and underserved populations, as well as working with a clinical learning partner, such as clinics in Haiti and Mexico and time with state and national policy makers. They also will complete a clinical project during the two years of doctoral study.
Their experiences will be varied, Ahern said. We want them to be leaders, to function and improve population health.
Wagners faculty approved the DNP concept and embraced the need to prepare nurses to better handle disasters. The college received approval from the New York State Education Departments Board of Regents in May and began promoting the new endeavor. Faculty presented information about it at a Johns Hopkins University DNP program, and word has spread throughout the local nursing community.
We have wonderful partners and are known for our civic involvement, Tropello said. [This program] fits into our mission.
Debra Anscome Wood is a freelance writer.