Gloria Ferraro Donnelly, PhD, RN, FAAN, FCPP, serves as dean and professor, College of Nursing and Health Professions, Drexel University, Philadelphia. She shares her wisdom and experience about online nursing education, the benefits of interprofessional education and in-demand nursing degrees and certificates in this Q&A.
Q: What has been your most successful strategy when encouraging nurses to pursue advanced degrees?
A: More than 15 years ago, Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, in collaboration with Drexel University Online, began designing online bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral nursing programs. I was one of the first online teachers in 2000 and was skeptical at first. After all, how could any nurse learn advanced nursing content without me in the room, lecturing, discussing, testing — being my brilliant self?
At the end of my first online teaching experience, which included monthly in-person meetings, I had a rude awakening. Students asked why we had to meet at all, given what they had learned and all they had accomplished, beyond the course and in their own timeframe. And they were right. They did not need me in the room, and in fact, remote but quick access to the teacher turned out to be more effective.
It is the unique blend of academic advisement and innovative course delivery that are the keys to encouraging nurses to take the online plunge. All of the nurses in Drexel’s programs have a dedicated adviser to shepherd them through enrollment, course selection and problem solving with respect to business and technology issues. The faculty has selected unique programs to feature within their online courses. For example, there’s Shadow Health, to enhance students’ health assessment skills; E-Value, to track clinical progress and reflection; and online simulation, for clinical and managerial problem solving.
Most of all, we emphasize how much fun learning online can be. Our students complete programs not only with advanced nursing degrees but also with a high level of sophistication in online methods and web surfing that will serve them well for years to come.
Q: Do you place a priority on interprofessional work in your advanced degree programs?
A: Interprofessional education is an integral part of our nurse practitioner program, which is accomplished through preceptored, clinical experiences. NP students work with MDs, psychiatrists, PAs and other NPs as they learn the art and science of advanced practice.
One of the most creative and satisfying interprofessional educational experiences in our program occurs during a one-week, in-person residency when NP women’s health students, medical students, PA students and undergraduate nursing students all work together through seven advanced clinical women’s health scenarios.
I find students pursuing the doctor of nursing practice degree become well versed in the ins and outs of working with a wide range of health and business professionals, and we encourage them to identify dilemmas in dealing with other professionals and explore them through simulation.
There is no doubt that improved relationships among all health professionals result in fewer adverse events for patients.
Q: Which nursing degrees are in demand and are being pursued by nurses through advanced education?
A: Currently, nurse practitioners are in high demand. In fact, our NP programs have grown 300% over the last three years, and requests from employing organizations to post their position opportunities have also increased.
The DNP program has also been in high demand as the healthcare system increasingly requires evidence-based solutions to clinical and healthcare management problems.
I think the certificate is a great approach to exploring role transition for an advanced practice nurse. For example, many nurses with master’s degrees in nursing education or administration are pursuing post-master’s nurse practitioner certificates.
Emergency room nurses are getting certified in forensic healthcare since they often deal with victims and perpetrators. We are offering nurses the option of delving more deeply into the care of the autistic child and family or into the care of veterans. When we see an emerging societal need that might not warrant a full degree, the certificate is the next best option.
Education is expensive and healthcare is rapidly changing so nurses need to be ever ready. like a battery. And as educators, we need to balance cost and need. To me, the certificate is like a cost-effective battery charge to get the nurse moving in a new direction.
Have you considered earning a certificate in a particular specialty area? What have been your experiences in pursuing advanced education online?