How many of us have looked back on our nursing career and been able to identify the most important decisions we've made along the way? I've been a nurse since 1984, an NP since 1998, and I've worked in a variety of positions: direct care nurse, nurse educator, nurse manager, adjunct faculty, and chief nurse of a global information company. Nursing has certainly provided me with many challenging opportunities to grow in my career, but the two most important decisions I've made along the way are related to furthering my education: obtaining a master's degree when I became an NP and going on for a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree.
Why's education so important? Consider the current state of healthcare in the United States—we're a system in crisis. We spend more per capita on healthcare than any other country in the world, yet our patient outcomes are worse than many countries that spend significantly less. Americans of different ethnic backgrounds and economic status don't have equal access to quality care, and seven of the top 10 causes of mortality are due to chronic diseases, accounting for 75% of U.S. healthcare expenses.1 Today's biggest healthcare challenge is providing access to cost-effective, evidence-based, quality care that improves practice and patient outcomes.
Education can give our profession the tools it needs to change healthcare in our country. We need to focus on disease prevention and care access. Education can help us learn how to do it effectively and efficiently. We're in a position to facilitate change with our peers, within our organizations, and within our profession. Healthcare is dynamic. The most successful clinicians recognize that continuous learning is paramount to their success.
Education is a cornerstone of the Institute of Medicine's Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report, which recommends implementing nurse residency programs, increasing the proportion of baccalaureate-prepared nurses by 80% by 2020, doubling the number of doctorate-prepared nurses by 2020, and ensuring that nurses engage in lifelong learning.2
Going back to school is a difficult decision for anyone. I was concerned about juggling responsibilities. I asked Nursing Management's Editor-in-Chief, Richard Hader, one of my dear friends and colleagues, his thoughts. Rich's response: “The best decision you've made so far in your career was going back for your master's degree, what makes you think going for your DNP will be any different? As a leader you need to be a role model and understand the changing paradigm of healthcare…you need more education.” Now that I'm on my DNP journey, I have to say, Rich was right. Going on for my DNP is one of the best decisions I've ever made in my nursing career. What about you…Will you lead by example and further your education?
2. Institute of Medicine. The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health
. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2011.