UNC Pembroke has received approval from the UNC Board of Governors to establish a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) with a population health focus.
The innovative program — the university’s first-ever doctoral program — will help reverse the shortage of health care professionals in underserved areas of the state and improve population health, individual patient experiences and health outcomes.
“After receiving approval in July 2022 from the UNC Board of Governors to include granting of doctoral degrees in UNCP’s mission statement, a Doctor of Nursing Practice clearly became the front-runner in planning for the university’s first doctoral degree program,” said Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings.
The McKenzie-Elliott School of Nursing will admit the first cohort in spring 2024.
“Adding this program to our degree offerings wouldn’t be possible without the hard work and dedication of our faculty and staff throughout the planning process. We look forward to welcoming our first DNP class and the impact this program will have in our region to address our population health challenges and as UNCP provides the health professionals to fill these in-demand roles,” Cummings said.
A population health-focused DNP identifies facilitators and barriers to effective healthcare delivery at the macrosystem level. The degree will be the first in the UNC System and the southeast. Several institutions offer a DNP program; however UNCP will be home to the only program focusing on population health and systems leadership.
According to recent studies, significant shortages in the nursing workforce are anticipated by the year 2033. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for advanced practice nurses is expected to grow by 45% by 2029.
DNP programs prepare nurse leaders at the highest level of nursing practice to improve patient outcomes and translate research into practice.
Interim Provost Cherry Beasley noted UNCP’s transition as a doctorate-granting institution represents a historic turning point in the life of the university.
“This institution set out to develop teachers and with every step throughout our 136-year history, we have deliberately made sure we are raising the degrees that our institution was able to offer,” Dr. Beasley said. “We have been willing to grow and change as a need arose. Regarding the institution, the DNP program follows the same path that UNCP has had all along.”
Eva Skuka, dean of the College of Health Sciences, said the program will have a lasting impact on students and communities throughout the service region.
“We must expand our capacity to meet the current and future needs of the nursing profession and the healthcare system,” Dr. Skuka said. “The intricacy of the healthcare system and the evolving models of chronic disease management make the coordination of patient care more complex. These complexities require nurses to have the highest level of scientific knowledge and practice expertise to support safe transitions, minimize fragmentation of care and improve health care outcomes.”
The new program will fill the gap in the number of highly qualified, doctoral-prepared nurse professionals needed to meet the health needs of North Carolinians. Further, it will prepare graduates for advanced nursing roles, including clinical practice and leadership. Graduates will provide oversight to planning, directing and implementing evidence-based population health programs at the local, state and national levels.
“Advanced nurse training in our region to assist a generation of clinical caregivers in reaching the highest level of their profession is outstanding,” said UNC Health Southeastern President and CEO Chris Ellington. “UNCP is certainly an asset to the University of North Carolina system. The opportunities afforded through the growing College of Health Sciences will provide local talent to assist in improving the lives and well-being of our region.”
UNCP nursing students will soon have the option of entering a pathway from a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, to a Master of Nursing degree, which leads to a DNP.
Kellie Blue, UNC Board of Governors member and UNCP alumna, said the university has long established its personal touch and innovative approach to education.
“UNCP is perfectly aligned to add the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree to its academic catalog. I envision this being the first of the institution’s many doctoral programs. As a community member, I find it most fitting that they expand their academic program offerings, services and learning opportunities to align with community demand and disparities while meeting the needs of employers that serve the region,” Blue continued.