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Become a Nurse Advocate With a DNP Degree

Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) can help RNs take their career to new heights. For Rachel Wilson, those career goals include becoming a chief nursing officer (CNO).

Dr. Wilson, who earned her Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and DNP from Northern Kentucky University (NKU), sees a DNP as much more than a path to the C-suite. For her, earning a DNP was about developing the “know-how to change the practice of nursing.”

NKU’s Post-Master’s DNP online program prepares RNs for careers in advanced practice nursing, administration, education and public policy. NKU’s program is accredited by CCNE — a sign that the program meets the professional standards employers typically require.

What Is a DNP?

Similar to a Ph.D. in nursing, a DNP prepares RNs at the highest level of nursing education. A Ph.D. in nursing is research-focused, while a DNP prepares RNs for advanced clinical leadership roles.

NKU’s DNP builds on clinical experience and an MSN education, with the goal of improving patient and population health. Key topics include:

  • Evidence-based practice
  • Epidemiology concepts
  • Advanced nursing practice roles
  • Organization and systems leadership
  • Quality improvement
  • Strategic analysis and planning
  • Healthcare policy
  • Information systems and data analysis

Advocacy and Nurse Leadership

The American Nurses Association (ANA) calls advocacy “a pillar of nursing.” RNs are considered a patient’s best advocate, and advocacy is written into the Code of Ethics for Nurses.

Advocacy is essential to nurse leadership. Examples of advocacy in everyday nursing care include:

  • Creating trusted relationships with patients
  • Promoting patient safety
  • Protecting patient rights
  • Working to overcome barriers to healthcare, such as language differences

A desire to advocate for her profession led Dr. Wilson to pursue a DNP. “I wanted to learn about how to change the culture, how to change the practice and how to impact at the system level,” she said.

How Does a DNP Advance Leadership and Policy-Making Skills?

A DNP education prepares RNs to be effective advocates for their patients and their profession at all levels. Dr. Wilson found several courses in her DNP program especially helpful in this regard.

Health Care Policy: Students examine health care policy and legislation, including the role of the advanced practice nurse as a change agent. This course taught Dr. Wilson more about nursing at a national and global level. “It showed that there’s a level of nursing advocacy outside of the hospital.”

Leadership in Organizations and Systems: Dr. Wilson found this to be the most relevant class of her career. She actually used class materials to develop a systems-level change in her workplace.  

Epidemiology for Population Health: This course explores the use of epidemiologic and biostatistical data in clinical prevention and population health. Dr. Wilson recalled examining the Flint water crisis in Michigan, an example of a public health response to an environmental threat. The recent national outbreak of vaping-related illnesses is an example of how population tracking can identify illnesses at the patient level.

Nursing is the largest healthcare profession, and RNs generally spend more time with patients than other providers. This gives RNs a powerful voice when it comes to healthcare decisions — from advocating for safe staffing to addressing policy at the federal level.

Dr. Wilson offers some encouragement for RNs who are ready to take the next step in their career: “A DNP is possible for anyone with passion and a capacity for hard work,” she said. “It’s going to drive you to be a better nurse, a better leader and a better person.”

Learn more about Northern Kentucky University’s online Post-Master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing: CCNE Accredited Programs

American Association of Colleges of Nursing: DNP Fact Sheet

American Nurses Association: Code of Ethics for Nursing With Interpretive Statements

American Nurses Association: Advocacy

Northern Kentucky University: Recent DNP Grad Rachel Wilson Determined to Change the Practice of Nursing

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