Fort Hays State gains approval to offer first doctoral degree


A doctoral program in nursing practice was approved May 20 for Fort Hays State University by the Kansas Board of Regents. It will be the university's first doctoral program.

The degree, the Doctor of Nursing Practice, will be offered within the Department of Nursing in FHSU's College of Health and Life Sciences.

"It will be a tremendous benefit to the state of Kansas and especially western Kansas in providing skilled health care providers," said Dr. Jeff Briggs, dean of the college.

"It is a clinical doctorate rather than a research doctorate," said Briggs. "It is designed to expand clinical skills rather than build off of a research base, as in a Ph.D. program."

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) will replace the family nurse practitioner program currently offered as a track for the Master of Science in Nursing degree. Recipients will work the same kinds of positions where family nurse practitioners and physician assistants work.

"Their skills and leadership will be enhanced through this additional education," said Briggs.

The current M.S.N. program will continue to offer the master's degrees in administration and education tracks.

"I am really excited about it," said Dr. Christine Hober, chair of the Department of Nursing. "FHSU now joins other Kansas Board of Regents institutions in preparing doctoral level nurse practitioners."

"Our nurses will be able to provide higher quality care, since they will have more opportunity to learn in residency programs and practicuum experiences," she said. "Equally important, students will be translating evidence-based practice to under-served areas in western Kansas as the level of scholarship rises to the doctoral level."

Briggs said the degree has been in process for several years, but "started to take real shape last spring," and then took off when President Mirta M. Martin, currently en route to China for three weeks of events at FHSU's partner institutions there, took an active role in advancing the process.

"We had been waiting in the wings for presidential approval," said Briggs. "When President Martin arrived, she wanted us to push for it in this Regents cycle. We launched the process aggressively beginning in September, when we requested approval to submit a proposal."

The Kansas Board of Regents approved the request, and "we started working at breakneck speed to get a proposal ready to submit for this year," said Briggs. That proposal, outlining the actual degree and associated processes, was ready by late fall. Review teams, including one by an external review team, which visited campus in February, produced reports that were "very positive and supportive," said Briggs.

The culmination came Wednesday when the full Board of Regents conducted its final review of the proposed degree and coursework and approved it by an 8-1 vote.

"Now the real work starts," said Briggs.

Over the next year, the components of the program will be assembled and aligned to get ready for the first cohort in the summer of 2016. Eventually, he said, the department will have to add graduate faculty.

Space will be available for a total of 30 students -- up to 15 in each of the program's two tracks. One track is for registered nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and the other is for family nurse practitioners.

"It took a tremendous amount of effort from faculty and staff in the Department of Nursing to get this program mounted and ready to launch," said Briggs. "We could not have done it without their hard work."

The move from family nurse practitioner to Doctor of Nursing Practice has been driven by at least two forces. One is the profession itself. Briggs said that the American Association of Colleges of Nursing for some time has recommended that colleges and schools of nursing move all family nurse practitioner programs to the Doctor of Nursing Practice.

Another, for FHSU, has been geographical. The primary Kansas service area of Fort Hays State is rural western Kansas, in which 44 counties west of U.S. Highway 281 qualified in 2014 for the Healthcare Professional Shortage Area designation from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

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