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Friday, April 29, 2011

USI confers first doctoral degrees (Doctor of Nursing Practice)

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Betty Vawter
Senior Editor, News & Information Services
The University of Southern Indiana will confer its first doctoral degrees on Sunday, May 8, during Commencement. Fifteen students will graduate from the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

Ten of the DNP graduates live in Indiana, representing the cities of Campbellsburg, Evansville (3), Indianapolis, New Albany, Newburgh (3), and South Bend. Others are from Illinois (3), Massachusetts, and Missouri. The doctoral candidates will be honored at 9:30 a.m. at a Nursing Recognition Ceremony and will participate at 3 p.m. in Commencement. Both events are at Roberts Stadium in Evansville.

Barbara Winningham, an assistant professor in the nursing program at the University of Indianapolis, pursued the doctoral degree to expand her knowledge base and to place herself in a position to be a greater asset to her employer. The University of Indianapolis plans to start a DNP program in May 2012.

"I have had the privilege of fulfilling several advanced practice nursing roles from clinician to administrator and educator," Winningham said. "The DNP has helped me to build upon my foundation and further expand my leadership, critical thinking, and scholarship skills. With the DNP degree, I will be able to affect system changes for my university. I will be the only faculty member with a DNP when we start our DNP program."

Winningham is coordinator of the nurse-midwifery track and the women's health nurse practitioner track in the UIndy Master of Science in Nursing program. Her capstone project for the DNP program at USI reflected her interest in birthing and women's health. She assisted a healthcare organization with a Centering Pregnancy program and development of a business plan for a birth center. The organization has four locations that reach a medically underserved population in south central Indiana. Winningham gathered baseline data and implemented one cohort of a Centering Pregnancy program for Burmese patients. Centering Pregnancy is a group prenatal care model that has proven to reduce pre-term births and improve other outcomes.

Winningham's mentor for the capstone project was Dr. Mellisa A. Hall, USI assistant professor of nursing. Her practice partners were Sharon Rising, president and chief executive officer of Centering Healthcare Institute, based in Boston, and Kitty Ernst, past president of the American College of Nurse-Midwives. Ernst was instrumental in establishing the National Association of Birth Centers, now the American Association of Birth Centers.

Winningham was an inaugural recipient in May 2010 of a $5,000 scholarship from Spotlight on Nursing, a nonprofit organization based in Indianapolis that supports nursing scholarships. The Graduate Student Nursing Scholarship was established with the expressed purpose of increasing the number of nursing faculty in Indiana.

Besides preparing her to teach in the DNP program at UIndy, Winningham said that achieving the doctoral degree will allow her to continue to advance her career in other ways and contribute to the nursing profession. She hopes to serve as a consultant for the implementation of a birth center. She also wants to continue with research in order to disseminate information about the importance of evidence-based practice in nursing.

The first classes in the USI Doctor of Nursing Practice program were offered in fall 2008. Dr. Nadine Coudret, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions, said the development of the doctoral program was a continuation of the college's response to meeting the needs for advanced-level healthcare professionals.

"These DNP graduates will provide the level of care and leadership that improves the quality and cost-effectiveness of healthcare for residents in Indiana and throughout the Midwest," she said.

Dr. Ann White, associate dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions, directs the DNP program. She said the doctoral program is important to the nursing community.

"Building the body of knowledge of our discipline adds to the credibility and recognition of nursing as a profession," she said. "As healthcare reform is proposed and implemented, nurses must be at the table as part of the decision-making process and able to lead some of the programs being proposed. With the education provided in USI's DNP program, nurses add to their practice skills the leadership and systems skills they need to assume added responsibilities and to influence healthcare and patient outcomes."

The USI College of Nursing and Health Professions conveys instruction in the DNP program in a hybrid format. Most instruction is delivered online, making the program feasible for working professionals. Students come to campus twice a year for three days for intensive sessions.

"The program was very convenient," Winningham said. "The intensives allowed for camaraderie with peers. It also allowed me to get to know the faculty and my mentor and to participate in the classroom setting."

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