DOCTORATE for Clinical Nurse Specialists?

Specialties CNS


The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is calling for the requirement of doctorate in nursing for advanced practice nurses, such as nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse anesthetists. This new degree will be called a Doctor of Nursing Practice and, if the AACN has its way, will become the entry level for advanced nursing practice.

AACN Adopts a New Vision for the Future of Nursing Education and Practice

Position on the Practice Doctorate Approved by AACN Member Schools

WASHINGTON, DC, October 27, 2004: In a historic move to help shape the future of nursing education and practice, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has adopted a new position which recognizes the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree as the highest level of preparation for clinical practice. At its Fall Semiannual Meeting held October 25, 2004, AACN member institutions voted to move the current level of preparation necessary for advanced nursing practice roles from the master's degree to the doctorate level by the year 2015.

"This courageous move on the part of nursing education represents a milestone in the evolution of the nursing profession," said AACN President Jean E. Bartels. "This bold first step puts in motion a future that recognizes and validates the unique expertise of nurses engaged in clinical practice at the highest level."

Currently, advanced practice nurses (APNs), including Nurse Practitioners, Clinical Nurse Specialists, Nurse Mid-Wives, and Nurse Anesthetists, are prepared in master's degree programs that often carry a credit load equivalent to doctoral degrees in the other health professions. AACN's newly adopted Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing calls for educating APNs and other nurses seeking top clinical roles in Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs. The changing demands of this nation's complex health care environment require the highest level of scientific knowledge and practice expertise to assure high quality patient outcomes.

The Practice Doctorate is designed for nurses seeking a terminal degree in nursing practice, and offers an alternative to research focused doctoral programs (i.e. PhD programs). Though only a handful of practice doctorates currently exist, more than a dozen new programs are taking shape nationwide, and several have expressed interest in seeking accreditation. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the nation's premier accrediting agency for baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs, has agreed to initiate a process for the accreditation of practice doctorates.

To facilitate this sweeping change in nursing education, the AACN Board of Directors created two task forces with diverse representation from both large and small nursing institutions. The first task force is charged with creating an "Essentials" document for practice doctorates which outlines the basic competencies that must be built into these educational programs. This document will be similar in nature to the other Essentials documents originated by AACN for baccalaureate and master's degree education. The second task force will focus on implementation of the new position statement and will address issues related to moving existing APN programs to the doctoral level and providing efficient bridge programs for master's prepared nurses interested in pursuing a DNP degree.

As part of its work, AACN will continue its collaboration and consensus development with a variety of stakeholders, including advanced practice nursing groups, the higher education community and healthcare providers. "The transition to the practice doctorate will take careful planning and require the collective efforts of all AACN member institutions and the larger nursing community," said Dr. Bartels. "Nursing education has a unique opportunity here to rally around a shared vision for the future and work together to move the profession forward."

AACN's Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing may be downloaded at To further clarify its position and address constituent concerns, AACN has developed a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) sheet to further explain the move toward the practice doctorate. The FAQs may be accessed online at Please direct any questions, concerns or comments related to this AACN action to [email protected].

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing is the national voice for university and four-year-college education programs in nursing. Representing more than 570 member schools of nursing at public and private institutions nationwide, AACN's educational, research, governmental advocacy, data collection, publications, and other programs work to establish quality standards for bachelor's- and graduate-degree nursing education, assist deans and directors to implement those standards, influence the nursing profession to improve health care, and promote public support of baccalaureate and graduate nursing education, research, and practice. See

CONTACT: Robert Rosseter

(202) 463-6930, x231

[email protected]

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100 Posts

I plan on getting my DNP, but not because i fear the ANCC will make it mandatory.

Look at how long ago they tried to say every nurse was going to have to have their BSN....and we all enrolled in school....and still no set entry-level education....

Trauma Columnist

traumaRUs, MSN, APRN

97 Articles; 21,237 Posts

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU.

I don't agree that a DNP is necessary for an APN. I'm getting clinical nurse specialist as a post-MSN and I'm done!

llg, PhD, RN

13,469 Posts

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development.

I was a CNS for 10 years ... then got my PhD ... then went back to being a CNS. While the things I learned in my PhD program are incredibly valuable, the CNS role was not very satisfying in that I could not use much of what I had learned. Until the CNS role changes to give a doctorally prepared CNS "room to run," it will remain unsatisfying.

I was lucky in that after 4 years (when I was starting to look for better opportunities elsewhere), my employer created a new role for me -- a role better-suited to my education.

So ... while I like the idea of having doctorally prepared CNS's, I see many practical problems in its implementation. A whole new role would have to be created to satisfy those doctorally prepared folks.



14 Posts

just another way that the ama is trying to keep us down


1,711 Posts

just another way that the ama is trying to keep us down

Ok, I'll bite

What does the AMA have to do with it?


42 Posts

I read this a while ago. The way I read the information they are pushing for it because advanced degree nurses already do more clinical hours than anyone else with a master's degree. I also read a paper where they want the DNP (or whatever they decide to name it) to be at the same level as an entry level MD. I've looked at some of the DNP programs, they aren't that much longer than the masters and it sounds like they are wanting to develop bridge programs from masters to DNP. I'm not sure how I would feel if I already had my masters, but from my perspective as a student it seems like it might be an opportunity for more recognition and pay.



4 Posts

im worried about changing a CNS into a doctorate! I was accepted into a CNS program, but am hesitant to go there b/c what if they do change it into a doctorate degree later on and so I will not be competitive against the new CNS with a doctorate degree.

Would you guys go into the program even with this future possibility??

(perhaps you have seen my other post, but I was also admitted into a CNL program and so am really debating which one to go to)


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