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First cohort of Doctor of Nursing Practice starts this fall

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UNG's first Doctor of Nursing Practice cohort is starting in fall 2019.

Students in the first Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) cohort at the University of North Georgia (UNG) aim to combat a shortage of primary care physicians and tackle the growing complexity of health care with further training as they begin their coursework this fall.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services projects that a nationwide shortage of primary care providers will reach an all-time high in 2025. In the South, the projected shortage is some 13,860 primary care physicians.

"Our DNP program will prepare students to meet the currently unmet health care needs of north Georgia's rural counties and populations," said Dr. Sharon Chalmers, department head of nursing at UNG.

Dr. Vanessa Jones, director of the DNP program and assistant professor at UNG, said the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculty's goal is for entry level into the nurse practitioner role to be at the doctoral level by 2025.

"Today's health care environment is continuously changing and made more challenging by a population with more complex healthcare needs," she said. "This requires a more comprehensive nursing education to improve patient outcomes."

Jones has helped build the program with an individualized focus for advanced-practice providers to empower them to improve population health within the communities they serve.

"The goal of the program is to instill leadership skills into advanced-practice nurses so they may become change agents within the populations they work with," Jones said.

DNP student Ina Vate sees her work on the degree as an opportunity to treat acute pain and chronic conditions when patients come to her office and then to help those patients develop a plan of self-care that can alleviate some of their ailments.

"I can influence them in the long run," Vate said.

Chalmers said the online program's first cohort of 15 students provides "a dynamic environment where they are able to work together as a network." She said the DNP program is the realization of a dream in the works for more than a decade. Tweaks along the way made the program into what it is today.

"Each time we redesigned it, it was a stronger program," Chalmers said. "It's what the working nurse practitioner is seeking."

The DNP degree is offered to graduates who have earned a master's degree in nurse practitioner. The 38-hour post-master's program will be offered online with two required face-to-face sessions and also will require the completion of 500 hours of clinical practice.

Certificates in nurse education and nurse executive leadership are available with six extra hours of course work with the DNP. Students can also gain targeted learning in finances, global health, or gerontology. Vate, a part-time clinical faculty member at UNG, chose nurse education.

"I love teaching, and I love teaching my patients," Vate said. "If we educate our nursing students the right way, they will be a generation that takes care of our patients."

For April Mangum, a lecturer of nursing at UNG who joined the faculty in 2018, her pursuit of the DNP at UNG was a natural progression. She earned her Associate of Science in Nursing, Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and Master of Science with a major in family nurse practitioner from UNG.

A nurse since 1986, Mangum has watched with interest the growing list of health care advancements. She is also pursuing the nurse education certificate.

"As a new educator, I think it will help me achieve my goals of being a better prepared educator," Mangum said.

Like Mangum, fellow first-year DNP student Joanne Wintersgill has earned three nursing degrees from UNG. In her job at Cumming Pediatric Group, she realized the need for further education.

"It's not enough anymore to just know the clinical side," said Wintersgill, who has gained experience with billing, electronic health records, and value-based and outcome-based health care. "Things are changing so quickly in health care."

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