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August 21, 2014 — When University of Wyoming student Shawn Snyder of Casper worked in a homeless clinic as an undergraduate nursing student, he realized that health care providers could influence the health and wellness not only of individuals, but of larger populations.
“The provider working in the clinic managed patients holistically in order to foster improvements in their entire lives, not just their current health concerns,” Snyder says. “This changed the way I viewed the role of providers and showed me that there is more to being a health care provider than simply disease management.”
That experience inspired Snyder to enroll in UW’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program that offers a unique set of skills to profoundly change health care delivery in Wyoming, according to the dean of UW’s nursing school.
UW’s trustees in 2010 approved the new DNP program as part of a national shift to offer extended training for nurse practitioners and in response to Wyoming’s health care needs, says Mary Burman, dean of the Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing. The first DNP students enrolled in the fall semester of 2012 and will enter the workforce in 2015.
“Most of the counties in Wyoming are underserved in terms of mental health care, and part of our DNP program focuses on nurse practitioners who work in psychiatric mental health,” Burman says. “The other piece of it is in primary care, and much of the state is experiencing shortages in primary care as well. The DNP graduates will play a key role in helping to meet those health care needs in the state of Wyoming.”
UW’s DNP program offers two options: 1) family nurse practitioner (FNP), which prepares nurse practitioners (NPs) to practice as primary care providers and 2) family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (FPMHNP), which prepares NPs to practice as mental health providers. Both FNPs and FPMHNPs are prepared to diagnose and manage illness, including medication prescribing.
Wyoming’s health care community recognized the need to bolster both primary care and psychiatric care in Wyoming, and fully supported the move to the new DNP program, says Associate Professor Ann Marie Hart, the DNP program director. She says the program offers training in the basic skills required to practice nursing, as UW previously offered at the master’s degree level, but adds a lot more.
Snyder says he was attracted to the program because of the strong emphasis on patient behavior changes.
“This is extremely important, because behavioral modifications tackle the root of many health problems and promote the adoption of a healthier lifestyle,” Snyder says. “Health behavior change transitions patients from passive recipients of health care to active participants, which has a more significant impact on health in the long term as opposed to more traditional approaches to health care management.”
The DNP program is attractive to people who want to work in rural areas, Burman says. Hart adds that many nursing students do their required rotations in rural areas.
“We find they want to stay and work in communities such as Saratoga, Guernsey, Lusk, Pinedale, the Wind River Reservation and other areas where they contribute to meeting community health care needs,” she says.
Snyder served a clinical assignment in Saratoga, and this fall will be placed in the Glenrock Health Center. He says the DNP has opened his eyes to the many opportunities of working in small communities.
“One of the biggest attractions for me is being able to see the impact you can have as a provider on the health and wellness of an entire population, which may be more difficult to measure in a larger setting,” he says. “To me, working in a rural setting would be an extremely rewarding experience.”
Burman says a number of the new DNP program students are younger than practitioners who obtained degrees under the master’s degree programs.
“Most are in their 20s and early 30s -- quite a change from previously, when experienced nurses in their 40s returned to college to get their master’s degrees,” she says. “We are targeting a younger group; we want them to be practicing nursing for 40 years.”
To provide students with the skills they need to instill behavioral training in DNP students, UW has added psychological training led by Assistant Professor Jenifer Thomas, who teaches courses on using health behavior changes to prevent or treat diseases.
The DNP adds a critical component to the mix of Wyoming health care including primary care physicians, pediatricians, internal medicine doctors, OB/GYN specialists and others, Burman says.
“Now, we are providing a new set of skills that emphasize behavior and lifestyle changes that add some really exciting things to expand primary care and mental health care in Wyoming,” she says.
Snyder appreciates the skills that are offered in the program.
“Having a diverse program of study with a focus on rural and underserved populations will allow us to enter the health care setting with the knowledge and tools to be competitive and make a positive impact on the health and wellness of those we serve,” Snyder says.
The DNP is among other School of Nursing programs that play a role in meeting Wyoming’s health care needs. The school offers a program with the community colleges to teach the associate degree with a transition to the bachelor’s degree (RENEW); an accelerated BSN through the Outreach School (BRAND); and an option for RN/BSN completion online.
Other College of Health Sciences units also provide significant value to the state through education and outreach, including the School of Pharmacy, and Divisions of Communication Disorders, Social Work, Kinesiology and Health, Wyoming Institute for Disabilities, and Medical Education and Public Health/Family Medicine Residency Programs.