Cheri Friedrich always knew she wanted to be a nurse who cared for kids. So after completing a four-year degree in nursing, she earned a master's degree and became a pediatric nurse practitioner.

Specialty Practice

Nurse practitioners like Friedrich have advanced education in a specialty and provide comprehensive clinical care for patients. They perform routine examinations; assess, diagnose and treat infections or minor injuries; order lab tests; and prescribe medication.

During a typical day, Friedrich, who practices at the HealthEast Maplewood Clinic, sees an average of 15 to 20 children. About one-third are in the clinic for routine "well-child" exams. Most of the others have acute conditions such as fractures, ear infections or strep throat.

Friedrich also cares for a few children with chronic illnesses such as asthma. "Nurse practitioners can do about 90 percent of primary care," she says.

A Practice Doctorate

Last January, Friedrich took the next step in her career. She became one of the first nurses in Minnesota to earn a doctor of nursing practice degree (DNP). Unlike the research-focused Ph.D., the DNP focuses on clinical practice. It prepares nurses for leadership as advanced practice nurses, clinical experts, healthcare executives, policy experts and informaticians.

For nurses like Friedrich who have already completed a master's degree in a nursing specialty, the University of Minnesota offers a one-year program that includes both course work and a clinical internship. A more extensive DNP program for nurses with a four-year degree will be launched in fall 2009.

New Direction For Nursing

Current DNP students at the University include nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and public health nurses. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the new degree puts nursing on the same footing as medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, psychology, physical therapy and audiology, all which offer practice doctorates.

"This degree will definitely move nursing in a new direction," Friedrich says. "Nurses with a DNP will be able to advance evidence-based care and facilitate systems change. They will be clinical educators on nursing faculties. And they will be at the table when decisions are made about healthcare policy."

Number Of DNP Programs Is Growing

Sixty-six institutions now accept students into Doctor of Nursing programs. (For a complete list, see /DNPProgramList.htm). Another 140 are considering starting such programs.

Three Minnesota institutions currently offer the DNP degree:

Nancy Giguere is a freelance writer from St. Paul who has written about healthcare since 1995.