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Penn’s School of Nursing is taking a more integrated approach to its nurse anesthesia program.

Last Friday, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania approved the development of an integrated three-year doctor of nursing practice program that would eventually replace the traditional two-year anesthesia masters program.

Associate Dean of Penn Nursing Kathleen McCauley explained that Penn adopted this new program in response to recommendations from the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs, which sets educational standards, manages the certification process and obtains licenses for nurse anesthetists.

“[The accrediting body for nurse anesthesia] put forth a commission that reviewed this whole process, studied it for two years and delivered a report to our professional association and opted to moving in the direction of requiring a doctoral degree and entry to practice by 2025,” program director Russell Lynn said.

McCauley added that while many nurses pursue a Ph.D after receiving a masters degree, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has recently been encouraging schools to move toward a Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

Penn’s DNP program would include regular anesthesia and physiology courses as well as doctoral-level courses, with students having “more than they would ever need to practice as nurse anesthetists,” McCauley said.

The accrediting body must approve the program before students can be enrolled - a process that will begin in May 2015 - but McCauley said that this would not prevent current students from obtaining a masters degree.

“All the current students in the program will finish with a masters which is no harm to them because the accrediting body is grandfathering anybody who currently has a masters so they will still be able to practice,” McCauley said.

In addition to the integrated program being longer and giving students more clinical experience, the curriculum has also been completely revamped.

“I don’t think any class is left unturned without any kind of change,” Lynn said. “We went back and re-looked at what an assignment might look like and updated objectives to integrate science and evidence into practice.”

While Lynn said that the accreditors generally outlined “broad fields” which dictate what content is covered and for how long, the Nursing faculty was given freedom to decide how these requirements would be met.

“I’m very excited with the challenges that the new curriculum will bring and to see how we can harness the wonderful nurses of Penn and advance the practice of nurse anesthesia,” Lynn said.

McCauley also added that the integration of direct clinical experience in the program will give Penn students a leg up when taking certification exams compared to other students, who may have less hands-on experience.

“This is really a flagship program in terms of the number of applicants, the strength of the applicant pool [and] the fact they are 100 percent employable usually before they graduate,” McCauley said. “They come from across the country and go out across the country. They really are the leaders in anesthesia practice.”

While the current masters program typically accepts 26 out of a pool of about 150 applicants, the new integrated DNP program may accept even fewer at first so that they can “get [their] feet underneath [the program] since courses are brand new,” McCauley said.

The anesthesia program is popular nationally and among undergraduates, who can decide to sub-matriculate and apply, McCauley added.

“I’ve always been personally interested in pain medicine in general and being a nurse anesthetist and pursuing advanced practices really piqued my interest,” Nursing junior Jennifer Ngo said.

Although Ngo initially had her doubts about the program, she sees the benefits of the extra year of study.

“The additional year is actually good, though, because not only would it help you acquire more experience and make you more competent, but it also makes you more competitive when you go out in the field,” she said.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the new nurse anesthesia program would be a doctor of nursing program. It will be a doctor of nursing practice program.

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