Lubbock Christian University launched its first doctoral program, the Clinical Doctor of Nursing Practice, at the beginning of the fall 2023 semester. This milestone also marks an institutional level change granted in June by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), the accrediting agency for all colleges and universities in the Southern U.S. 

To meet growing demand and a shift in requirements by several national nursing organizations that are elevating the need for doctorate degrees, LCU will be granting the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) with a clinical specialization. LCU is only one of six universities in the nation to offer clinical DNP. 

“This is a post-master's program which would allow advanced practice nurses who already have master's degrees to complete their doctorate in a two-year period,” explained Dr. LaNell Harrison, Chair of the Department of Nursing at LCU. 

Dr. LaNell Harrison was one of the chief architects of this new program.
This program is unique because of its specialized nature, she explained. “The program specifically expands their clinical knowledge—the specific areas in which they are already working and specializing. There are a lot of doctoral programs out there for nurses that are a generic Doctor of Nursing Practice, which only look at organizational leadership among a few other more general topics. This program is focused on their clinical specialty—it will help to grow themselves in their profession.”  

The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) has stated that their number one priority is to advance the transition of all nurse practitioner programs to the Doctor of Nursing Practice by 2025. Likewise, the American Association of Colleges in Nursing (AACN) voted to endorse moving the current level of preparation for advanced nursing practice from a master’s degree to the doctorate-level. 

“The LCU Doctor of Nursing of Practice (DNP) program is a terminal degree, designed with a clinical focus for the advanced practice registered nurse (APRN),” explained Dr. Vanessa Bolyard, Associate Professor of Graduate Nursing at LCU and the program’s coordinator. “APRNs include nurse practitioners, certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), certified nurse midwives (CNMs), and clinical nurse specialists (CNS). The nation’s constantly evolving, and ever complex healthcare environment requires health care leaders to possess the highest level of scientific knowledge and practice expertise. The APRN demonstrates superior clinical knowledge and holistic patient care founded on evidence-based practice. The vision for this doctorate degree is to expand the APRNs professional growth, leadership capabilities, and clinical proficiency. This in turn will positively impact patient and population outcomes.” 

LCU’s Department of Nursing has a strong presence in the Lubbock community and surrounding region with a history of producing excellent nurses at all levels of practice. The department was created in 1991 and has been equipping advanced practice nurses to assume greater levels of responsibility for patient care through the Master of Science in Nursing Education/Leadership track created in 2005 and the Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program added in 2014. 

LCU joins only six other universities worldwide to offer the Clinical Doctor of Nursing Practice.
Dr. Toby Rogers (‘95), Dean of the B. Ward Lane College of Professional Studies, stated, “With the current success of our Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) - Family Nurse Practitioner Program, we feel the addition of the Post-MSN Clinical Doctor of Nursing Practice will position our graduates to meet the demands of these growing expectations. In addition, providing a clinical focus to the doctoral preparation will provide current and relevant advanced clinical training to enhance evidence-based practice for these specialists. 

Dr. Harrison added, “The doctorate degree is the most advanced degree you can earn, symbolizing that you have mastered a specific area of study, or field of profession. This degree will prepare students to become instruments of change and innovation in a complex industry. A DNP helps professionals make sense of the constant changes in health care, ultimately allowing them to develop industry-shaping strategies that can help facilities deliver high-quality health care that improves patient outcomes.” 

The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program prepares professional registered nurses to serve in advanced levels of care and leadership across health care settings. LCU created a task force to begin exploring a Doctor of Nursing (DNP) program to analyze trends in advanced practice nurse education and assess the viability of a DNP program for LCU. In the time since the initial task force began, the push for doctoral level advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) to become standard has increased and there has been significant growth in interest for similar programs. 

Dr. Harrison continued, “We are so excited to offer the Post-MSN Clinical Doctor of Nursing Practice degree to our already outstanding nursing program offerings. At LCU we are all about serving the needs of our students and the communities they serve. For the past 8 years, students have been inquiring about the possibility of a doctoral program in nursing at LCU. We have talked about it and explored our options, and here we are. This program gives advanced practice nurses the opportunity to continue their education in a faith-based university.” 

Dr. Rogers said, “LCU has a rich history of supplying Lubbock and regional communities with high quality BSN-prepared nurses, master’s prepared nursing educators and leaders, and master’s prepared Family Nurse Practitioners. The addition of the Post-MSN Clinical Doctor of Nursing Practice will allow LCU to positively impact the surrounding nursing community by training more Family Nurse Practitioner’s with advanced clinical practice skills that desire to live in this region. In addition, it will serve as a model for, and open the door for, other LCU departments across campus to develop doctoral programs.” 

Dr. Vanessa Bolyard, director of the new program, was delighted to welcome the first cohort to LCU's campus.
Driven by significant nursing shortages and increased complexities in patient care, doctorate-level prepared advanced practice nurses are sought to manage healthcare needs in a wide variety of clinical settings. LCU’s Department of Nursing is pleased to add the post-MSN Clinical DNP program to equip graduates to be successful leaders and clinicians in an increasingly complex healthcare system. 

Dr. Kent Gallaher, Provost and Chief Academic Officer for the university, stated, “The U.S., and West Texas in particular, is struggling with a shortage of health care providers. LCU has an exceptional reputation for providing an outstanding transformational education, and we have been in the business of producing advanced practice nurses for some time now. We also enjoy a unique one-of-a-kind clinical nursing partnership with Covenant Health System. So, the confluence of a nursing shortage, coupled with our reputation for producing high quality advanced practice nurses and our partnership with Covenant made the Doctor of Nursing Practice the perfect doctoral degree program for us to begin with. As universities mature, so do their academic programs. The DNP represents the next step in our evolution as an institution of higher learning.” 

“The DNP students met face to face on Thursday, August 24th on the LCU campus,” Dr. Bolyard explained. “This extraordinary group consisted of 14 APRNs spanning four different states. Clinical expertise ranged from family practice, acute care, adult acute care, and psychiatric mental health. This energetic diverse group will set a high standard for future cohorts. This is an exciting time for this program and LCU,” she added. 

The LCU Department of Nursing is providing a comprehensive program that will effectively meet the needs of students and healthcare providers, based on the expectation that Nurse Practitioners will need more advanced training in the field. The opportunity created by LCU to complete a clinical DNP to advance their knowledge will ensure nurses are prepared for a shift in industry standards. 

“At LCU we are about changing lives,” stated Dr. Harrison. “We believe this degree will be the next step in the Department of Nursing to change the lives of not only our students, but the community as well.” 

Dr. Gallaher concluded, “Reaching this milestone required a lot of good old-fashioned hard work. In addition to Dr. LaNell Harrison and Dr. Toby Rogers, Dr. Daniel Hatch, Director of Graduate Nursing Education, newly appointed DNP program coordinator Dr. Vanessa Bolyard, and Dr. Yvonne Harwood, Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness, all worked tirelessly to bring about these changes. This was a team effort, and we are thrilled to become a level-5 doctorate granting institution!”