Every DNP student has to complete a scholarly project and nursing educators often struggle with mentoring students to complete relevant practice focused projects within a prescribed time period. The purpose of the scholarly project is to allow the student to demonstrate skill mastery and to synthesize knowledge gained in the DNP program. Because the DNP is a practice focused degree, the project should provide insight into practice changes that improve patient outcomes. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) DNP Essentials states that a DNP project should focus on a practice change that affects healthcare outcomes for patients or populations through direct or indirect care, includes a sustainability plan, and an includes evaluation of the process and/or outcomes.
Critical to developing a DNP scholarly project is formulating a clear, well-developed question that is relevant to practice, can be realistically examined within two to three semesters, and contains a sustainability plan. Some project ideas are relevant to practice and may be important but the time needed to complete them will be considerably longer than that available for the DNP project. In these cases, faculty must guide students to pare and shape their ideas into smaller focused projects that can actually be completed within the allotted time frame and that form the foundation for the student’s lifelong exploration of the chosen area.
In order to be keep students focused, faculty must have both research and practice skill sets. They must understand the issues that can arise in translating evidence into practice and this only comes with knowledge of organizational practice cultures, implementation issues, and factors that may impact sustainability of the innovation. DNP projects often require a great deal of time and effort on the part of faculty as well as the student. But that time and effort can be wasted if an effective practice change isn’t sustainable. Assessing sustainably is a new area of science in healthcare and may, therefore, be unfamiliar to nursing faculty. AHRQ has an excellent beginners guide to thinking about sustainability of practice innovations https://innovations.ahrq.gov/perspectives/how-build-sustainability-innovation-process. Another excellent resource from AHRQ is a guide for sustaining and spreading (disseminating) effective practice changes https://innovations.ahrq.gov/qualitytools/how-guide-sustainability-and-spread.
All DNP scholarly projects should have a sustainability component. Without it, the innovation is likely to fade away and result in no long term improvement in healthcare outcomes. What a waste of time and effort if this happens!