Doubling Down: DNP and Ph.D. Collaboration at the College of Nursing

From Touch Point Online Magazine, Winter 2020 – Vol. IV, Issue 4

Both the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing, established in the 1960s, and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), initiated in the early 2000s, provide doctoral degree programs allowing graduates to address the needs of patients and improve the constantly changing healthcare system. However, the divergent focus of the two programs—research methods and knowledge generation (Ph.D.) and evidence-based nursing approaches and application of research (DNP)—often result in doctorally prepared nurses working in silos with limited understanding of the others’ roles and few opportunities for meaningful collaboration. In their landmark 2010 publication, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) advocated for increased DNP-Ph.D. collaboration to strengthen nursing education, scholarship, and practice for improved patient outcomes and emphasized the importance of these collaborations in the academic setting.

At Kent State University College of Nursing, the importance of DNP-Ph.D. collaboration to positively affect patients, healthcare providers, and the nursing profession is exemplified by collaboration by Drs. Dana Hansen, Ph.D., APRN, ACHPN, and Tracey Motter, DNP, to develop the Catalyzing Relationships at the End of Life (CAREol) Program. Although Drs. Hansen and Motter pursued different pathways for doctoral nursing education, their complimentary perspectives and training are foundational to this collaborative project. Dr. Hansen, associate professor and principal investigator for this study, earned her Ph.D. in nursing from Case Western Reserve University and examines the dynamics of family interaction during advanced serious illness to enhance the quality of life for patients, caregivers, and their families through improved communication. Serving as Co-Investigator on the project, Dr. Motter, associate dean for undergraduate programs and associate professor, earned her DNP from Kent State University and addresses diversity of the nursing student population and transition-to-practice for new graduates. Drs. Hansen and Motter will work collaboratively with Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) faculty, and Jennifer Shanholtzer, MSN, Ph.D. Candidate, RN, CHSE, will provide expertise as a simulation expert at the College of Nursing.

Funded by both a President’s grant from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation and the Henderson Reserve Fund, the CAREol project will prepare nursing and medical students at Kent State University College of Nursing and Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) to engage patients and families in effective end-of-life communication. Although a necessary part of the grieving and healing process, these critical conversations are often difficult and uncomfortable for both family members and healthcare providers who may feel a sense of helplessness or distress due to inexperience. Goals of the project, Dr. Hansen explains, include not only bolstering curriculum for future healthcare providers, but also “developing mentors for clinical situations so they may serve as role models to help families have meaningful talks at the end of life.” Through the CAREol project, Drs. Motter and Hansen will develop a model for interprofessional, collaborative end-of-life education based on final conversation themes developed by Dr. Margaret Keeley, a noted expert in the field, helping new healthcare providers to facilitate vital family communication at the end of life.

DNP-Ph.D. partnerships in academia foster a culture of collaborative scholarship and encourage both current and future scholars to work together to generate new nursing knowledge and practice. Through successful collaborative projects, partnerships between DNP- and Ph.D.-prepared nurses promote new knowledge, strengthen nursing practice, and benefit nursing education, the healthcare system, and patient care. “Working with Tracey and the research team has been exhilarating,” Dr. Hansen affirms. “We are doing what we preach—connecting research, theory, and practice to educate and inform practice.” Collaboration on the CAREol project reflects both Dr. Hansen’s interest in developing the science of improving family relationships at the end of life and Dr. Motter’s focus on applying new knowledge to ensure better outcomes for nursing education and patient care. Acknowledging the multiple benefits of DNP-Ph.D. collaboration, Dr. Motter asserts, “working together as a team has helped me to expand my thinking and gain a better appreciation for what each of us can offer.” Drawing from the synergistic interests and talents of Drs. Hansen and Motter, the CAREol project will not only improve competencies for healthcare providers to provide comfort at the end of life, but also pave the way for future DNP-Ph.D. collaboration at the College of Nursing.

To learn more about the CAREol project, please visit

POSTED: Monday, November 30, 2020 - 4:20pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, December 9, 2020 - 5:12pm
Denise Karshner