A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a terminal degree that prepares registered nurses to perform at the highest level of nursing practice. A significant part of the DNP program includes a project and practicum that allows doctoral candidates to implement an evidence-based practice change in a healthcare facility. Coming at a critical point in your academic career, defining and implementing your project can seem daunting—but a great DNP project utilizes all of the skills you’ve honed as a nurse.
To help you create a successful DNP project (also known as a DNP capstone project), here are six tips that make for a prescription for success.
1. Time management skills are essential
As a nurse, you’re already familiar with balancing competing priorities. But working toward a DNP degree is a time commitment, and it’s vital to your success to have a healthy work-life balance. Before enrolling in a DNP program, ask yourself:
- Am I able to dedicate at least 20-24 hours a week to complete DNP-required readings and assignments?
- Will I be able to take time off from work to complete the required clinical hours needed, in addition to DNP project completion hours?
Aspen University’s online DNP program is designed for working adults, but a doctoral program is demanding and varies in intensity.
Some helpful time management ideas for any nursing program include meal prepping on Sundays, blocking off time in your calendar for schoolwork, having a workspace that isn’t your bedroom, and taking breaks when you need it.
Still unsure if a doctoral program is right for you? Here are three signs you’re ready to pursue your DNP.
2. Find your passion, and focus your project topic on what you truly care about
When deciding what topic to focus on for your DNP project, keep in mind that you’ll be dedicated to this subject for a long time. By making your DNP project topic something you feel strongly about, you will feel more motivated to stay the course. And, you’ll know your project is making a real difference in the community.
Dr. Pamela Manning learned this when she initially chose a DNP project topic on social media and teens for Aspen University’s program. Although it’s an important issue, she realized that she felt disconnected from this subject. Instead, she focused on the health implications of nurse burnout, a problem she has personally experienced and felt passionate about making nurses aware of this challenge.
Still feeling stuck? Follow these steps for identifying a DNP project topic:
- Choose the population or system you want to focus on
- Brainstorm various topics that you think may affect your identified population or system
- If your topic involves a healthcare facility such as a hospital, schedule a meeting with the clinical educator or members of the research team to see if there are topics or areas that they can suggest that may need a practice change
- Discuss your ideas with your mentor or an advisor who is familiar with your chosen population and possible topics
The ultimate goal is to find a topic that you are passionate about and aligns with the organization’s goals.
3. Found a DNP topic? Begin a literature review
Once you have narrowed down your topic, it’s time to do a literature search on what data currently exists on your topic. By reviewing evidence-based research, you will be able to find gaps in the literature more easily, proving that your DNP project is necessary.
Literature review tips:
- Create a list of possible keyword phrases regarding your topic
- Use reputable search engines such as CINAHL, Google Scholar, PubMed, MEDLINE, & Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (CDSR)
- Remember to find literature that is within the last five-year period
- If you are having difficulty finding articles, make an appointment to meet with your local library’s research center or librarian, and they will be able to assist you.
Remember that the literature review section of your project lays the baseline and background for your DNP project. It shows that your topic is relevant and necessary to explore.
4. Meet with your advisor or mentor for consistent feedback
Once you have chosen a topic and have researched the available evidence, meet with your project advisor or mentor to ensure that you are on the right track. The feedback from your advisor or mentor can help speed along your work or identify areas where you need to make changes.
It’s always helpful to have an extra set of professional eyes on your work. At Aspen University, in addition to having a faculty mentor, DNP students also work with a DNP Project Team. Made up of three members who are knowledgeable in graduate-level studies, the DNP Project Team is available to give feedback and answer any questions. The team is one more way Aspen supports their doctoral candidates.
5. Don’t wait until the last minute to create a DNP project proposal
Once you know the overall purpose of your project and have established literature evidence that demonstrates a need for your practice change, you’ll put everything together for a research proposal. DNP programs require a proposal to approve your project idea. This step is an excellent professional opportunity to receive valuable feedback from your professors. It can also take more time to complete than you think.
A research proposal should include:
- Title of your potential project
- Background information on your topic of interest
- Synthesis of the evidence you found that demonstrates a gap in practice
- Target population and setting
- Project design & method
- Data collection tools
- Budget for project implementation
- Sustainability plan for post-project implementation
You will be a step ahead in your project if you are proactive about completing the proposal. Outlining what you hope to achieve will help you cohesively present your idea in a format that can be submitted to your academic institution’s DNP committee or team for approval.
6. Don’t forget your purpose
Even just considering a DNP program means you are passionate about making a difference in healthcare. Channeling that passion into implementing a practice change with real impact for your target population can be challenging, frustrating, or even stressful.
Remind yourself why you began this journey in the first place and the positive changes in store for your target population. And remember to redirect your focus from stress. Shift your attention to having the best DNP project that will get you to graduation day!
If you are ready to take the leap and learn the skills needed to be a nursing leader, consider Aspen University’s online DNP program.
Dr. Margarita David is a doctorally-prepared Registered Nurse, #1 Bestselling Author, and founder of the Dr. Registered Nurse Success Academy, LLC. that provides tutoring, mentoring and consulting to prospective nurses, nurses, and students in graduate and doctoral studies. Dr. David also has a YouTube channel called Dr. Registered Nurse, where she makes videos on hard-to-understand nursing school concepts easy to comprehend. She also holds a Bachelor in Business Management & Administration and a Masters in Nursing Education and Leadership. She has been married for over 20 years and is a mother of three! Follow her on Instagram and YouTube!