DeSales University will launch its first doctoral program — a doctor of nursing practice degree — in January 2012.

Carol Mest, director of DeSales' graduate nursing programs, said the program for advanced practice nurses — nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners — is in response to a push for changes in education requirements.

In 2004, members of the Washington, D.C.-based American Association of Colleges of Nurses made the decision to increase the level of education required for an advanced practice nurse from a graduate to a doctoral degree.

"The requirements are changing in the field," chief communications officer Robert Rosseter said. "The profession is definitely moving."

He said the association's goal date for the requirement changes to take place is 2015. The 11-year delay after the recommendation was meant as a transition period for educational institutions.

Rosseter said it's up to the states to make the decision to require the DNP. He foresees a pushback of the nationwide goal because "each state moves at its own rate."

Nicholas Winkler, director of public relations at the Department of State, said Pennsylvania currently does not require the DNP for nurse practitioners, but that doesn't mean there won't be more discussion of the issue.

Despite the lack of direct response from states, universities nationwide have begun DNP programs. Rosseter said that according to association records, seven programs were offered in 2004. The number has ballooned to 153 programs, 11 of them in Pennsylvania.

"You're not going to see [employment] advertisements for people with DNP quite yet unless it's in academia," Mest said.

Mest said the advanced program takes new science developed by Ph.D. students and puts it into practice with patients.

"We have all of the new knowledge that we want on paper and in journals and in books, but until we see how it translates into caring for patients, it's not that useful. The DNP will close that loop," she said of the two-year, post-master's degree program.

DeSales plans to accept 10 students who have completed their master's in nursing for the first spring semester. Mest said she expects no more than 20 in succeeding groups. Interested nurses are encouraged to apply online at

"We're going to attract people who are very active clinically," Mest said. "People who are taking care of patients on a day-to-day basis, so we anticipate that these people will continue to function in their caring capacity but bring added value to their practice."

The course is a "hybrid program." Mest said the students meet three to four times a year face-to-face with the remainder of class completed online.

Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre was the first Northeastern university to offer the degree. That program launched in December 2009, in response to the 2004 announcement.

The program, similar to DeSales', is run primarily online and takes 21/2 years to complete. Currently 75 students from 15 states are enrolled and spokeswoman Vicki Mayk said the university expects to enroll 25 this fall.

"We've had a lot of interest and a lot of success," Mayk said. "It's growing steadily."