Jennifer Disabato, DNP, RN, CPNP-PC, AC, Assistant Professor, is the Specialty Director for one of the College’s newest graduate specialty options: acute care pediatric nurse practitioner (ACPNP). The program, which offers both a postgraduate certificate (PGC) and a master of science degree, celebrated the graduation of its first cohort earlier this year.
“The program began in fall 2014 as a post-graduate program for PNPs who were primary care certified,” says Disabato. “We worked with Children’s [Hospital Colorado] to move forward quickly with this program to meet the workforce need they had for Primary Care PNPs who were in need of an acute care educational program to qualify them for national certification to match their role and scope of practice.”
Two of Disabato's students who graduated with the ACPNP post-graduate certificate in spring 2016, Jolie Eirich and Bridget Lucas, were primary care PNPs who saw the need to pursue acute care certification to fit their job duties.
"Jolie and Bridget are perfect examples of people who had gone through our program and while they felt well-prepared from our primary care program, they were actually practicing in environments where they’re taking care of very sick patients," Disabato says.
To get the ACPNP program off the ground, Disabato partnered mostly with the director of advanced practice at Children’s Hospital Colorado, beginning with the post-master’s certificate as a sort of “pilot” program that led to the launching of the ACPNP master’s option. Eighteen months after the start of the certificate program, Disabato's specialty option began enrolling MS students in January 2016. So far, 15 students have graduated and another seven will finish in the spring or summer of 2017. The majority of the students in the certificate program are PNPs, but the program has accepted FNP students as well.
As the specialty director, Disabato has goals for the program to grow clinically, academically, and geographically: “I see for the future of the program that it will steadily grow because we’re still in our early phases. We have been focused on all of our clinical being at Children’s Hospital because it’s the main acute care pediatric facility and has been a willing partner with excellent clinical opportunities. Eventually, we anticipate working with our compact states — the states where there’s an APRN compact licensure agreement to have some people do their clinical out of state.”
The University of Colorado School of Medicine and thenSchool of Nursing collaborated to start the first ever pediatric nurse practitioner program in 1965. There are now more than 10,000 primary care PNPs practicing across the nation, but the number of acute care PNPs is significantly lower.
“If you look in terms of dual certification, there are relatively few across the U.S.,” Disabato says. “So you are considered very marketable with dual certification because ... you have been educated in both primary and acute care, increasing both flexibility and scope of practice. You would be able to be in a clinic where you see patients for routine management, but then go to the inpatient service and see a patient that’s more critical.”
Disabato's students agree concerning the benefits of dual certification: "I think it has made me a better nurse practitioner in my current job and will help me be more marketable in the future," says Lucas, who plans to continue her education with the doctor of nursing practice degree.
Eirich says her skill in the acute care setting has improved and she feels more job security with her dual certification. She plans to encourage other nurse practitioners to aquire acute care skills by "developing improved/additional training opportunities for PNPs in the acute care setting in addition to training offered by the acute care program."
Both Lucas and Eirich said clinical rotations were the most valuable and enjoyable aspect of the ACPNP program. "I think the thing I’m most excited about and proud of is being able to work with the evolving clinical services at Children’s," says Disabato. "A student will have this experience of being on a clinical specialty service that they may eventually want to work with and, equally importantly, having those clinical services see the value of an acute care PNP."