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Doctor of Nursing Practice worth nine-hour drive

Michelle Spadoni travels monthly from Ontario, for St. Kates DNP program.
Michelle Spadoni travels monthly from Ontario, for St. Kates DNP program.
Andy Ferron

Editor’s note: This story is a condensed version of “How the DNP delivers,” featured in the St. Kate’s magazine. To read the story in its entirety, see SCAN, February 2009.

Every fourth Thursday afternoon, Michelle Spadoni leaves behind her home on the outskirts of Thunder Bay, Ontario, along with her "very patient" husband and their Newfoundland puppy. She also leaves behind her job teaching nursing students and becomes a nursing student again — driving nine hours to St. Catherine University, where she is in the first class of the inaugural Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

St. Kate's DNP program, only the second in Minnesota, lasts 24 to 27 months. It was launched September 2008 with 15 students. Students meet monthly on Friday evenings and Saturdays, and engage often in online discussions and clinical applications that supplement the face-to-face classes.

Spadoni, 46, worked in clinical practice for 22 years before becoming a full-time lecturer at Ontario's Lakehead University School of Nursing in 2005. She describes herself as a perennial student. She commuted in 2000 to the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota, to become a clinical nurse specialist. And she'll commute for the next two years to St. Kate's to earn her DNP.

No DNP degree is offered through Canadian universities. Her goal is no less than to improve long-term nursing care, so she's willing to risk that her university may not recognize her doctoral degree.

As a student and as a nursing professional, Spadoni is dedicated to resolving the colliding issues of an aging population and a scarcity of long-term care healthcare professionals. She continues to administer end-of-life care for patients while teaching undergraduates and arranging clinical experiences for 178 first-year students — on top of working on her degree at St. Kate's.

"Coming to St. Kate's has given me a new breath of life," she says. "You see problems in healthcare and you wonder, 'Can I change this?'" St. Kate's has empowered her to answer yes, she says.

"We're looking at some pretty philosophical, advanced theories, but they're always brought back to human experiences," Spadoni says.

For example, the first course in the DNP program is called "Underpinnings of the Discipline of Nursing," taught by Associate Professor of Nursing Margaret Pharris. The students discuss readings, sometimes in small groups — some that Pharris designed as "Ethics Cafés," replete with food and beverages. Pharris tries to pose the critical questions, and let the students grapple with the answers.

She says students like Spadoni make the first class of DNP students truly remarkable.

"We had more than double the number of applicants we could take, and there were outstanding applicants to choose from,” Pharris says. "These women are leaders in the field. They have the potential to make a real difference."

Each Saturday that Spadoni drives back to Thunder Bay she feels energized, eager to share with her colleagues what she's learned.

Sep. 28, 2010 by Elizabeth Child