Transforming the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program at Texas A&M Corpus Christi

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Doctor of Nursing Practice Program facilitates student success using ACUE.

Faculty at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi at an ACUE Pinning ceremony on May 18.

Last August, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC) embarked on a journey to drive student success through quality instruction in partnership with the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE). In the first year, the plan was to prepare and credential 60 faculty members who represented a diverse range of disciplines through ACUE’s Effective Teaching Practices, spanning TAMU-CC’s undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs. In doing so, TAMU-CC ensured that instructional quality was a priority across all types of its degree programs, including one graduate degree program where ACUE had a particularly profound impact: the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. 

“ACUE gave us a common language and common pedagogy, which serves us really well because we come from different backgrounds,”  says Dr. Tammy McGarity, DNP program coordinator and assistant professor of nursing. “It has increased our interaction and aligned our thinking. From developing assignments to course delivery to grading, we’re on the same page and can better support one another.”

The program at TAMU-CC is part of a Texas A&M University System (TAMUS) initiative to support student success through effective instruction. TAMUS is one of four leading higher education systems participating in Scaling Instructional Excellence for Student Success through the National Association of System Heads (NASH). On May 18, TAMU-CC celebrated Islander faculty at a pinning ceremony to recognize more than 50 faculty who earned a Certificate in Effective College Instruction that is co-endorsed by ACUE and the American Council on Education (ACE).

Within TAMU-CC’s DNP program, faculty weren’t sure what to expect as the ACUE program got underway.

“When we first started with ACUE, I was hesitant and thought, ‘I don’t really know that we need to do this.’ But when we began implementing the practices, we realized how much we needed it,” McGarity says. 

Looking back, they realize that implementing the practices has become instinctual—allowing them to tailor practices to suit the DNP curriculum and the specific needs of their doctoral students. 

“These recommended practices are dynamic. They apply to so many different contexts and courses,” explains Dr. Christina Murphey, an ACUE-credentialed professor of nursing in TAMU-CC’s DNP program. Murphey says that the significant research and evidence supporting ACUE’s approach was important for embracing the program. “We have data showing that these teaching practices work, which is important for us as educators in a doctoral program.”

In the spring, Murphey and McGarity began co-teaching a course, collaborating to foster critical thinking and clinical reasoning in their DNP students. Utilizing skills from ACUE, they found that implementing Socratic questioning, in particular, allows them to do this successfully in an online setting.

“Posing a question, rather than just offering answers, generates even richer discussion. And it help students reflect on how their own responses can enrich their answers,” Murphey explains. “After we implemented this, we noticed that students began posing questions to their peers in discussion boards as well. We hadn’t anticipated this, but this is something we were really excited to see.”

ACUE practices have also helped Murphey and McGarity increase the transparency and organization of their course. Specifically, they revised assignment instructions to include more details and rubrics. They’ve also added more structure and consistency to their modules. Students have responded positively and there is more time to focus on learning. 

It’s also helped instill these graduate students with a level of self-reflection and accountability that is critical for professional success. Murphey and McGarity believe this will help them become more skilled clinicians and stronger executive leaders when they graduate.

“These doctoral students aren’t traditional students. They’re busy practitioners and some of them are leading a whole department within a healthcare system,” Murphey says. “These kinds of students need the specificity and organizational skills the ACUE practices provide. In fact, they may actually benefit from these practices even more than undergraduate students.” 

Based on their experiences with ACUE, Murphey and McGarity have made recommendations to the graduate curriculum task force, and they have begun to see a culture of implementation program-wide.

“Our faculty knows that we’ve been using these practices this semester and have seen a lot of success with them, so they are supportive,” McGarity explains. 

In this sense, ACUE has done more than add tools to the toolbox; it has also initiated a paradigm shift in TAMU-CC’s DNP program. 

“Seeing the success of these practices in our upper level courses has made us realize the importance of introducing these practices in our more generalized courses. Students will benefit from seeing these practices all the way through the program—from the very beginning all the way to graduation,” McGarity says. “Looking ahead, we’re also planning to reassess our six-year-old program’s objectives. We want to think strategically and programmatically about how to align for student success.”

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