In the

First in Cedar Rapids

Bringing Doctoral-Level Education to Campus

By Jessica Gortner

In its 90-year history, Mount Mercy University has gone from a junior college to representing the full spectrum of a university-level education. This fall, two doctoral programs will be unveiled—a first not only for MMU, but also for the entire Cedar Rapids area.

After the success of Mount Mercy’s master’s-level programming launch in 2010, the decision was made last year to bring doctoral-level education to campus as well. Since early this spring, prospective students have been applying for admission into the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program and the Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy (DMFT) program.

Sharon Guthrie

Sharon Guthrie,
Director of Graduate
Nursing Programs

Doctor of Nursing Practice

Recognized for renowned programs, nursing education is in Mount Mercy’s DNA. Roots date back to the Mercy Hospital School of Nursing in the early 1900s, which led to MMU’s establishment of one of Iowa’s first baccalaureate nursing programs.

Knowing that nurses are predicted to be in higher demand than ever before (the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be more than one million registered nurse openings by 2024), Mount Mercy decided to offer nursing students another degree option for even more career choices.

“As our students graduate from the BSN and MSN programs, many are already planning to pursue further education,” says Sharon Guthrie, director of graduate nursing programs. “There was already significant interest from current and former students who want to pursue nurse practitioner careers and a DNP, so it was time for us to take the next step.” For example, she says, a student decided to enroll in the BSN program because she knew she could also earn her DNP at MMU.

In the DNP planning stages, feedback from health care providers and nurses indicated the desire for an in-person versus an online program. So the students enrolled in Mount Mercy’s program will follow an intense classroom schedule designed for efficiency: meeting once a week for one five-week class at a time.

MMU’s DNP and DMFT programs differ from others because they offer in-person, hands-on, practical, doctoral-level training.

Nurses with MSNs who enter the DNP program to become family nurse practitioners (FNPs) can complete the DNP degree in two years (including two summers) and be ready to take the certification exam. Nurse practitioners in any area of specialty who enter the DNP program can complete a DNP degree in one and a half years (including one summer).

Nursing faculty will focus on teaching students to provide hands-on, primary health care services in rural, urban, and clinic settings, as well as telehealth. This educational experience will provide Iowa’s hospitals and clinics with entrepreneurial-minded nurses who can hit the ground running, serving as transformational leaders and change agents.

“We’re also fortunate that we have a local network to help precept DNP students,” Guthrie says. “Students in our program won’t have to find their own preceptors. We will collaborate with our established network and help students identify and secure their preceptors.”

Randall R. Lyle

Randall R. Lyle,
Gerald & Audrey Olson Endowed Chair for Marriage & Family Therapy, Director of Marriage & Family Therapy Programs

Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy

Mount Mercy’s DMFT program was designed to fill a gap identified by Randall Lyle, the Gerald and Audrey Olson Endowed Chair for Marriage and Family Therapy. “There isn’t a lot of hands-on, practical doctoral-level MFT training in the country,” he says.

Lyle knew the program was on the right track after sending a survey to students, asking whether they would participate if a program of this kind existed. “We received overwhelming support,” he says. “Nearly 70 percent of students said they would be very interested in applying to the program.”

Built on Mount Mercy’s well-known master’s program in marriage and family therapy, Mount Mercy’s DMFT will be the only practice-oriented program in Iowa. It will offer specialization in one of three areas:

Advanced Couples Therapy

“Relationship issues cost billions of dollars a year in lost productivity and create suffering for the whole family,” says Lyle. Within this specialization, marriage and family therapy students are taught through advanced theory learning and mentoring how to help couples regulate, enhance, and improve their relationships.

Neuroscience & Psychophysiology

“We’re likely the only U.S. MFT program that will offer a way to analyze and integrate neuroscience into the practice of therapy and counseling,” Lyle says. Neurofeedback will also be incorporated into the program. This type of biofeedback provides information about the brain, so individuals can learn to better regulate neurological processes and diminish or eliminate symptoms of distress or dysregulation.

Leadership & Business

Another first-of-its-kind specialization within marriage and family therapy, this area of focus was designed to create relationally minded leaders who can enter business organizations and help improve relationships and further develop the field of marriage and family therapy.

“The style of the DMFT program is very much in line with the Sisters of Mercy and what Mount Mercy has stood for throughout its entire history,” Lyle says. “We wanted to create the program in part to help our students give back to their communities through compassion and social justice.” ■