New doctoral programs at universities don't usually generate much buzz, but one at Stony Brook University has health care workers talking.
Among the 2,595 graduates at the university's winter commencement Tuesday were 38 women in the first class of the Doctor of Nursing Practice program, one of only 17 such programs in the country.
The doctorate, participants said, brings prestige to nurses, who often feel overworked and underappreciated. The degree has practical effects, too - it will allow nurses to move into research or teaching.
"The beauty of this program is that it doesn't take nurses away from the bedsides of their patients. Instead, it gives them the tools to coordinate care with others on the health care team," said Marie Ann Marino, who oversees the program.
Barbara Chase of Smithtown, president of the National Federation of Nurses, a union that represents 70,000 nurses, called the program "long overdue."
"It will allow nurses to reach to heights they couldn't imagine before," she said in an interview, adding that the degree is especially important because many nursing schools say they have a glut of applicants but a shortage of trained instructors.
One of the graduates, Patricia Mele, 48, is a neonatal nurse practitioner at Stony Brook University Medical Center, where she was a patient for 63 days in 1992 while she waited for her quadruplets to be born.
Another graduate, Kelly Walker, started at Stony Brook University Medical Center as a teenage volunteer.