As a family health nurse practitioner, Nelly Padua treats patients of all ages, from infants to centenarians, at the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center.

Every day she sees first hand the issues these families face in underserved areas like Lawrence – from finding a physician to booking an appointment to getting the medications they need. With more than 10 years experience as a nurse practitioner, though, she has ideas for how to solve these problems. She decided to pursue a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree at UMass Lowell to turn these ideas into action. "I want to work in health care policy to make it so that nurse practitioners could lead more independent practices," said Padua.

With Massachusetts health care reform, thousands of people who didn't have health insurance in the past now have insurance but struggle to find primary care doctors. State policies limit what nurses can do and often create barriers to productivity. As a prescriber of medication, Padua knows this too well as she is overwhelmed with paperwork.

"A signature is required for everything I do," she explains. "I think DNPs could help meet the influx of demand for care but right now nurses are limited as to what they can do in certain states, including Massachusetts," she said.

In the DNP program, Padua is learning about health care policy and financial management, topics that are helping her understand the entire health care system, even though she plans to continue caring for patients.

For her scholarly project, she plans to research obesity in Latino children.

"I believe in nursing education. It's better for the profession and it's better for patients. Doctors of nursing practice are the future."