As the University makes strides in online education, the School of Nursing is already two steps — or two years — ahead.

The school’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program offers a hybrid of online and classroom education, providing an innovative way for healthcare professionals to further their education while setting foot on campus just once a month. The three-year program, which welcomed its first cohort of students in 2012, is designed for mid-career nurses who want to continue practicing in the field but also want to learn about policy and decision-making in the healthcare sector. It combines weekly readings, written responses and discussion — all online — with monthly visits to the YSN campus.

The DNP’s roots trace back to six years ago, when a former dean of the YSN, Donna Diers, convened a faculty task force to consider the creation of such a program, said Jessica Coviello NUR ’82, the DNP program director. At the time, DNP programs were beginning to spread throughout the country, and Yale decided to build one of its own, she said.

This was not the first time that YSN had taught in a hybrid fashion, online and in-person. The YSN’s Nursing Management, Policy and Leadership specialty within its Masters of Science and Nursing program had utilized the same format since 2006. It then served as a model for the DNP program, Coviello said.

“We looked at the NMPL’s stories to see how they operated their classes,” Coviello said. “It was an opportunity to mentor with another group, and there were real lessons learned.”

One of these lessons was how to make the technological transition to a hybrid program, she said. At the DNP’s inception, Yale did not have the proper technology set up to meet all the program’s needs, said Frank Grosso, YSN assistant dean for student affairs.

But technology has evolved quickly since 2012, and the program has too. For example, the DNP now regularly utilizes Adobe Connect classrooms as a virtual meeting space for its students, a resource Coviello said is not widely used within online education and has great potential.

The DNP’s unique format grants it flexibility for both students and administrators. Because the program is part time and does not require daily presence in a classroom, nurses can continue with their practices and do not need to move to New Haven to get a Yale education.

“The hybrid program offers a practical solution to the dilemma posed by geography,” Nancy Blumenthal YSN ’15, a student in the DNP program, said in an email. “My family and I live in Philadelphia. I have full-time professional responsibilities. The hybrid program allows me to engage in academic pursuits on a schedule that works for me.”

On the administrative side, the virtual structure allows for both adaptability and innovation. The program follows a “flipped classroom” model, in which the majority of the reading and lecturing is done over the internet; When the students do physically meet in the same room in New Haven, they engage in more interactive and hands-on group work.

For Coviello, this reversal has been refreshing for both the students and for herself as a professor.

“I was afraid that there would be challenges, because I was used to a classroom taught with Powerpoint slides and lectures and the students sitting as little passive creatures,” she said. “But it’s been fabulous. The students come into the classroom ready to do work, we get down to business right away, and it’s been incredibly energizing.”

Moving forward, the program will continue to explore possible ways to innovate, such as incorporating more graphics and media into the curriculum, Coviello said. She added that she also wants to see how to utilize resources like Adobe Connect more fully.

But while the virtual classroom offers many possibilities, neither Coviello nor Blumenthal said they expect the physical classroom component to disappear any time soon. The on-campus part of the curriculum is essential for engagement, Blumenthal said, adding that the program has done a good job striking a balance.

“An important part of Yale has always been personal experience,” Coviello said. “I doubt that there will be very many programs that are exclusively online.”

There are currently 29 students enrolled in the DNP program.