Choose the Best Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree Program for You
A Doctor of Nursing Practice or DNP is a terminal degree and the highest possible practice-based degree in the field of nursing. Earning a DNP may lead to a broad range of advanced clinical nursing roles in clinical research trials as well as executive-level positions in patient care.
Over the years, DNP programs have evolved to better support the complex and evolving American healthcare landscape, to ensure that professionals can execute advanced hands-on care and deliver the best patient outcomes possible.
A typical DNP program takes anywhere from two to five years to complete. Program length depends on a number of factors, including current level of education. If you are a registered nurse (RN) with a bachelor's degree in nursing for example, you may decide to enroll in a BSN to DNP program. Your decision to pursue part-time or full-time study will also determine total degree length.
Program Name: Doctor of Nursing Practice in Leadership Specializations/Concentrations: None Enrollment Options: Full-Time Coursework Credits: 40-43 Credits Clinical Practice Hours: 1000 Hours Length of Program: Three Years Additional Features: Program is aimed at nurses, administrators, executives, educators, and public health nursing specialists. Requires four visits to campus. Learn more about the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Leadership program at Boise State University.
Program Name: Doctor of Nursing Practice Specializations/Concentrations: None Enrollment Options: Full-Time or Part-Time Coursework Credits: 35-94 Credits Clinical Practice Hours: 400 Hours Length of Program: 24-36 Months Additional Features: Curriculum includes on-campus intensives. Learn more about the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program at Duke University.
Program Name: Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Program Specializations/Concentrations: None Enrollment Options: Full-Time or Part-Time Coursework Credits: 37 Credits Clinical Practice Hours: 540 Hours Length of Program: 5 semesters for full-time students; 8 semesters for part-time. Additional Features: DNP program is designed for working professionals with a master’s degree. Requires campus visits that are scheduled in advance. Learn more about the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program at Georgia College.
Program Name: Doctor of Nursing Practice (Post-MSN) Specializations/Concentrations:
DNP programs have evolved to online platforms in accelerated, full-time programs to part-time programs that allow students to set their own pace. Distance learning opportunities may offer additional access for nurses to accredited programs as well as the flexibility to incorporate study into their personal and professional schedules.
Online DNP programs offer coursework online with the opportunity to complete clinical hours in students’ local areas, while other DNP programs lean toward a hybrid program model, involving occasional on-campus participation.
Types of Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs
The main DNP degree paths available are as follows:
BSN to DNP Programs
These programs are designed for registered nurses or nurses who have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. The advantage of this type of program is that you don't have to spend additional time and finances earning a master’s prior to earning your DNP. BSN-to-DNP students may be awarded a master’s by way of their DNP program. These programs allow you to fast-track your way to a DNP by way of earning an MSN to gain in-depth skills in specific fields of nursing.
MSN to DNP Programs
Most DNP programs are post-master’s programs. That means applicants must hold a master’s degree, usually in nursing or a health-related field. These programs are designed for registered nurses and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who already have a MSN and are ready to earn their DNP. The MSN to DNP curriculum builds upon the knowledge and skills you acquire as an MSN student.
Some DNP programs may offer different specializations. Specializations or concentrations require tailored plans of study and will often shape the intensity or length of the program. Some specializations include: Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Nurse-Midwifery, Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP), Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP), and Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP). Each of these specialty areas require certification before you can practice so you may need to sit for the certification exam.
If you’re set on working with a specific patient population or want to become an expert in a particular practice area, consider some of the DNP specialties below:
Online DNP Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Programs
A DNP-FNP or DNP Family Nurse Practitioner is a type of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). The DNP-FNP program prepares nurses for a career in primary care. Depending on the state, DNP-FNPs are eligible to set up their own practice, diagnose patients, prescribe medication, order and analyze diagnostic tests, and develop and administer treatment plans. DNP-FNP programs are a great option for nurses interested in advancing their skills in primary, urgent, ambulatory, and home care.
Online DNP Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP) Programs
A DNP-WHNP program is one that teaches nurses to provide comprehensive care to women across the age spectrum. A DNP-WHNP, short for DNP Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, is another type of APRN, meaning they have advanced nursing skills in a specialization. This type of DNP program focuses on gynecological and reproductive studies but also includes courses in female primary care. Nurses with a DNP-WHNP can work in OB-GYN practices, sexual health education, women’s health clinics, and more.
Online DNP Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-ACNP) Programs
A DNP program with a focus in Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner is one that prepares students to provide immediate care as an advanced practice registered nurse in the field of adult care and geriatrics. A DNP AG-ACNP Program may focus on training nurses in critical care, meaning restoring stability to moderately to critically ill adults and geriatric patients. This type of DNP can be optimal for nurses interested in pursuing career paths in outpatient clinics, long term care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, and assisted living homes.
Online DNP Midwifery Programs
A DNP in Nurse-Midwifery program is similar to a WHNP as it focuses on providing full-spectrum gynecological care to women. However, a nurse-midwifery master's program focuses on preparing nurses to assist in childbirth, provide prenatal counseling, and conduct postpartum examinations. Nurses who earn their DNP in nurse-midwifery may pursue career paths in maternity wings of hospitals, birth centers, or government health clinics.
What to Expect in Your Online DNP Program
A DNP program can be challenging so it is important for prospective students to be prepared for the educational journey, keep sight of their career goals and give it all they got. Start by learning about your program’s prerequisites and take time to review the course list for the program you choose to complete. Think about how your skills and professional experience set you apart from other DNP applicants and be prepared to talk about it if and when you are contacted for an interview with faculty.
Education Requirements for DNP Programs
Requirements and prerequisites vary widely across online DNP programs. Most DNP programs require a valid, unencumbered nursing license to apply, plus at least a calendar year’s worth of full-time professional nursing experience. A few programs offer slight flexibility in degree requirements for admission. For example, in lieu of a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing, a candidate could hold an associate degree in nursing plus a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. Most DNP programs require a minimum GPA of 3.0, and some favor applicants whose grades are 3.5 or higher on a 4.0 scale.
An admission essay and reference letters are also among the application materials DNP program administrators ask for. Contact your interested program or visit the website of the school you wish to attend for more information on required application materials.
Doctor of Nursing Practice Curriculum
A DNP program may consist of anywhere from 30 to 75 credits distributed into three parts: core courses, field experience (an average of 1,000 clinical hours), and a DNP project. A DNP curriculum typically includes courses on evidenced-based practice, ethics, public policy, administrative leadership, and specialization courses. As is required for most doctorate programs, students are also usually required to complete a DNP capstone project which is designed to demonstrate accomplishment in their area of specialization.
Doctor of Nursing Practice Careers
Nurses who earn their DNP often do so because they want to pursue fruitful careers in a wide range of specialties and leadership positions and make an impact in a particular medical arena. There is a growing demand for doctorate-level nurse professionals who can teach, develop scientifically-based approaches to patient care, and lead the nursing field into an ever-more complex future, according to the American AAssociation of Colleges of Nursing. Some are drawn to the profession for this reason.
DNPs with an emphasis in leadership or administration may pursue opportunities in a range of public health leadership roles or executive positions in clinics or hospitals. Other employment opportunities for DNPs include research-based roles, nurse faculty, and health advocacy.
Still wondering if a DNP is the best fit for your career goals? This list of basic questions and answers might help.
How long is a DNP program?
A full-time DNP program may take between three and four years to complete. Part-time programs will take between four and six years to complete.
How much is DNP school?
Tuition for a DNP program varies vastly by institution and type of program offered. Students may be eligible for outside grants and scholarships specifically geared towards nurses completing their DNP degree. Search online nursing forums or speak with your colleagues for leads.
How much does a Doctor of Nursing Practice graduate make?
A DNP is akin to earning a Ph.D., except your doctorate is for the practice of nursing instead of for research. The distinction of earning the degree can give you more autonomy and power to help shape the profession, whether through academia, government, or executive suites.
The worth of a DNP depends on the career goals and level of expertise desired. Nurses interested in advanced care nursing roles are required to have an MSN. A DNP however may lead to more responsibilities and leadership roles within the field. In a leadership position, DNP nurses can help to influence patient care at a systemic level. Lastly, nurses interested in research-based positions may benefit from the scholarly emphasis of a DNP program.