United States DNP Doctor of Nursing Practice Programs

DNP stands for Doctorate of Nursing Practice. The DNP degree is a terminal practice degree in nursing. Distinct from its research counterpart, the PhD, Doctor of nurse practitioner programs are grounded in applied research and clinical practice. Students in Doctor of Nurse Practitioner programs therefore often assess the latest scientific data, work to improve systems of care, and make changes to enhance quality of care. Their goal is to expertly translate a body of evidence directly into advanced nursing practice and clinical leadership.ii

What Is a DNP Degree?

As a practice doctorate, a DNP degree program builds on the general knowledge acquired through a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or advanced clinical skills from a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program. Some students may also be licensed nurse practitioners (NPs) who want to prepare to pursue a more focused advanced practice registered nurse role, such as family nurse practitioner (FNP).

FACT

One recommendation by the AACN is that the “term practice doctorate be used instead of clinical doctorate.”i

DNP Essentials

To earn a Doctorate of Nursing Practice degree, students typically need to complete a series of required core courses, along with courses related to their chosen specialty. Doctor of Nursing Practice core skills often form a base for advanced nursing practice in an area of emphasis. Other degree requirements typically include a clinical advanced nursing field experience and/or final project. Students thus often look for a DNP program that ties into their professional goals.

DNP information

Core DNP Coursework: 7 Key Content Areas

The exact curriculum of a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program varies and depends both on the nursing graduate school, a student’s chosen nursing specialty and prior education. Almost always, because it is the highest degree in clinical nursing practice, a DNP degree program includes courses in diagnostics, advanced practice, and disease treatment. Since actual course names vary in each school, please refer to the list below as a general overview of the seven essential content areas .iv Then, make sure to check out individual nursing schools to review their syllabus.

  1. Scientific Underpinnings for Practice
  2. Advanced Nursing Practice
  3. Organization and Systems Thinking (Quality Improvement)
  4. Analytic Methods (Evidence-based Practice)
  5. Uses of Technology & Information to Transform Healthcare
  6. Health Policy Development
  7. Inter-professional collaboration

DNP Project

To that point, some programs require nurses to complete a scholarly project (DNP project). It generally aims to help nurses address a practice issue that affects groups of patients, health care organizations, or health care systems. As an evidence-based practice (EBP) project, it shows that a student could think critically and apply research principles to (1) identify a problem; (2) develop a proposal; (3) implement solutions; and (4) evaluate the clinical problem from all sides. The EBP is usually presented in front of a forum.

Clinical Experience

DNP students are typically required to complete about 500 practice experience hours while they work towards their Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. As an advanced immersion, it could provide candidates with the time to gain and apply skills in a clinical environment. Typically, a preceptor and program site are identified and approved early in the program. Students could then be required to comply with any requirements such as immunization, drug screen, criminal background check, and CPR certification.

How Long Is a DNP Program?

The time it takes to complete a Doctorate of Nursing Practice program depends on your answers to 5 key questions.

  1. How do you want to enter a program (BSN to DNP or MSN to DNP)?
  2. Do you have any school-approved transfer credits?
  3. Will you study on a full-time or part-time basis?
  4. Which area of emphasis do you plan to choose?
  5. Are you an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse?

For these reasons, it is best to look at each school to see what their degree requirements are, so just use the points below as general examples. An academic advisor might also be able to help you figure out what level of commitment you will have.

  • BSN to DNP programs that are based on a 65-credit course load could take full-time students about three years to complete.
  • MSN to DNP programs that are based on a 56-credit course load could take full-time students about two years to complete.
  • APRN to DNP programs could entail the completion of about 40 credits and might take full-time students between one and three years.

How Do I Become a DNP?

There are several paths for those who want to work towards a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, and many schools offer more than one track. The two primary points of entry are the (1) BSN and (2) MSN. As in other disciplines with practice doctorates, some individuals may choose to combine a DNP with a PhD. Admission requirements, time to completion, and coursework differ with whichever route is selected.

BSN to DNP Programs

BSN to DNP programs are designed for students who are registered nurses and have earned a bachelors degree in nursing from an accredited school of nursing. Some BSN to DNP executive tracks allow students to work towards both the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and the Doctor of Nursing Practice. In this case, the MSN component could prepare nurses to pursue leadership while the DNP component has the student develop, complete, and evaluate a capstone project. Along the way, students need to put in a substantial number of practical experience hours (e.g. 1000 hours).

Admission Requirements BSN-DNP

Admission for applicants with a BSN could vary in each university. However, some schools do want to see a minimum GPA of 3.0, and may want to look at GRE scores. Other required material could include a resume and a copy of your current licensure as a registered nurse in the state in which practice will occur. Candidates could also need some undergraduate statistics, and must usually furnish letters of reference, a personal statement, and transcripts. Some schools may even ask to set up an interview.

MSN to DNP

MSN to DNP programs are planned out for students who have earned their masters degree in nursing from an accredited school of nursing. Since students are presumed to have general nursing skills, curricula often meld courses in organizational theory, health care finance, human resources, and health care IT. Students also take part in a clinical practicum although it is not as lengthy as the BSN to DNP track.

Admission Requirements MSN-DNP

Admission to an MSN to DNP program is likely to vary in some ways. Some programs, because of their emphasis (for instance family nurse practitioner) tend to require students to have a current certification in an advanced practice nurse specialty. Applicants also need to fulfill a minimum GPA, which could be 3.0 or higher, depending on the school. Additional required material could include a resume, proof of your current licensure as registered nurse in the state in which practice will occur, transcripts, letters of reference, personal statement, and an interview. Courses in graduate research methods and inferential statistics courses could also be on this list.

DNP: Areas of Emphasis

Whatever pathway a student selects to earn their Doctorate in Nursing Practice degree, one is encouraged to select an area of emphasis, which is often known in nursing as a “specialization”, simply because the courses are intended to help nurses build targeted skills in their practice area. Many schools of nursing differ in what focused areas they offer, so make sure to do some research! To start you out, let's explore a few examples below.

DNP – FNP Family Nurse Practitioner

A DNP to FNP is a Doctor of Nursing Practice program that explores the skills and know-how required by Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs). Family Nurse Practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who coordinate patient care and, in some states, could prescribe medication. They are therefore versed in advanced assessment and pharmacology.ii

Some FNP to DNP programs cover about 82 credits. Many of these are core courses, which cover the topics referred to above. Other coursework is typically tuned into how to promote holistic health care to adults and children in a family context. Also, students could learn advanced methods of diagnosis and ways to help their patients manage their acute and chronic health problems. They also might study health policy to prepare to serve as advocates for clients as they interface with the health care system. Aside from their courses, Family Nurse Practitioner DNP students complete a clinical practice experience and apply theories learned in class under the guidance of a qualified preceptor.

Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner

Students who work towards a DNP with a focus in adult gerontology could learn how to provide quality primary and specialty care to the adult population. Some of these ‘competencies’ include specific assessment that relate to lifespan, gender, chronic injury, illness, diet, and pain. Coursework also could reflect advanced courses in pharmacology so that students might develop their awareness of complex medical regimens.iii

DNP in Nurse Executive Leader

Students with more administrative interests might pursue a dnp degree in executive nurse leadership. Nurse Executive leadership courses could address things such as how to manage personnel, develop policy, budget, and use health care informatics in advanced nursing. Other courses might help nurse leaders with their coaching and negotiation skills. Students generally complete their practicum in a managerial rather than a clinical setting.

DNP in Public Health

Nurses who want to study health promotion and disease prevention in populations might complete a DNP degree in Public Health. Coursework usually delves into epidemiology, and public health policy research. Other policy courses might discuss links between public health administration and policy as well as public health law and related ethics. Moreover, students might study to learn how to write grant and contract proposals.

Is the DNP the Same as a Nurse Practitioner?

The DNP is the highest degree a Nurse Practitioner is able to earn. Nurse Practitioners have typically used the Masters degree to be eligible to take advanced practice registered nurse exams, however per the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the Doctorate of Nursing Practice is on its way to “become the preferred preparation for specialty nursing practice.” I

Is a DNP a Medical Doctor? The ‘Doctor’ in Doctor of Nursing Practice means that it is an applied doctorate. Although a DNP is not the same as a Doctor of Medicine (MD), the AACN recommended in a position statement back in 2004 that the DNP should be the new standard entry for the profession by 2015. As with other clinical doctorates such as the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Doctor of Pharmacology (DPharm), the AACN recognized that more advanced practice skills were needed for nurse practitioners, and that nurses might move to other areas for a professional doctorate.

DID YOU KNOW?
Since the AACN recognizes the “need for consistency in the degrees required for advanced nursing practice, all existing ND programs have transitioned to the DNP.”iv

On-Campus, Hybrid, or Online DNP Nursing Program?

Aside from the type of dnp nursing program you choose, there are other factors that might influence your decision. Do you need a full-time or part-time program? The three primary methods of delivery are in-person (campus), online, and a blend of both called hybrid.

Online dnp nursing programs might allow at-work nurses to conveniently study the nuts and bolts courses like theories, concepts, and research methods. Distance students may also be able to complete their supervised practice in their home community under a local preceptor.

By contrast, you could get plenty of face-to-face time and hands-on practice in a campus dnp program. Many nurses might want this opportunity to develop their networks, make room for mentorship, and discuss coursework at roundtables. As an alternative, a hybrid format could mix some of the online coursework with a low residency experience of your campus. 

Why a DNP?

Some of the reasons that the AACN cites to support why advanced nurse practitioners should move toward the DNP include the ones below.v

  • The demands of the healthcare environment require the highest level of scientific knowledge and practice expertise
  • Increased complexity of patient care
  • National concerns about patient safety and quality of care
  • Shortages of doctorate in nursing faculty
  • Raised level of education expectations for preparation of other members of the healthcare team

Facts and Figures

Per the BLS, the career outlook for APRN nurses is projected to increase by 31 percent to 2024. The median annual wage for nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives was $107,460 in May 2016.ii

CCNE and ACEN: Nursing School Accreditation

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) are two recognized accreditors for DNP programs. Both the CCNE and ACEN are strict in that they review curricula to ensure all key areas of study and practice are included. Furthermore, they abide by nationally recognized standards. Why is accreditation for a dnp program important? One of the recommendations by the AACN is that “practice-focused doctoral programs need to be accredited by a nursing accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education.” i

Take the Next Step

To easily compare DNP degree programs, filter by format (online or on-campus). Or just look for programs in a preferred location. The next step from there is to simply contact the sponsored schools with the on-page form. All you do is fill out the form, and you're on your way!


[i] aacnnursing.org/Portals/42/News/Position-Statements/DNP.pdf?ver=2017-08-02-103159-760 | [ii] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm | [iii] aacnnursing.org/Portals/42/AcademicNursing/pdf/Adult-Gero-ACNP-Competencies-2012.pdf | [iv] aacnnursing.org/Portals/42/Publications/DNPEssentials.pdf | [v] aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/dnp

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