DNP & NP Specialties

Wonder what DNP Specialties and Nurse Practitioner Specialties might harness your patient care skills? Parlay your healthcare interests and career visions to carve out your nursing niche at the DNP level. The world of nursing includes a wide range of nurse practitioner (NP) specialties. Those who climb the nursing degree ladder to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree might also pursue other APRN roles or, choose a non-APRN DNP specialty for the base of a nursing career.dnp and nurse practitioner specialties; nurse practitioner

What Do You Do with a DNP?

The ‘DNP’ is the highest degree for nurse practitioners. Why pursue a DNP? Several years ago, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) called for moving the required level of preparation for APRNs from the master (MSN) to the doctorate (DNP) by the year 2015.i

Many universities meet this goal and now offer advanced practice nursing programs as a DNP degree. There are plenty of decisions to make regarding the DNP, such as where to earn it, but perhaps more important is choosing a nursing specialty. We pair with several partner schools that offer both on campus and online DNP Programs. 

12 Nursing Graduate Schools for DNP and Nurse Practitioner Specialties

  1. Johns Hopkins University
  2. University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences
  3. Sacred Heart University
  4. Andrews University
  5. Grand Canyon University
  6. Chatham University
  7. Northcentral University
  8. Duquesne University
  9. Walden University
  10. Loyola University
  11. South University
  12. Frontier Nursing University

What Is a Nursing Specialty?

Nursing specialties are all about guiding a nursing practice to a specific area within the entire field of professional nursing. Do you love working with babies, the elderly or in palliative care? Are you moved by the struggles of depressed teens? Would you prefer to manage a nursing department?

Some nursing specialties focus on patient care and have a very defined scope of practice and state licensure requirements. These include advanced practice nursing (APRN) and nurse practitioner specialties.

Any DNP specialty you choose to structure your studies around could help you gain key skills, knowledge and vital experience via a targeted practicum. Essentially, these combined ingredients prepare DNP nurses to pursue (extra) licensure in a designated focal area.

Non-Clinical Nursing Specialties

Non-clinical nursing specialties include other nursing roles that are essential to public health. These specialties do not focus on direct patient care (and therefore don’t require the same kinds of regulation). However, Nurse Executives, and Nurse Educators may also be important roles for DNP graduates.

Nurse Executives: For those who enjoy ‘running a tight ship’, nurse executives, sometimes called ‘chief nursing officers’, have to juggle patient care with fiscal and business decisions. Modern nurse executives may also need a finger on the pulse of operations, personnel, marketing and healthcare policy. ii

Check out partner schools such as Andrews University and Bradley University for several DNP- Nurse Leadership programs. South University also offers a DNP in information technology for the data driven nurse leader. Or look through a list of DNP in Nurse Administration programs.

Nurse Educators: Today’s nurse educators meld sharp clinical skills with an ability to demonstrate and teach what they know to future nurses. They often plan curricula, teach various nursing courses, publish research papers, write grant proposals, oversee internships, counsel students, and develop programs such as the DNP. iii

Check out partner schools with DNP Nurse Education programs such as University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, Northcentral University and Capella for Doctor of Nursing Education programs.

How to Become an APRN: 4 Great Roles for DNP Graduates

A DNP program could help registered nurses work towards an APRN specialty. To do so, the Consensus Model for APRN Regulation suggests that APRN education programs – including DNP programs – should follow a number of guidelines. v

  • Accreditation: Be accredited by a nursing or nursing-related accrediting organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)
  • Focus: Prepare graduates for one of the 4 APRN roles and 6 concentrations at the graduate level
  • Coursework: Has at least 3 separate graduate-level courses: (1) advanced physiology/pathophysiology, (2) advanced health assessment, and (3) advanced pharmacology
  • Scope of Practice: Prepare the graduate to promote health, assess, diagnose, treat and manage patient problems. This includes prescriptions, medical tests and so on
  • Licensure & Certification: Ensure the program’s clinical training and didactic coursework could prepare the graduate to pursue state licensure and national certification

Per the Consensus Model, there are four types of APRNs.

  1. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
  2. Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
  3. Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
  4. Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP).

‘Certified’ generally means that the nurse has met the licensure requirements handled by each state. Then, taken and successfully passed the certification exams that are related to the specific APRN role.

To become ‘certified’ by organizations such as The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and the American Nurses Credentialing center, one may also have to meet continuing education requirements.iv

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): Modern certified registered nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia and related care before, during, and after a variety of surgical, therapeutic, obstetrical and diagnostic procedures.

On the front line of patient care, CRNAs monitor vital signs and play a key role in medical teams. Part of the critical support they provide could branch into pain management, respiratory care, and emergency services (e.g. airway management).

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM): Certified Nurse Midwives provide care to women through their lifespan. From puberty and pregnancy to newborn care, sexual health, and menopause, nurse midwives often act as primary healthcare providers.

DNP-trained nurse midwives focus on holistic care. This includes gynecological exams, family planning services, and prenatal care. Not to mention, CNMs could deliver babies and take care of healthy newborns and their moms.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): Clinical nurse specialists provide direct patient care in one of many nursing specialties, such as psychiatric-mental health or pediatrics. As elite APRNs, a CNS could have a supervisory or management role in addition to a select area of clinical proficiency. Per the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NACNS), these areas include the following.

  • Specific Population Group (e.g. pediatrics, geriatrics, obstetrics)
  • Type of Practice Setting (e.g. critical care, ER, long-term care)
  • Disease or Medical Sub-Specialty (e.g. diabetes, oncology, cardiology, palliative)
  • Kind of Care (e.g. psychiatric, rehabilitation)
  • Type of Health problem (e.g. pain, wounds, stress)

Certified Nurse Practitioners: NPs – nurse practitioners – are advanced practice registered nurses. All NPs must complete a masters or doctoral degree program and have advanced clinical education beyond their initial professional registered nurse preparation. ii

As clinicians, NPs bring a holistic perspective to healthcare to patients and their families. They blend clinical expertise in diagnosing and treating health conditions with an added emphasis on disease prevention and health management.

Seven General Things NPs Might Do viii

  1. Assess patients
  2. Help patients to manage and/or improve health
  3. Discuss health promotion
  4. Provide primary and secondary care
  5. Prescribe medication (determined by state)
  6. Conduct research
  7. Order medical tests

DNP and Nurse Practitioner Specialties List 

APRNs, especially CNSs and CNPs, could further refine their skills to offer care (acute or primary) for one of six population groups. Any of these nurse practitioner specialties could make a great focus for a DNP degree.

  1. Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP)
  2. Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  3. Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)
  4. Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)
  5. Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
  6. Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

Some of the above major nurse practitioner specialties also branch out into areas such as oncology, palliative care, orthopedics, etc. Read through the list of DNP and nurse practitioner specialties below to see how you might parlay your strengths into a great advanced practice nursing career.

DID YOU KNOW?

Employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners is projected to grow 31 percent from 2016 to 2026!! That is much faster than average.v

Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner: Adult gerontology nurse practitioners, known in nursing circles as AGNPs, are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who work with adults. In this sense, ‘adult’ could mean young adults who are faced with aging-related challenges.

NPs who hold the title ‘GNP’ tend to deal primarily with the elderly. Either way, your patience and compassion could combine well with a desire to help the older adult manage pain, deal with dying and other matters.

AGNPs focus on two major arenas: acute care and primary care. Acute care AGNPs could provide care to acutely ill adults and might be found in hospitals (e.g. ICUs, ERs, surgical units, etc.) and outpatient specialty clinics. Primary care AGNPs might want to work in places such as hospices, home healthcare, and nursing homes.

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP): Family Nurse Practitioners – otherwise known as FNPs – are APRNs who provide primary care to patients of all ages through their lifespan. As trusted medical advisors, a large part of a DNP’s function is to promote health and wellness. This could be done via a team approach, or in private practice.

Beyond their ability to treat acute illness, manage chronic conditions and prescribe medication, FNPs sometimes function as patient advocates. For instance, they might help their patients navigate the ins and outs of healthcare systems.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP): Pediatric nurse practitioners – PNPs – provide holistic care to kids aged 21 and younger. From newborns to toddlers to adolescents, PNPs tackle a wide range of childhood health issues.

There are two groups of PNPs, so this DNP specialty offers some extra wiggle room to refine your area of practice still further. PC PNPs typically work in primary care settings such as schools or doctor’s offices. AC PNPs work in acute care environments such as hospitals. These are professional nurses who might take administer an immunization and the like.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP): Neonatal nurse practitioners and perinatal nurse practitioners are key nursing professionals in the time around childbirth, though each has a unique scope of duties.

NNPs usually care for newborn infants (neonates) who are at high risk or have critical health issues. Perinatal NPs tend to be responsible to help new moms and babies in the period “around birth” – i.e. pregnancy, labor, and postpartum care.

There are some fairly stringent requirements in terms of NNP licensure due the four levels of neonatal care: (1) well newborn nursery, (2) special care nursery, (3) neonatal intensive care unit – NICU, (4) regional NICU. It might be wise to consult your State Board of Nursing and your university to make sure the DNP program you want to enroll in could prepare you to pursue board certification.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP): Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners provide complete care to woman of any age through their lifespan. Though concerned with reproductive and gynecological care, they might see women through other issues. Perimenopause, menopause, prenatal, pregnancy and postpartum care are some other key concerns for WHNPs.

Tip: Nurse Midwifery programs are sometimes offered in tandem with a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Program. See partner schools Georgetown University for this double focus. Or, check into Nurse-Midwifery at Baylor College of Medicine and Frontier Nursing University, also partner schools.

Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP): Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) are APRNs who provide advanced psychiatric care to patients. Some PMHNPs might also further refine their skills to focus on sub-specialties such as adolescence, substance abuse, or geriatrics.

Sometimes a PMHNP is able to assess patients, diagnose mental illnesses/disorders, and prescribe medication. Much like a psychologist and social worker, there could be an element of psychotherapy. That said, PMHPs typically refer any patients with significant issues to other experts. And, as a nursing specialty, there is still the element of state certification.

Preparing for DNP and Nurse Practitioner Specialties

Each nursing graduate school could have a unique list of DNP and nurse practitioner specialties tracks, and nearby opportunities for practicum. Keep your goals in mind as you review options. To get matched with great DNP programs, go here.


[i] aacnnursing.org/Portals/42/DNP/DNP-Talking-Points.pdf?ver=2017-08-01-095127-023 | [ii] onetonline.org/link/summary/11-1011.00 | [iii] onetonline.org/link/summary/25-1072.00 | [iv] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm#tab-4 | [v] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm#tab-6

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