Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs

Our current healthcare system leaves a lot to be desired. If you want to improve it with meaningful suggestions that have a long-lasting impact, you genuinely care about maximizing the quality of clinical and patient care, and you are passionate about this profession and its future, you can help move it forward and completely transform it by earning a doctoral degree in nursing. Albeit seemingly a daunting task, it is a necessary and urgent step for the healthcare industry as a whole for more and more nurses to join higher levels of education and move into leadership roles. If you plan on being one of them, here is everything you need to know about obtaining and successfully using your DNP.

Who is this program for?

DNPs are a new phenomenon in nursing education designed for nurses who want to be game-changers in the industry. Whether it’s discovering new, life-changing research, taking up management positions and excelling at them or entirely redefining nursing practice, a doctoral degree is both revolutionary and highly requested in healthcare today. Currently, only 1% of the country’s nurses have this type of certification. The results are unsettling: serious reform and engagement are necessary to prevent the present system from collapsing.

Although working with a BSN or an MSN is a more comfortable position, it is also one that jeopardizes the future of nursing if you can advance towards a Ph.D. or DNP but choose not to. This is not to say that you must climb further up the academic ladder, but rather that you have the option to help save the system with your valuable input and dedication. Although it is a very time-consuming and draining task, earning your doctoral degree allows you to make real changes and drastically improve the shortcomings or even harmful aspects of healthcare. If you are passionate about this profession, this is the right next step for you.

Maybe your interest does not necessarily lie with the industry as a whole, but rather with advancing in your career or landing a high-paying, executive or management job. In this case, a DNP is the most valuable decision you can take. It will open up fresh and forefront professional opportunities, as well as grant you access to the most sought-after leadership positions. If your focus is on clinical practice, a DNP will consolidate and amplify all your previous experience, while at the same time addressing the nursing shortage. You will have the possibility of becoming an exceptional teacher and passing on what you have learned to the next generation of healthcare workers. Your income will increase immensely or even double, depending on your current specialization.

What can a Doctoral Degree in Nursing do for you?

Simply put, a DNP will help you become a key player in today’s nursing environment. You will master complex care delivery, management, and education, impact health outcomes, as well as translate the latest, most innovating research into practice. You will be able to become a mentor, coordinator, teacher or decision-maker. You will be able to implement powerful, long-lasting policies and procedures backed up by raw data. You will always be at the top of all the exciting future changes in healthcare.

Probably one of the most convincing benefits of investing more resources, energy and time into the highest levels of education is the extremely rewarding financial component of working as a DNP holder. You’re easily looking at an annual salary of $100,000 with a doctoral degree and a generous chance of improving that figure, depending on what type of role you want to pursue in the future.

A major benefit of earning a DNP (as opposed to a Ph.D.) is that you are not required to step away from the bedside unless you want to. You don’t need to abandon the nitty-gritty, lively part of nursing for academic and managerial tasks behind an office door. On the contrary, this certification will immerse you more fully in clinical care and ensure that you can put into practice the most recent science in the medical field. Of course, if you are more inclined towards executive roles, you can apply for those or make the switch in later years.

What are the requirements for the program?

The ideal candidate for a DNP program has a GPA of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale, practices as a Registered Nurse and has licensure in the state in which the future studies or work will occur. The admission criteria vary according to whether or not you have an MSN and if you are entering the program solely with a BSN. A minimal requirement is that you are a graduate of either a Master’s in Nursing or a Bachelor’s in Nursing program. Also, your RN licensure has to be unrestricted, active and accompanied by a goal statement that successfully articulates the direction, ramifications and motivation behind your academic and career path, as well as how pursuing a DNP will relate to or enhance your area of specialization.

Aside from a personal statement, you will need to submit transcripts from all the post-secondary institutions you attended, certification as an advanced practice nurse (where needed) and a curriculum vitae (CV) that details your expertise, previous roles and any resourceful qualifications or traits you have acquired from them, as well as your academic and work history and any relevant volunteer activities engaged in. You will need an undergraduate statistics course and knowledge of graduate research methods (if you studied at the Master’s level). Lastly, you must bring three letters of reference from mentors, teachers or colleagues attesting to your work experience and personal character, while also assessing your academic skills and leadership potential. Once the admission process has begun, you might be asked to attend an interview, either in-person or via telephone.

What will you learn?

A DNP program will teach you how to administer various organizational systems, use management theory in your nursing practice, evaluate and implement change in the healthcare industry, create and materialize business plans, and much more. You will learn about philosophical, theoretical and historical perspectives in ethics, crucial legal issues of advanced practice, hypothesis testing, statistical analysis, consumer health informatics, quality improvement and assessment of health policies. Additionally, you will study and attempt to solve the current health care crisis by focusing attention on topics like globalization, cost, public access and equity.

You will consistently find and examine improved methods of providing safe, timely and high-quality patient care in an efficient and holistic manner. After completing your studies, you will have the credentials and power to implement change and make a real difference in the current healthcare system. The program will teach you everything you need to know about business risk management and malpractice, leadership, federal practice regulations, organizational behavior, clinical application of theoretical models, data collection and analysis, advanced research techniques, population health and observational science. Your teachers will explain how to interpret epidemiological literature, handle regulatory initiatives, critically read published research, as well as tackle economical and legislative challenges to the healthcare system.

Without further ado, here are the main course outlines you will be concerned with during your studies:

  • Biostatistics
  • Epidemiology
  • Introduction to Clinical Ethics
  • Fundamentals of Comprehensive Care
  • Psychopharmacology for the Advanced Practice Nurse
  • Incorporating Genetics and Genomics in Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Advanced Research Methods
  • Health Policy
  • Quality Improvement in Health Care
  • Professional Leadership and Practice Change
  • Ethical and Legal Issues in Advanced Practice
  • Principles of Environmental Health
  • Translation and Synthesis of Evidence for Optimal Outcomes
  • Field Experience
  • Informatics for Practice

How long does the program take?

A DNP program takes anywhere between 3 to 5 years to complete. The number of hours required to earn certification vary according to the specialization and your level of healthcare education before admission. Another decisive factor is whether or not you want to dedicate your time entirely to your doctoral program. You can enroll in these studies full- or part-time if you have a job and want to keep working while you improve your qualifications or other responsibilities that prevent you from attending university classes for several hours every day. Remember that a part-time program will require four years to up to seven years to carry out.

How many clinical hours does the program entail?

A DNP program includes an extensive amount of clinical hours. However, the exact number depends on your specialization, chosen school and previous academic education and certifications acquired. For instance, if you are enrolling in the program as a BSN holder, you must complete up to 100 credit hours and a minimum of 1,000 clinical hours for most universities. If, on the other hand, you are joining an MSN to DNP track, then half that amount will suffice – 50 credit hours and at least 500 clinical hours. Unlike a Ph.D., which emphasizes research and management innovations, a DNP has a pervasive clinical focus that allows you to implement research, theory and leadership plans directly into the system, as well as to be intimately involved in when, where and how these changes are enforced.

Can you study for a DNP online?

Absolutely. A DNP might seem like an overbearing, burdensome and intimidating feat, but it is not an impossible task and certainly not one for which you have to sacrifice your career or family life. You can earn your doctoral degree from the comfort of your home – employers and superiors are remarkably open-minded and understanding towards online alternatives when it comes to DNP certifications. If you’re highly passionate about leadership or executive roles or a particular specialization that requires further education to practice, do not fret! You don’t have to lose everything you’ve worked so hard for until now or give up life for the next four to five years, or even take time off from work. You can manage this program while also performing excellently at your job and honoring all your other life commitments simultaneously.

An online option will not force you into your worst nightmare, i.e., leaving the front lines of nursing to sit behind an academic desk. You will still be fully involved and engaged with the nuts and bolts of healthcare, but also have the possibility to learn all about translating advanced, groundbreaking research into patient care plans, and actions and policies that improve quality and health outcomes. Pursuing the online route ensures that you do not have to make any compromises you don’t want to make, while at the same time allowing you to pursue leading positions, high-level education goals, and career paths or your dream job.

Combining interactive coursework, writing tests, advanced practice leadership and discussion groups, online programs offer outstanding DNP programs (whether you are interested in executive positions, family, geriatric and pediatric care or clinical work). Here is a list of the primary universities with the best and most resourceful online DNP programs available:

  • University of Arkansas
  • University of Central Florida
  • University of South Alabama
  • University of Colorado Denver
  • University of Iowa
  • Medical University of South Carolina
  • University of Massachusetts
  • University of Utah
  • Saint Louis University
  • Western University of Health Sciences
  • University of Nevada
  • Idaho State University
  • Augusta University
  • University of Oklahoma
  • Frontier Nursing University
  • University of Missouri
  • Purdue University
  • East Carolina University
  • Indiana State University
  • New Mexico State University
  • Delta State University
  • Texas Tech University
  • Gardner-Webb University
  • Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing

How much does the program cost?

Doctoral programs generally cost up to $2,000 per credit. The price for a standard DNP track is estimated to be between $70,000 and $75,000 per three semesters for full-time students. If you are interested in part-time, the costs will be somewhere around $55,000 figure. Online programs are no different. There are also several additional fees you need to be aware of. These include the matriculation fee (around $300), the non-refundable acceptance fee (varies according to school, but typically $600), the technology fee (another $600) and the lab fee (up to $400). To all of this, add the health insurance, book and supplies cost, health fee, travel expenses and loan fees. You can receive financial aid by checking with the school’s policies to see if you are eligible for student loans, grants, scholarships or private loans.

Is the DNP program accredited?

Yes, it is. But be very careful – The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) does not authorize research or certain doctoral programs (like a PhD or a DNS). They do, however, accredit clinical doctorates like a DNP program with organizational focus or one with an advanced practice nursing direct care focus. The same is true of The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN).

You should check if your desired university or school is regionally accredited. Additionally, make sure that the program you have chosen has State Board of Nursing Approval (which accepts programs that prepare students for NCLEX and ensures that you can receive your APRN licensure). For a particular specialization, look to see if your program has received official authorization from either The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA) or The American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation (ACME).

Where can I work with a DNP?

As a DNP holder, you will be able to conduct research, manage staff and educate patients, as well as create and improve procedures and policies. You will do these tasks in research facilities, surgical hospitals, physicians’ offices or other general medical settings. You can start your independent practice if you want. How close or far away from the kernel of nursing will depend on you: you can assist surgical procedures or administer business plans, work side-by-side with psychiatrists to diagnose and treat patients or accumulate data for research, provide care for future mothers or implement direct changes to the healthcare system. It is up to you. Here are some of the most lucrative and exciting job positions you can apply for with a DNP:

  • Nurse Practitioner (NP)
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Advanced Practice Nurse (APN)
  • Nurse Researcher
  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
  • Healthcare Manager
  • Director of Nursing Program
  • Director of Advanced Practice Providers
  • Chief executive/operating/clinical/information officer
  • Chief patient experience executive
  • Nurse Educator
  • Health Policy Specialist
  • Health Policy Advocate
  • Oncology APRN
  • Orthopedics APRN
  • Cardiology APRN
  • Radiology APRN
  • Endocrinology APRN
  • Hospice and Palliative Care APRN
  • Pediatric NP
  • Adult-Gerontology NP
  • Neonatal NP
  • Psychiatric/Mental Health NP
  • Family/Across the Lifespan NP
  • Pain Management APRN
  • Nephrology APRN
  • Emergency Care APRN
  • Forensics APRN
  • Community Health APRN

How much will I earn with a DNP?

With a doctoral program, you are easily looking at an average salary of $100,000. Of course, this depends on the specialization or leadership role you pursue. For example, nurse anesthetists are widely-known to be the most financially rewarded, while a nurse educator has the most modest salary out of all the other positions. The average salary for the latter is $174,876, whereas a Clinical Nurse Specialist typically makes around $97,000. Similarly, a Chief Nursing Officer is paid over $115,000 annually, while an APN earns an average salary of $133,341. Either way, job prospects for DNP holders are incredibly profitable and rewarding in the long run.