Best Online DNP Programs Without Clinicals | 2024

Discover the best online DNP programs that don't require clinicals. Learn about their prerequisites, requirements, costs, and salary expectations after graduation. Programs

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In the dynamic world of nursing education, online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs have become increasingly popular.

Also has a demand for more specialized and flexible educational pathways, resulting in a unique subset of these programs gaining traction: DNPs without traditional clinical hours. Designed to cater to a diverse cohort of nurses, these programs emphasize areas beyond direct patient care, such as administration, leadership, and informatics.

Learn more about the intricacies of these online DNP programs as we offer insights into their structure, prerequisites, benefits, challenges, and more. Whether you're a seasoned advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) or a nurse looking to pivot into non-clinical roles, you've come to the right place.

What Is an Online DNP Program Without Clinicals?

An online DNP program without clinicals is a specialized educational pathway designed for nurses who wish to pursue advanced degrees without the requirement of traditional clinical hours. These programs are tailored to accommodate nurses with varying experiences and aspirations, often emphasizing areas other than direct patient care, such as administration, leadership, or informatics.

How Is an Online DNP Without Clinicals Possible?

It is possible to obtain a DNP degree without clinical hours, but it depends on the specific program and the student's prior experience. Here's a breakdown:

DNP for APRNs: For nurses who are already APRNs such as nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, or nurse midwives, some DNP programs may not require additional clinical hours beyond their mandated 1,000 post-bachelor hours. This is because these nurses have already completed clinical hours during their master's-level education.

DNP for Non-APRNs, Non-Clinical Roles: Navigating a DNP program without APRN status unfolds a dynamic landscape, particularly tailored for nurses aspiring to non-clinical roles.

  • Variability in Clinical Requirements: DNP programs designed for nurses not interested in pursuing APRN roles offer a wide range of options regarding clinical requirements. While a basic understanding of clinical hours is generally expected, the specific quantity and nature of these hours vary significantly among programs. This variation is based on the unique goals and priorities of each educational institution and program. Programs tailor the clinical aspect to align with their specific objectives. Importantly, for DNPs who are interested in non-clinical career paths, clinical hours may not be mandatory or required.
  • Program Specializations in Informatics, Administration, and Leadership: Within the expansive domain of DNP for Non-APRNs, specialized tracks are curated for nurses with aspirations beyond direct patient care. These tracks encompass:
    • Informatics: Centered on harnessing technology and data to elevate healthcare practices, informatics programs equip nurses for roles involving health information systems and data management.
    • Administration: Tailored to cultivate managerial and organizational acumen, administration programs empower nurses for leadership roles in healthcare settings. This encompasses positions in healthcare management, policy development, and organizational leadership.
    • Leadership: DNP programs with a leadership focus nurture skills essential for impactful roles in healthcare leadership. This involves honing strategic decision-making, team management, and policy implementation prowess.

While these specialized programs may not mandate clinical hours, they consistently integrate experiential learning requirements. This encompasses immersive projects, collaborative initiatives, or customized internships aligned with each specialization, ensuring nurses gain practical skills finely attuned to their chosen non-clinical trajectory.

Best Online DNP Programs Without Clinicals

The following schools have been selected based on allnurses' methodology of surveying our readers to understand what they value most, with the addition of graduation rates, student-faculty ratio, price, mode, duration, and admission rates of hundreds of the most prominent nursing schools in the United States.

Duke University

Duke University's DNP Executive Leadership Specialty Certificate program is designed for advanced practice registered nurses who aspire to leadership roles in healthcare organizations. This program emphasizes the development of skills necessary for executive leadership positions, focusing on areas such as strategic planning, financial and human resource management, and quality improvement.

Program Highlights:

  • Tailored for APRNs
  • Emphasizes leadership skills for executive roles

Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University's DNP Executive Leadership Track is designed for nurses aiming to take on executive roles in healthcare settings. This program offers a blend of online and on-campus learning experiences, focusing on leadership, informatics, and healthcare policy.

Program Highlights:

  • Combination of online and on-campus sessions
  • Emphasizes leadership in healthcare settings
  • 2 years to complete

Johns Hopkins University

The DNP Executive Track at Johns Hopkins University is tailored for those looking to drive healthcare innovation and influence policy. This program provides students with the analytic skills and evidence-based practice principles needed to address significant healthcare problems in real-time settings. It also offers dual degree programs in partnership with other schools at Johns Hopkins.

Program Highlights:

  • Focus on healthcare innovation and policy influence
  • Opportunities for collaboration and rigorous scholarship
  • Dual degree options available
  • No clinicals required
  • Estimated tuition cost is $1,939 per credit

University of Alabama - Birmingham

The University of Alabama at Birmingham offers a Post-MSN to DNP Pathway for Nurse Executives. This program is a practice-focused terminal degree that prepares graduates to practice at the highest level in executive leadership positions in healthcare. The curriculum is delivered in a distance-accessible format with required on-campus intensives.

Program Highlights:

  • Focus on leading healthcare provision to populations and communities
  • Emphasis on improving quality and access to health services
  • Distance-accessible format with on-campus intensives

Prerequisites & Requirements

Online DNP programs without clinicals have specific prerequisites and requirements to ensure that students are adequately prepared for advanced nursing practice, even if they won't be completing traditional clinical hours. Here's a breakdown of common prerequisites and requirements:

  • Educational Background:
    • Bachelor's Degree: Some programs accept nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, allowing them to earn their DNP without first obtaining a master's degree.
    • Master's Degree: Many DNP programs are designed for nurses who already hold a MSN or a related master's degree, especially if they are APRNs.
  • Licensure and Certification:
    • RN Licensure: Almost all DNP programs require applicants to have an active and unencumbered RN license.
    • APRN Certification: For programs tailored to APRNs, current national certification in an advanced practice role may be required.
  • Professional Experience:
    • Clinical Experience: While these programs don't require additional clinical hours as part of the curriculum, they might still expect applicants to have a certain amount of prior clinical experience, especially if they are targeting APRNs.
    • Leadership or Administrative Roles: For DNP programs with a focus on leadership, administration, or informatics, experience in managerial or supervisory roles can be beneficial.
  • Academic Performance: Many programs have a minimum GPA requirement, often around 3.0 or higher, for undergraduate and/or graduate coursework.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Typically, programs ask for 2-3 letters of recommendation from professionals who can attest to the applicant's potential for success in a DNP program. These might come from current or former professors, supervisors, or colleagues.
  • Statement of Purpose or Personal Essay: This is an opportunity for applicants to explain their reasons for pursuing a DNP, their career goals, and why they're choosing a program without clinicals.
  • Resume or Curriculum Vitae (CV): A detailed account of the applicant's professional experience, certifications, honors, and any other relevant achievements.
  • Interviews: Some programs may require interviews, either in-person or via video conferencing, to assess an applicant's fit for the program.
  • Additional Requirements:
    • Depending on the program, there might be additional prerequisites such as background checks, drug screenings, proof of immunizations, or completion of specific courses (e.g., statistics).
    • It's essential to note that requirements can vary widely among institutions and specific DNP programs. Prospective students should thoroughly research individual programs to understand their specific prerequisites and application processes.

Pros & Cons of DNP Programs Without Clinicals

While online DNP programs without clinical training offer many advantages, especially for those looking to specialize in non-clinical roles, they also come with certain drawbacks.


  • Flexibility: Online programs allow students to learn at their own pace and on their own schedule, making it easier for working professionals to balance their studies with other commitments.
  • Accessibility: Students can access the program from any location, eliminating the need for commuting or relocating to be near a university.
  • Cost Savings: Without the need to commute or relocate, students can save on transportation, housing, and other related expenses. Additionally, some online programs may have lower tuition fees.
  • Tailored Learning: Online DNP programs without clinicals might be more tailored to nurses looking to specialize in areas like administration, leadership, informatics, or policy, rather than direct patient care.
  • Advanced Career Opportunities: Even without clinical training, a DNP can open doors to higher-level positions in healthcare administration, academia, research, and policy-making.


  • Lack of Hands-on Experience: Without clinical training, students might miss out on the practical skills and experiences that come from direct patient care, which can be crucial for certain advanced nursing roles.
  • Limited Networking Opportunities: While online programs offer virtual interactions, they might not provide the same networking opportunities as traditional, on-campus programs.
  • Self-Discipline Required: Online learning requires a significant amount of self-discipline and motivation. Without the structure of a traditional classroom, some students might struggle to keep up with their studies.
  • Perception: There's a possibility that some employers or colleagues might perceive an online degree without clinical training as less rigorous or comprehensive than traditional programs.
  • State Licensure and Certification: Some states or certifying bodies might have specific clinical hour requirements for licensure or certification, which could impact graduates of programs without clinical training.

Costs & Salary Expectations

Several factors can influence the costs and salary expectations of online DNP programs without clinicals.

Costs of Online DNP Programs Without Clinicals

  • Institution Type: Public universities often have lower tuition rates than private institutions. However, out-of-state students might pay higher fees at public schools.
  • Program Length: DNP programs typically range from 2-4 years. Longer programs might incur higher total costs.
  • Fees: Beyond tuition, there may be additional fees for technology, registration, graduation, and other administrative services.
  • Materials: Costs for textbooks, online resources, and other study materials can add up.
  • Residency Requirements: Some online programs have on-campus residency requirements, leading to travel and accommodation expenses.

On average, the tuition for online DNP programs can range from $500 to $1,500 per credit hour. Given that many DNP programs require between 35 to 75 credit hours, total tuition costs can range from $17,500 to $112,500. However, it's essential to research specific programs for precise figures and potential financial aid opportunities.

Salary Expectations of Online DNP Programs Without Clinicals

Earning a DNP without clinicals prepares professionals for diverse leadership positions in healthcare. These roles include:

  • Nurse Manager
  • Nurse Director
  • Chief Nursing Officer (CNO)
  • Nurse Educator
  • Healthcare Administrator
  • Nurse Informaticist

Additional career paths include positions like nurse researcher and nurse consultant.

Salary prospects vary based on the specific role, the healthcare organization's size and nature, and geographic region, among other factors. However, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the following annual salaries:

Furthermore, ZipRecruiter mentions that CNOs earn an average annual salary of $109,992, while nurse directors average $105,094 annually, and nurse informaticists earn $101,712.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: What kind of scholarly project do DNP graduates complete without clinical hours?

DNP graduates often undertake a scholarly project focused on quality improvement, public health, or population health. These projects allow students to demonstrate graduate-level competencies by addressing real-world healthcare issues, even without traditional practicum hours. They might analyze healthcare systems, develop innovative nursing practices, or propose policy changes, emphasizing their role in nursing leadership.

Q: Are online courses in DNP programs without clinicals considered less rigorous?

Online DNP programs, whether they include clinicals or not, maintain rigorous standards as they need to meet the competencies set by accrediting bodies like the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). These programs are comprehensive, requiring students to engage in in-depth study and practical application of their knowledge in healthcare settings.

Q: What are the typical admission requirements for these DNP programs?

Admission requirements for online DNP programs without clinicals often include a Bachelor's or Master's degree in nursing, active RN or APRN licensure, and a certain level of professional experience. Some programs may require a specialization or focus area, while others accept nurses with generalist backgrounds. Additional requirements can include a minimum GPA, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.

Q: Can I pursue a DNP program without clinicals on a part-time basis?

Yes, many institutions offer part-time tracks for DNP students to accommodate working professionals. These flexible options allow students to balance their studies with their nursing careers. However, part-time students should expect to spend a longer period, compared to full-time peers, to complete their degree.

Q: How do I ensure the online DNP program is accredited?

Before enrolling, verify the program's accreditation with recognized bodies such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Accreditation ensures the program meets high academic and professional standards, reflecting the quality of education necessary for advanced nursing roles.

Editorial Team / Admin

Erin Lee has 11 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in Critical Care, Procedural, Care Coordination, LNC.

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