Sarah Beattie, DNP, APRN (Editorial Team / Admin)
The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree stands as a paramount educational pathway designed to equip nurses with the essential skills and knowledge necessary to take on leadership roles within the healthcare industry.
It represents a pinnacle of graduate education, focusing on specialization within an advanced practice area, and empowers nursing professionals to become instrumental figures in shaping the future of healthcare.
There's an abundance of DNP programs available to prospective students, each with unique benefits depending on their preferences. If the pace of education is most important to you, read on to find the 10 fastest programs available, along with background information on degree requirements, salary expectations, and more.
What Is a DNP Degree?
A DNP degree is a post-master's, terminal degree in nursing. Graduate nurses can complete this high-level degree after achieving a master of science in nursing degree (MSN) and practicing as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), or through Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to DNP programs.
This doctorate is clinically focused compared to the Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD) degree, which is research-focused. The DNP-prepared nurse translates evidence from research into practice, advancing nursing by reducing the time gap between findings and implementation. They can also lead evidence-based practice quality improvement projects within healthcare systems to improve patient outcomes.
DNP coursework is designed to prepare nurses for the highest level of clinical nursing practice. Key components include:
- Advanced Practice Nursing: Expands on clinical skills for advanced patient care, including diagnostics and treatment.
- Healthcare Policy and Advocacy: Studies policies affecting healthcare and how to advocate for policy changes.
- Leadership and Management: Prepares nurses for leadership roles in healthcare settings, focusing on management skills and organizational dynamics.
- Evidence-Based Practice: Focuses on applying research to improve patient outcomes and healthcare practices.
- Healthcare Informatics: Teaches the use of information technology in healthcare for improved patient care and data management.
- Quality Improvement: Strategies for improving healthcare quality and patient safety.
DNP Clinical Training
DNP clinical training involves applying theoretical knowledge in real-world healthcare settings, emphasizing leadership and advanced nursing practice. Key elements include:
- Clinical Practicum Hours: A significant number of clinical hours are required, providing hands-on experience in various healthcare environments.
- Leadership Experience: Opportunities to lead projects or initiatives in clinical settings, enhancing management and decision-making skills.
- Capstone Project: A major project that demonstrates the application of evidence-based practice to a clinical problem, often involving research and implementation of a practice change.
- Interprofessional Collaboration: Training often involves working with other healthcare professionals, and fostering teamwork and collaborative skills.
- Focus on Specialization Area: Clinical training is tailored to the nurse's area of specialization, whether it's family practice, pediatrics, gerontology, etc.
The DNP curriculum is based on the American Association of Colleges of Nursing's eight essential competencies, which require 1,000 post-baccalaureate clinical hours, though the number of hours needed will vary depending on hours accumulated in previous education.
The degree and clinical practice hours center around the DNP scholarly project, also called a capstone project, aiming to answer a practice problem using evidence-based solutions. The DNP project is then shared with the nursing community so other nurses can implement similar changes or to spur ideas in others to advance nursing practice.
DNP Program Prerequisites and Requirements
Admission requirements for enrollment into a DNP degree program include a BSN degree and licensure as a Registered Nurse (RN). Some programs require taking the GRE, achieving a certain GPA, and work experience of at least one year (or more, depending on the institution). Many online degree programs have specific state nursing license requirements.
BSN to DNP programs take twice as long as MSN to DNP programs. When choosing the MSN to DNP pathway, students must have a master's degree in nursing. Most nurses choose to gain more work experience as an advanced practice nurse, but this is not necessary to move on to the DNP degree. Here are a few of these advanced practice roles to consider:
- Nurse Practitioner
- Clinical Nurse Specialist
- Nurse Midwife
- Nurse Anesthetist
Fastest DNP Programs in 2024
The following schools have been selected based on allnurses' methodology of surveying our readers to understand what they value most while selecting schools, with the addition of NCLEX pass rates, graduation rates, student-faculty ratio, price, mode, duration, and admission rates of hundreds of the most prominent nursing schools in the United States.
Arkansas State University, located in Jonesboro, Arkansas, offers multiple start dates for its DNP program. With three different specialty tracks to choose from, students are required to do a full-time study and three clinical internships that is equivalent to 540 clinical hours.
- Duration: 12 months (36-39 credit hours)
- Three Tracks to choose from: General, Leadership, and Education
- Fully online degree program
- Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing
- Cost: $16,416
The Chatham University DNP program in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, aims to assist nurses in advancing their competencies in their clinical specialties. Every online course runs for 15 weeks, with just a single short on-campus residency mandated upon program completion. This university achieved a top 100 ranking in the U.S. News & World Report's "2018 edition for the Best Online Programs". Tuition reduction and scholarships are also available.
- Duration: Full-time students can complete the program in 16 months (27 credit hours)
- Online degree option with a required in-person residency program
- Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
- Cost: $1,126 per credit
The Keiser University DNP program in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, aims to educate nurses to create healthcare change through interprofessional collaboration to improve healthcare quality and safety.
- Duration: 18 months
- Online degree program with a two-day doctoral residency on campus
- Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
The Purdue University Global DNP program is entirely online, though the central university, Purdue, is in West Lafayette, Indiana. Students obtaining the DNP degree will set themselves apart as clinical expert leaders to help fill the voids left by dwindling numbers of nurses and primary care providers. Completion of the degree necessitates a minimum of 1,000 clinical hours.
- Duration: 18 months (48-57 credit hours)
- Fully online degree program
- Accreditation: CCNE
- Cost: $700 per credit
Located in Cleveland, Mississippi, Delta State University's DNP program does offer full and part-time studies. This general DNP degree program allows students to work clinically or in leadership roles.
- Duration: 18 months for full-time students, and part-time options are available (31 credit hours) for Post Master's (FNP) DNP
- Online degree program with one to three on-campus visits per semester
- Accreditation: CCNE
- Cost: $8,605 for residents
The DNP program at Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina, prepares students to improve clinical outcomes, particularly in rural areas. Different degree pathways are available such as MSN to DNP, BSN to FNP/DNP, and BSN to PMHNP/DNP. There are also available options for graduate scholarships.
- Duration: Three semesters for full-time students, and part-time options are available (30 credit hours); 12 month program for those who already hold an MSN.
- Accreditation: CCNE
- Cost: $8,118
The University of Phoenix has locations in many different states. This online degree program offers one course every eight weeks, providing a manageable balance for full-time APRNs. You can start the program from a wide range of college start dates according to your availability and schedule.
- Duration: 20 months (31 credit hours)
- Fully online degree program
- Accreditation: CCNE
- Cost: $810 per credit/fixed tuition
West Coast University Orange County campus in California offers an in-depth accelerated education on creating sustainable change within complex health systems. In addition, the university provides career development workshops.
- Duration: 20 months (six trimesters)
- Online degree program with some onsite requirements
- Four additional courses for the Executive Leadership Track
- Accreditation: CCNE
- Cost: $1,074 per credit
Rasmussen University has many campus locations, including Florida. Students can choose from the Executive Leadership track, which would offer careers in non-clinical areas. A Public Health and Policy Track also offers careers as a public health expert or policy activist.
- Duration: 21 months for full-time students (48-63 credit hours)
- Online degree program
- 2 DNP Tracks: Executive Health Leadership Track, Public Health and Policy Track
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission, CCNE
- Cost: $695 per credit
10. Emory University
Emory University, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is nationally recognized as a leader in nursing education. The current post-masters DNP track is available as part-time learning, allowing students to continue working full-time.
- Duration: 2.5 years
- Online degree program with some required time on campus
- Accreditation: CCNE
- Cost: $1,957 per credit hour
Costs of DNP Programs
When considering the costs of DNP programs, various factors contribute to the overall financial commitment:
- Tuition: Tuition can vary widely depending on the institution (public vs. private) and residency status (in-state vs. out-of-state). For example, Emory University charges $1,987 per DNP credit hour while Rasmussen University charges $695.
- Housing: If on-campus or near-campus living is required, housing costs need to be factored in. This can vary greatly based on the program's geographic location.
- Books and Supplies: Includes textbooks, medical supplies, and other educational materials. Costs can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
- Technology Fees: For online or hybrid programs, there may be additional fees for technology, software, or online resources.
- Transportation: Costs for commuting to campus or clinical sites.
- Lab Fees: Some courses may have associated lab fees for materials or equipment use.
- Miscellaneous Fees: Includes application fees, graduation fees, and other administrative expenses.
- Living Expenses: Day-to-day living costs such as food, utilities, and personal expenses.
Salary Expectations of a DNP in 2024
Many variables determine a DNP's salary, including experience, employer, geographic location, and specialty. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the following data on nursing salaries:
- Nurse Anesthetists had the highest average salary at $205,770. The states with the highest average salaries were California, Connecticut, New York, and Illinois, with salaries ranging from $238,440 to $246,580.
- Nurse Practitioner's highest average salary was $124,680. The states with the highest average salaries were California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Nevada, with salaries ranging from $136,230 to $158,130.
- Nursing Administration in healthcare leadership positions had an average salary of $127,980. The states with the highest salaries were New York, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Delaware, with salaries ranging from $150,840 to $171,620.
- Nurse Midwives had an average salary of $122,450. The states with the highest average salaries were California, West Virginia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Oregon, with salaries ranging from $136,150 to $169,530.
- Nursing Education had an average salary of $84,180. The states with the highest average salaries were Massachusetts, Nevada, California, the District of Columbia, and New York, with salaries ranging from $100,200 to $106,690.
The demand for APRNs and graduate-level faculty members is continually increasing. The BLS estimates an occupational growth rate of 38% between 2022-2032, creating a competitive market for rising salaries.
Are DNP Programs Worth It?
Evaluating whether DNP programs are worth it involves considering various factors, including career goals, financial implications, and personal circumstances.
Pros of DNP Programs
- Advanced Career Opportunities: DNP graduates often have access to higher-level positions in healthcare, such as leadership, administration, and advanced clinical roles, which are not typically available to those with only a bachelor's or master's degree in nursing.
- Higher Earning Potential: With advanced qualifications, DNP graduates generally have the potential for higher salaries compared to their counterparts with lesser degrees.
- Enhanced Clinical Skills: DNP programs provide advanced clinical training, which can lead to improved patient care and outcomes.
- Leadership and Policy Influence: The DNP curriculum often includes leadership and healthcare policy, equipping graduates to play influential roles in shaping healthcare practices and policies.
- Contribution to the Nursing Profession: DNPs contribute significantly to the nursing profession through research, education, and practice, enhancing the overall quality and effectiveness of healthcare.
Cons of DNP Programs
- Cost and Financial Investment: DNP programs can be expensive, leading to substantial student debt, which may take years to pay off.
- Time Commitment: These programs are rigorous and time-consuming, often requiring a significant commitment that can impact personal and professional life.
- Opportunity Cost: Pursuing a DNP may mean sacrificing time and potential income that could have been earned if working instead of studying.
- Market Saturation: In some areas, the market for DNP-prepared nurses can be saturated, making it challenging to find positions that fully utilize their advanced degrees.
- Stress and Burnout: The demands of both the program and subsequent high-level positions can lead to increased stress and potential burnout.
Ultimately, DNP programs offer significant opportunities for professional advancement and personal growth in the nursing field, but they also require a considerable investment of time, money, and effort. The decision to pursue a DNP should be based on individual career goals, financial situation, and the ability to commit to a demanding educational program.
The significance of enrolling in an accredited Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program cannot be overstated, given the numerous benefits it affords:
- Educational Rigor: Accreditation is a mark of educational excellence. Programs that have earned this status undergo continuous scrutiny to ensure they meet established standards in their educational offerings, including curriculum relevancy, faculty expertise, available resources, and the quality of clinical instruction.
- Prerequisites for Professional Credentials: The path to acquiring advanced nursing certifications and state licenses commonly runs through accredited institutions. Absence of accreditation may impede one's qualification for critical certifications or state licenses, which serve as the bedrock for professional practice.
- Advancement in the Job Market: Graduates of accredited programs are often given preference, if not exclusively sought after, by potential employers. Such a preference is rooted in the confidence that the applicant's education aligns with standards acknowledged on a national level.
- Credit Recognition: Credits from an accredited DNP program are more likely to be recognized and accepted by other educational institutions, an essential consideration for those who may contemplate further academic pursuits, such as a doctoral degree in nursing or related fields.
- Professional Standing: The accomplishment of graduating from an accredited program is a testament to one's dedication to excellence in nursing practice. It signals to peers, superiors, and patients alike that the graduate has been educated and trained under a framework that satisfies the stringent national standards.
- Financial Aid: Often, eligibility for federal financial aid, which includes grants and loans, is contingent upon accreditation. This is a pivotal consideration for students requiring financial support to further their academic and professional aspirations.
Considering these factors, prospective DNP students are encouraged to verify that their chosen programs are backed by accreditation from reputable agencies such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
APRN DNP Scope of Practice
State-mandated regulations distinctly map out the professional scope and independence of DNP-educated Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), which includes specialties such as nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse anesthetists. These statutes are critical in defining the breadth of practice and the level of autonomy afforded to those with an APRN title.
Individuals pursuing a DNP degree must conduct a detailed analysis of the regulatory structures within their intended states of practice. It's important to recognize that not all DNP educational programs may meet the diverse regulatory demands of each state. Thus, aligning one's DNP educational pathway with career ambitions requires a thorough grasp of the specific state regulations that pertain to the APRN specialty of choice. Such an understanding is imperative to ensure that your DNP educational experience is in sync with the professional goals you aim to achieve after graduation.
Essential elements to consider for DNP-prepared APRNs are:
- State-Specific Licensing: Obtaining the appropriate state license is a fundamental step to initiate practice. This often means applying for a new license when transitioning to practice in a different state.
Differences in Practice Authority: The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) classifies states according to the level of practice autonomy provided to APRNs:
Full Practice Authority: In these states, APRNs have the latitude to perform a wide range of tasks, including patient evaluations, diagnostics, and the creation of treatment plans, which encompasses prescribing medication, all without the need for physician oversight. A couple of states that grant full practice authority include Colorado and Maryland.
New Mexico, Oregon, New York, Maine, and Washington.
- Reduced Practice Authority: States under this category impose limitations on APRN roles, often requiring formalized collaborative agreements with other healthcare professionals for delivering patient care. Ohio and Oregon are examples of reduced practice states.
- Restricted Practice Authority: In these states, APRNs are mandated to operate under the direct supervision of another healthcare professional. States such as Tennessee and Oklahoma have these restrictions in place.
- Full Practice Authority: In these states, APRNs have the latitude to perform a wide range of tasks, including patient evaluations, diagnostics, and the creation of treatment plans, which encompasses prescribing medication, all without the need for physician oversight. A couple of states that grant full practice authority include Colorado and Maryland.
- Specialty Certifications: While a state license authorizes general practice, holding a certification in a particular specialty defines the limits of practice within that healthcare niche.
- Mandatory Continuing Education and Licensure Renewal: States individually mandate the requirements for continuing education and periodic license renewals, which are integral to maintaining active practice.
- Prescriptive Authority: The legal ability to prescribe medications, including controlled substances, varies from state to state, with some offering full prescriptive rights and others imposing certain conditions or restrictions.
Grasping these regulatory frameworks is a critical step for prospective DNP-prepared APRNs who know they want to work at their full-practice authority.
Q: Is getting the DNP degree worth it?
A: It depends on your career goals. Some employers require a DNP degree, depending on the position. The DNP degree advances knowledge and leadership skills to create small and large-scale projects to improve patient care and outcomes. Often, the DNP degree will increase your salary and open doors for other opportunities.
However, keep in mind that you can always return to complete the additional courses required for a DNP if you decide to start with an MSN. Pursuing an MSN degree shouldn't be seen as inferior, as its value depends on your career trajectory and personal aspirations. Therefore, it's wise to explore MSN options before fully committing to a DNP program.
Q: What is the difference between a PhD and a DNP degree?
A: The PhD degree is a research degree. There is formal research working to answer a question about a clinical problem. The DNP degree translates those findings into practice. DNP students analyze the best available evidence and use this to solve a problem at the practice level.
Q: Can I get the DNP degree and still work as an APRN?
A: Yes! The required coursework for the DNP degree is challenging but designed for working nurses. Many programs offer online, on-campus, or a hybrid approach. How fast you want to complete the program will depend on how much time you need to commit, but often students continue to work full-time. Your APRN clinical experience is what you will use to develop your DNP scholarly project.
Q: Can I pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) if I'm not a nurse?
A: Yes, it's absolutely achievable to pursue a DNP without prior nursing experience. However, several essential factors merit consideration. Thoroughly researching DNP programs tailored for non-nurses that align with your career goals is crucial. If you're aiming to bypass conventional nursing pathways like ADN and BSN, direct-entry MSN or DNP programs provide specialized options for individuals from non-nursing backgrounds seeking advanced practice roles.
Q: I already have my MSN can I get my DNP online without additional clinicals?
Yes, but there's an important distinction to note. APRN DNP programs require 1,000 clinical hours, a requirement not present in MSN-prepared APRN programs. Therefore, many online pathways without clinical components focus on leadership and administrative preparation. However, if you're seeking an additional specialty certificate, you may have the option to take online DNP courses with clinical components offered near your location
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