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Doctor of Nursing Practice(DNP)

Career Overview

How Long Does Becoming a DNP

36 Months

Average salary: DNP

$117,670 / Year



DNP is a terminal degree for nursing. As one of the highest levels of nursing education, it provides a various perks and professional opportunities. Considering the added cost and effort, however, is it ultimately worth it? Read on to learn all this and more.


How to get your DNP

As you can imagine, acquiring one requires a ton of professional and financial commitment. To help you decide if a DNP is worth it or not, this article will go over how to acquire your DNP, while listing the costs and benefits.


What is a DNP? 

As a terminal degree, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) represents the apex of training and knowledge in your chosen field. Earning this degree opens the door for the highest organizational and leadership roles in healthcare, such as Nurse Administrator and Clinical Nurse Leader. IDNP programs provide extensive training in statistics, data analysis, evidence-based practice, systems management, and more. These advanced skills give students the tools to build on current healthcare policies with creative thinking and problem-solving. 


Alternatively, students can choose to become Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). There is a growing sentiment that the DNP nurse’s higher-level knowledge and leadership skills will be required to adapt to a dynamic healthcare landscape. Soon, Nurse Anesthetists, Certified Nurse Midwives, Nurse Practitioners, and more will be required to own a DNP at the bare minimum. 


Whether you prefer hands-on clinical practice or an administrative/leadership role depends on your career goals. No matter what a DNP nurse chooses, they will be expected to operate at the highest possible level of nursing. 


What are the advantages of a DNP? 


Acquiring your DNP is a massive personal, professional and financial investment. However, the benefits are undeniably significant: 


  • Increased career flexibility: DNP nurses gain access to a number of different, highly-demanded healthcare professions. They can provide higher-level clinical practice as APRNs. Some nurses opt to become nurse educators who teach and prepare LPNs and RNs for entry-level practice or CEUs. They can even take a number of leadership or administrative roles, such as Chief Nurse Officer. 

  • Significantly higher salaries: In 2018, a salary survey was conducted by Lippincott Solutions. On average, nurses with DNPs earned around $7000 more than MSN nurses, annually. 

  • Increased job security: While nursing demand has increased overall, demand for a DNP’s services has soared. They are the only HCPs with the education and training needed to take up some of the most important roles in the industry. Whether they are practicing APRNs, working in organized leadership roles, or contributing to healthcare policy, replacing their services is easier said than done. 

  • More career advancement: To achieve “magnet’ status, a hospital’s staff needs to reach a certain level of nursing education. To meet that quota, hospitals are actively looking for DNP nurses to fill roles as nursing managers or nursing leaders. This gives DNP nurses even more employment opportunities and chances to advance their careers. 

  • Increased independence: In 23 states, DNP nurses can set up their own private practices. Though it depends on the area, this degree is perfect for HCPs who want to add professional freedom and autonomy. 

  • Shifting minimum requirements: As early as 2004, when the American Association of Colleges of Nursing voted to move APRN requirements from a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) to DNP. Though MSNs are currently still sufficient for many APRNs, they are slowly but surely moving towards making the DNP the minimum degree requirement.


DNP Program Types 

Students can choose from a number of DNP tracks. There are more traditional full-time on-campus programs, part-time offerings, and online classes for students who want to study while working. There are even accelerated programs, for those who can handle the compressed workload. What works best for you will depend on both your situation and your prior educational background. 


  • MSN-to-DNP: These programs are offered for MSN graduates and they take 1 ½ to 2 years to complete. They tend to build on your graduate curriculum with advanced training in your specialization, along with advanced lessons on evidence-based practice, quality management, and systems leadership.

  • BSN-to-DNP: This offering extends to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) graduates with at least one year of working experience. Students are expected to fulfill extensive clinical rotations on approved sites close to their houses, but they can complete their credit hours and research requirements remotely. These programs tend to last 3 to 4 years. 

  • RN-to-DNP: This track serves as a 4 to 6-year program for Registered Nurses with at least a BSN. Some schools accept RNs with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing, who can “bridge” over the missed curriculum requirements with extra coursework. These bridge programs offer a blend of condensed on-campus requirements, extensive clinical rotations, and online classes. 



All DNP schools are required to follow the framework of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) outlined in the Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Practice Nursing. Though schools can differ, their curriculum must meet a number of standards and foundational core competencies. These were set with the goal of raising nursing practice to the level of other healthcare areas like Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Pharmacy, or Doctor of Physical Therapy. This outline stresses the need for DNP nurses to promote health, push for positive change and raise the bar for the facilities they work in. 


Along with specialized competencies in their particular areas, A DNP program is expected to emphasize eight foundational core competencies:


  • Organizational and Systems Leadership for Quality Improvement and Systems Thinking

  • Interprofessional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes

  • Healthcare Policy for Advocacy in Healthcare

  • Information Systems/Technology and Patient Care Technology for the Improvement and Transformation of Healthcare

  • Clinical Prevention and Population Health for Improving the Nation’s Health

  • Advanced Nursing Practice

  • Scientific Underpinnings for Practice (Human Biology, The Science of Therapeutics, Psychosocial Sciences, Science of Complex Organizational Structures, Philosophical, Ethical and Historical Issues Inherent to The Development of Science)

  • Clinical Scholarship and Analytical Methods for Evidence-Based Practice


The AACN suggests that programs have a minimum of 1,000 hours of post-baccalaureate experience. This gives students the chance to receive feedback from experts within nursing and other areas in the practice environment. In the end, there is usually a final project where students showcase everything they learned and their expertise in an advanced specialty within nursing practice.


As for the specialty competency, DNP programs focus either on Advanced Practice Nursing Direct Care (Nurse Practitioner, Certified Nurse Midwife, Clinical Nurse Specialist) or  Aggregate/Systems/Organizational focus (Nursing and Health Informatics, Management Health Policy, Organizational/Professional Leadership). 


Within these focuses, students can go after a number of popular courses. Those who opt for an organizational focus can study State and National Policies, Systems, Populations, and Organizations. APRN-focused students can study Advanced physiology/pathophysiology, Health/physical assessment, and Advanced Pharmacology. 


All DNP programs train their students to tackle a complex, dynamic healthcare environment. With the highest possible level of training and knowledge, you will be tasked with advancing the field of healthcare and improving patient outcomes. No matter what path you choose, much will be expected of you.



DNP programs build on prior education with highly advanced training and education specific to your field of study. No matter the focus or guiding principles, all programs accredited under the AACN have to meet a number of standards. This includes, but is not limited to: 

  • 1,000 hours of post-baccalaureate practice experience

  • 36 months worth of full-time study (or 12 months of additional full-time study, for Nurses who earned their MSN)

  • A final project that is a comprehensive demonstration of what you have learned, throughout your studies. This could take the form of a practice portfolio, research, pilot study, quality improvement project, and more. 



In 2020, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics projected that an RN earns $75,330 annually. Meanwhile, Nurse Practitioners, Certified Nurse Midwives and Nurse Anesthetists were estimated to earn an average of $117,670 per year. Even the lowest 10% of APRNS earn $84,120, which is still higher than the RN average. Whether they practice clinically or take on non-clinical positions, DNP nurses earn significantly more than your regular nurse. 


Because they’re highly demanded and hard to replace, DNP nurses are also offered handsome benefits from their employers. Though it will vary depending on the facility, these packages typically include sick leave, on-site childcare, paid leave, bonuses and more. 



Even within the field of nursing, the outlook for DNP nurses is bright. Demand for them will be extremely high, in the wake of nursing shortages. In 2026, there is expected to be a vacancy of around half a million RN positions. Additionally, the US Department of Health and Services reports that 55% of nurses in America currently hold a BSN or higher. 


There is also a looming nursing shortage, which will boost the demand for DNPs further.  Both the Association of American Medical Colleges and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing believe that APRNs with DNPs will be invaluable in filling that gap. Unlike regular RN, DNP nurses will have the skills required to provide healthcare services in the areas that depend on physicians. 


DNP vs other RN Degrees


Compared to registered nurses with ADNs, BSNs, or MSNs, DNP nurses are offered a wider breadth of opportunities. This includes higher pay, more career opportunities, responsibilities, and flexibility. They can choose between advanced direct care and other fields of work such as research, education, policy-making, consultation services, and lead health systems. 


The added autonomy is also a major plus. DNPs can eventually take up high leadership positions in the healthcare industry. If that does not appeal to you, you can also take on a physician-like role. If you live in one of 23 states, you can set up independent clinical practices where you prescribe medications, create treatment plans, and provide diagnosis and treatment to a number of different conditions. With a DNP, the sky's the limit. 


Online DNP Programs


If you are looking to pursue your DNP while you are working, then online classes are perfect for you. There is a multitude of high-quality online classes that take a shorter time to complete, which makes it easier for you to study and work at the same time. Provided that they are accredited by The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), then they are just as legitimate as any traditional DNP program. 


Compared to more brick-and-mortar academic offerings, online education comes with a host of benefits.

  • Added flexibility lets students pursue their education while accommodating their professional and personal obligations. 

  • Can be finished faster than a normal program

  • There is no commute or enrollment waiting list

  • Students can choose between part-time or full-time studies. 

  • Eligible for financial aid programs

  • Accessible regardless of location and less expensive than traditional DNP programs


Of course, you do not want to choose just any online program. You want to factor in the cost, reputation, and personal convenience. For example, some programs require a certain number of in-person class hours or clinical rotations at a specific facility. If you live far away and cannot accommodate this, it is best to look elsewhere. 


DNP Tuition Costs


DNP tuition fees depend on factors like location,  whether it is online or traditional, whether it is a private or public school, and more. With 357 DNP programs in America and 106 in planning stages, students can choose from a number of programs to determine which one best fits their situation. 


On average, in-state online programs cost $27,745. In 2017, the most expensive programs could get as expensive as $60,000, while cheaper offerings hover at around $12,000


Financial Aid 

Paying out of pocket for your DNP is impractical for most people. Depending on whom you work for, you may avail of a tuition reimbursement program. If that is not an option, students can choose from a number of different financial aid programs. Enrolling in these will help you offset some of the costs of education. This includes, but is not limited to:  


Grant: A grant is a form of financial assistance that does not require repayment. Most commonly, they are given out by the federal government, state governing bodies, and colleges. Alternatively, you can also find grants being offered by charity organizations, private companies, individuals, and more. 


Scholarships: Like grants, a scholarship is a form of financial assistance that does not require repayment. Both private and public programs are available for aspiring DNP students. You can do your research online to find suitable scholarships, but listed below are some of the more high-profile examples.

  • A.T. Anderson Memorial Scholarship: $2000 provided for the academic year. Available to Native American students if they have a GPA of 3.0, are pursuing their STEM studies, and are members of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. 

  • Johnson & Johnson/AACN Minority Nurse Faculty Scholars Program: To increase diversity in healthcare, J&J offers $18,000 in scholarship funds annually to five scholars pursuing a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral Degree

  • AORN Foundation Scholarships: Provided by the Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses, this scholarship is awarded to RNs continuing their perioperative nursing education by either pursuing their BSN, MSN or DNP. 

  • AfterCollege/AACN $10,000 Scholarship Fund: $10,000 in scholarship funds are offered to students pursuing their bachelor’s, master's, or doctoral degrees. There are special considerations for aspiring graduate students aiming to be nurse educators, as well as students completing an RN-to-BSN, RN-to-MSN, and/or an accelerated track. 


Student Loan: This is the most common form of student financial aid. Unlike scholarships or grants, you eventually have to repay your loan costs. Since these loans also incur interest, you usually end up paying more than the initial loan. The exact terms will depend on a tender and a number of other factors. Among the various offers, federal loans are the most common and reliable. Since they are funded by the US Department of Education, interest rates are lower and there are less to no hidden fees. You can find out what loans you qualify for by sending your FAFSA application. If you are in significant financial need, you may qualify for a loan that does not gain interest until you graduate college. 


Meanwhile, private student loans are offered by banks, credit unions, educational institutions, and other independent entities. These loans are usually not subsidized and their interest rates are significantly higher. Because of the potential added cost, you have to shop around with high scrutiny. Instead of taking offers at face value, evaluate hidden costs, what happens if you cannot pay later and how repayments are structured.


Payment Plans: If you want to pay for your DNP in cash, you can inquire about your school’s payment plans. You can inquire about this and any financial aid programs to your school. 




You can find DNP nurses in many of the facilities where RNs work. Thanks to their advanced and specialized training, however, they most commonly take up high-level positions in facilities such as: 

  • Healthcare Administration

  • Healthcare Policy Advocacy

  • Autonomous Practices

  • Academia

  • Internal Medicine Practices

  • Hospitals

  • Specialty Practices


Meanwhile, nurses who focus on APRN direct care can work in any healthcare specialization. This includes (but is not limited to): 

  • Labor and Delivery

  • Anesthesia 

  • Adult-Gerontology

  • Psychiatry

  • Surgery

  • Radiology

  • Emergency

  • Hospice

  • Pediatrics

  • Women’s Health 

  • Oncology

  • Home Health

  • Family Medicine

  • Geriatric Care


DNP Program Requirements


Specific pre-enrollment requirements depend on the program and its specific focus. With an increasing number of positions requiring a DNP, however, settling for the bare minimum is not an option. The enrollment process will only become more competitive as the number of applicants grows. You want to go the extra mile in fulfilling your general requirements. 


Typically, most programs will ask for the following: 


  • Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (bare minimum) 

  • Active U.S Registered Nurse license in good standing, acquired in your state of practice

  • Minimum 1 to 2 years of nursing experience

  • Proof of completion for prerequisite courses

  • Letters of recommendation

  • Completed application with all the necessary fees and documents (ex. Transcript, resume, personal statement) 

  • Interview

  • GRE scores

  • Minimum GPA


Considerations before DNP enrollment 


DNP programs are a huge investment, personally and professionally. You should only commit to this path if you are 100% sure that you are absolutely ready. Before you decide, you need to consider the following:


  • Competitive Enrollment Process: Over the years, the number of DNP applicants has steadily increased. As a result, enrollment has become increasingly competitive as a larger number of applicants compete for limited slots. Professionally, personally, and academically, you have to go above and beyond for you to stand out in such a cramped field. 

  • Time Commitment: Whether you go by the traditional routes or a more accelerated path, acquiring your DNP will take a considerable amount of time. Acquiring the training and education necessary is a lengthy process, and you have to be prepared to make that commitment. 

  • Pricey Tuitions: DNP programs are among the priciest in all of healthcare. Thankfully, there are a number of financial aid programs available to you. Thanks to the higher salaried positions available to DNPs, nurses can often make up the costs of their tuition fairly quickly. 


Enrollment Steps


  • Do your research: You want to make sure that you are choosing the best program for you. Look into programs that interest you and consider their location, reputation, competitiveness, and cost. At a bare minimum, you want to ensure that they are accredited by either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). As soon as you have identified a handful of good schools, make a checklist of their application requirements and deadlines. 

  • Prepare documents: Collect all relevant documentation, such as proof of graduation for submission, letters of recommendation, personal statements, and more. 

  • Apply to your accredited DNP programs of choice.

  • Apply for financial aid, if necessary.


Go out there! 


You want to be exactly sure that acquiring your DNP lines up with your personal and professional goals. This degree allows you to take on more responsibility, higher salaried positions, respect from your peers, and a more direct hand in improving healthcare and patient outcomes. If you are confident that this is what you want, then the investment you make in yourself will be more than worth it. 


DNP vs PhD

MSN nurses have a choice between: a Doctor of Nursing Practice and a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D.). While both are terminal degrees for APRNs, their focus differs significantly. Broadly speaking, PhDs are more research focused while DNPs have a greater emphasis on clinical practice. Is one inherently better than the other? Which degrees fit best for certain nursing careers? Read on to find out. 




Nurses with a DNP specialize in providing the best possible nursing care in clinical settings. As leaders in advanced nursing practice, DNP nurses are expected to utilize evidence-based practice and high-level training to improve patient outcomes and take up leadership positions in both clinical and academic facilities. 


Though APRNs like Nurse Practitioners can practice with Master’s Degrees, this is gradually changing. Organizations like the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) have pushed to make DNPs the minimum educational requirement for APRNs, in the past. Due to an increasingly complex and changing healthcare landscape, the advanced knowledge and training of DNPs have been deemed necessary to adapt. 


In short, the benefits of the DNP according to the AACN are thus: 


  • The advanced knowledge necessary for improving patient care outcomes and nursing practice as a whole 

  • Improved leadership skills 

  • More clinical instruction faculty 

  • The advanced competencies required to handle increasingly complicated leadership, faculty, and clinical roles. 


DNP Tasks and Responsibilities 


While DNPs can work in a hands-on clinical setting, their main concern is adding to the healthcare knowledge pool in a substantial manner.

For the most part, clinical DNPs can expect to carry out the following: 

  • Ordering diagnostic tests, evaluating the results, and interpreting them

  • Overseeing general patient care

  • Recording and analyzing diagnostic data, symptoms, and medical history

  • Giving prescriptions for medications

  • Educating and counseling patients, their families, and/or caretakers on healthy lifestyle choices and care plans 

  • Utilizing and maintaining medical equipment 

  • Carrying out physical examinations

  • Providing care for chronic, acute, and common illnesses/conditions.

  • Working together with specialists, physicians, and other healthcare professionals


Outside the clinical setting, DNPs can find work in education, leadership/administration, or research. In this setting, tasks include: 

  • Developing or updating healthcare policy and procedure 

  • Utilizing informatics to lead to improvements in healthcare outcomes

  • Providing healthcare education for their patients and the public 

  • Improving healthcare outcomes with innovative and creative solutions 


A DNP’s autonomy heavily depends on state policy. In 23 states, DNPs have “full practice authority,” that lets them operate without doctor oversight. For states with restricted practice or reduced practice, DNP nurses require approval from the doctor for certain decisions regarding patient care. You can find a map that charts the practice authority for every state here. Meanwhile, DNPs can prescribe medications in 50 states and apply controlled substances in 49 states. 




More advanced education has a strong correlation with higher salaries. In 2020, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics projected that Nurse Practitioners, Certified Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Anesthetists were estimated to earn an average of $117,670 per year. Even the lowest 10% of APRNS earn $84,120, which is still higher than the RN average. Unfortunately, the report did not make distinctions between APRN nurses with MSNs and ones with DNPs.


Per Payscale, the current median pay for DNP nurses sits at $107,000. What will best determine your actual salary, however, is the profession and specialization you choose. Most Chief Nursing Officers will earn more than most Nurse Educators, for example. In general, DNP-certified nurse anesthetists, hospital administrators, and nurse midwives are the highest paying professions. The BLS placed the Nurse Anesthetist’s median annual salary at $183,580, while Nurse Midwives earn around $111,130 annually. 


Best DNP Schools, Program Length, and Curriculum 


US News & World Report currently ranks the following as the top DNP programs in America: 


  1. John Hopkins University

  2. Duke University

  3. Rush University

  4. University of Washington 

  5. Columbia University


Though subject to change, John Hopkins, Duke, and Rush have been at or near the top over the past few years.  John Hopkins has the largest student population at around 800, while Duke and Rush hover at the 200 range. 


You can opt to take traditional or online classes, depending on your situation or preferences. Note that DNP programs usually require you to have your BSN and MSN degree. There are programs that accept students with no MSN, but they are the exception. Program length will depend on your school and whether you study full-time or part-time. DNP programs can take just 1 year to complete, to as many as 4 years. You are usually expected to complete 30-40 credit hours and 1,000 clinical hours. Sometimes, a percentage of your MSN clinical hours will carry over. 


As for classes, you can expect to take up the following: 


  • Advanced Health Assessment and Measurement

  • Advance Leadership

  • Advance Healthcare Policy

  • Clinical Pharmacology

  • Health Promotion and Risk Reduction Across the Lifespan

  • Clinical Information Systems

  • Research

  • Statistics

  • Clinical Reasoning

  • Epidemiology

  • Evidence Appraisal

  • Project Development

  • Clinical Information Systems

  • Ethics for advanced nursing practice


DNP Requirements


Specifics will differ from school to school, but most schools will ask for the following requirements from you: 


  • MSN from an accredited nursing school 

  • Active U.S Registered Nurse license in good standing, acquired in your state of practice

  • APRN License

  • Minimum 1 to 2 years of nursing experience

  • Proof of completion for prerequisite courses

  • Letters of recommendation

  • Completed application with all the necessary fees and documents (Transcripts from previous colleges/universities, resume, personal statement, and/or essay) 

  • Interview with faculty

  • If needed, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) 

  • Minimum master GPA of 3.0 or higher 





Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing is a degree that primarily focuses on research for the sake of progressing nursing science. For the longest time, this was considered the best possible terminal degree for nurses, and at a time was even the only doctorate option available. This degree best suits nurses inclined towards research and teaching. 


Tasks and Responsibilities 


Ph.D. Nurses can work as bedside nurses, but they do not have any additional, advanced tasks and responsibilities (Unless they become CRNPs). Instead, most nurses with a Ph.D. tend to work as educators or researchers within the healthcare space. Nurse researchers can expect to carry out the following tasks: 


  • Determining scientific questions, and answering them with thorough research

  • Collecting scientific data, analyzing your findings, and publishing detailed reports 

  • On-the-job training and supervision for other nurses, scientists, and laboratory staff. 

  • Writing grant proposals and applications for research funding 

  • Writing nursing articles and research reports for the nursing journals, medical professional journals or other publications

  • Presenting your scientific findings in gatherings like conferences or meetings

Meanwhile, nurse educators work in academic institutions like colleges or universities. There, they are tasked with: 


  • Planning out and revising nursing curriculum and material

  • Carrying out lectures to nursing students (undergraduate or graduate) 

  • Developing study programs and writing/appraising class materials like textbooks

  • Speaking at nursing conferences, professional meetings, and more 

  • Evaluating student performance in class, clinical rotations, or laboratory work and grading them appropriately 

  • Examining class outcomes and adapting their approach accordingly

  • Researching and publishing scholarly writings

  • Writing grant proposals

  • Providing career advice and counseling to students regarding their future career prospects


Ph.D. Program Length And Curriculum 


Ph.D. programs have a total of 45 to 70 credit hours. Full-time study lasts a minimum of 3 years, but most students take 5 to 7 years. While there is no practical direct patient care, you are expected to complete a dissertation. Dissertations are long, complex research papers that are requirements for all Ph.D. degrees. The point is to show just how much you have grown and learned, over the course of your studies. After a presentation, you must defend your writings and methodology to an inquiring committee. 


Ph.D. Requirements


Though specific curricula may vary, most Nursing Ph.D. programs will have the following classes: 


  • Grant Writing

  • Measurement in Health Care Research

  • Philosophical Perspectives in Health

  • Scientific Perspectives

  • Leadership in Science: The Role of the Nurse Scientist

  • Statistical Methods

  • Dissertation

  • Longitudinal Methods

  • Integrated Interdisciplinary Research Practicum

  • Intervention Research Methods in Health Care

  • Quantitative Research Design and Methods

  • Qualitative Research Design and Methods

  • Mixed Methods Research Design

  • Responsibilities and Activities of the Nurse Scientist 


Final Comparisons: 


Which degree you prefer ultimately depends on your career goals and preferences. You want to consider your salary expectations, preferred career paths, and workplaces before you commit to either path. Listed below are a couple of key considerations: 


Program Length: 

  • Ph.D.: 5-10 years (BSN to Ph.D.) or 3-7 years (MSN to Ph.D.) 

  • DNP 5-6 years (ADN to DNP), 3-4 years (BSN to DNP), or 2 years (MSN to DNP)


Median Income:

  • Ph.D.: $ 82,040/yr (for Nurse Educators, per BLS) or $81,500/yr (For Nurse Researchers, per Payscale

  • DNP: $120,000-150,000/yr, depending on the workplace


Best Job Opportunities

  • Ph.D.: Academia. 1,715 faculty vacancies and 138 additional positions are needed, in 2018.

  • DNP: Academia as well. National nurse faculty vacancy of 7.9% and 90.7% of vacancies prefer or require a doctorate. 


Certification Renewal

  • Ph.D.: None

  • DNP: Retake exam or fulfill 1000 clinical practice hours and 75 CEUs every 5 years.  


Career Paths

  • Ph.D.: Research, Education, Health Policy

  • DNP: Administrative/Leadership/Management positions in nursing, Healthcare policy, government office, Academic institutions 



  • Ph.D.: Academic institutions (Colleges or Universities), research centers, hospitals, government facilities, medical laboratories 

  • DNP: Hospitals, public health offices, specialty or autonomous practices, Healthcare Administration, Healthcare Policy Advocacy    



RN to DNP guide 


Becoming a DNP is a long and costly commitment, with fruitful rewards at the very end. Thankfully, RNs do not need to start from scratch. BSN, ADN or MSN nurses can choose from a multitude of DNP programs and tracks. 


Why You Should Consider A DNP Degree


RNs happy with their career may be wondering why they would ever need a DNP. Though the investment is considering acquiring your doctorate comes with a host of professional benefits: 


  • More Efficient: The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that most APRN Masters's courses have the same credits as their DNP counterparts. In other words, you will spend roughly the same amount of time in your DNP as you would your MSN.

  • Increased career flexibility: DNP nurses gain access to a number of different, highly-demanded healthcare professions. They can work as advanced clinical practitioners, educators or even leadership/management roles in important organizations. 

  • Significantly higher salaries: In 2018, a salary survey was conducted by Lippincott Solutions.  DNP nurses earned around $7000 more than MSN nurses, annually.  

  • More career advancement: To achieve “magnet’ status, hospitals want DNP nurses as nursing managers or nursing leaders. This gives DNP nurses even more employment opportunities and chances to advance their careers. 

  • Working within policy reform: DNPs can opt to work in healthcare policy spaces or government offices. Through collaboration and evidence-based practice, nurses have a genuine chance at improving healthcare outcomes.


RN to DNP Programs


According to the AACN, there are 289 schools with DNP program offerings in America. Students can choose between brick-and-mortar traditional programs, or classes that combine on-site and remote learning. In addition, there are a host of different tracks available. 


  • RN to DNP: These tracks are for RNs with no other advanced degrees. Though limited, RN to DNP programs allows RNs to study for their DNP without working towards their MSN or BSN. At the bare minimum, you will require an RN License, a diploma degree or an ADN, and a BSN within or outside of nursing.

  • MSN to DNP: The most common option available, students with MSNs can directly enroll in graduate-level courses. 

  • BSN to DNP: These tracks are available for BSN nurses without their MSN. At bare minimum, you will usually require your RN license, a diploma or ADN degree and your BSN.

  • ADN-MSN-DNP: Though limited compared to other courses, there are a couple of schools that allow ADN students to pursue their MSN and DNP at the same time. Students need to possess either their ADN or diploma degree, along with an RN license in good standing. 

  • DNP-PhD: Some students may be interested in earning their Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD) and their DNP simultaneously. To qualify for such programs, you will need an MSN or another applicable graduate degree. 


Online RN to DNP programs 


Most DNP students already have a host of professional and personal obligations on their plate. Because of this, online learning has gained popularity as a way of studying while working or spending time with their families. 


Online RN to DNP programs are the perfect option for a busy HCP. These platforms afford you the flexibility to complete course requirements remotely while you work around your schedule. If you are a working nurse, have a family to tend to, a cramped schedule or a host of miscellaneous responsibilities, this may be your best option. 


Program length will vary depending on the track you take and your educational background. Without a Bachelor’s or a Master’s, these DNP programs will take longer thanks to the Master-level curriculum and core competencies. MSN-to-DNP programs are considerably shorter, since students already have graduate experience. In most cases, an 8 to 9 semester DNP course will take 3 to 4 years to complete full time, and as long as 6 years part time. This is assuming you take classes year-round. 


Like with any traditional program, you want to make sure that your Online RN to DNP course is accredited. If not, then you will have problems with exam eligibility and employment in the future. To be specific, you want accreditation from The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE.) Though technically optional, the AACN also recommends enrolling in schools accredited by the Alliance for Nursing Accreditation to ensure a standard of excellence across all APRN specialties. 


Key Differences


Though online programs can be just as recognized and quality as any traditional course, there are a couple of key differences that you should consider. Depending on your program, your online course might not assign you with a practicum site or preceptor and you will have to settle these yourself. The practicum section, where you gain hands-on experience together with an instructor, is at the end of most online RN to DNP courses. Finally, some online programs will require that you go to at least one in-person event. This could be for certain lectures or even an immersion weekend at the start of the course. 


RN to DNP requirements 


Pre-enrollment requirements will differ, depending on the program and your prior education. For example, Post-Baccalaureate DNP students will require their BSN, while Post-Master’s Students need either their MSN or an applicable graduate degree. Other than that, there are a number of other DNP requirements: 


The specifics for your DNP program will depend on which type you enter into and whether you’re beginning at a post-baccalaureate or post-master’s level. Post-Baccalaureate DNP applicants will need a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing, while a post-master’s degree will require an MSN or another applicable graduate-level nursing degree. 


Outside of your beginning degree requirement, you will need the following to enroll in a DNP program:


  • Active U.S Registered Nurse license in good standing, acquired in your state of practice

  • APRN License

  • Minimum 1 to 2 years of nursing experience

  • Proof of completion for prerequisite courses

  • Minimum 3 letters of recommendation, 1 from a current supervisor

  • Completed application with all the necessary fees and documents (Transcripts from previous colleges/universities, resume, personal statement, and/or essay) 

  • Interview with faculty, phone or in-person 

  • Additional testing for international students 

  • Minimum master GPA of 3.0 or higher 


Note that for most universities, your RN license must be applicable in the state where you will carry out your clinical. Online DNP courses are a bit more flexible, however. For many schools, you can communicate with your class and set your clinical hours at a facility in your area. 


Core Competencies


Per the AACN, DNP programs are structured around the outlines provided by Essentials of Master’s Education for Advanced Practice Nursing and the Essentials of Master’s Education in Nursing. In addition to what was established by a student’s prior Master’s Program, DNP programs are meant to instill the following core competencies in their students: 


  • Health care policy for advocacy 

  • Interprofessional collaboration for improving patient and population health outcomes

  • Clinical prevention and population health for improving the nation’s health

  • Advanced nursing practice

  • Practice skills 

  • Organizational and systems leadership for quality improvement and systems thinking

  • Clinical scholarship and analytical methods for evidence-based practice

  • Information systems/technology and patient care technology for the improvement and transformation of health care


NP Licensure


Should you choose to pursue a career as a Nurse Practitioner, you need to meet the following requirements in order to be licensed: 


  • Complete the following core APRN courses: advanced pathophysiology, advanced pharmacology, advanced physical assessment 

  • Complete an NP program with national competencies aimed at primary, adult-gerontology or family care

  • Minimum 500 hours of faculty-supervised direct patient care clinical hours 

  • Not taking the certification test more than twice per calendar year




DNP students can generally expect around 500 hours of clinical work. Your coursework will also depend on your career track since the lessons for APRNs can differ from the courses with a focus on the executive or educational skills. Broadly speaking, however, a DNP curriculum usually looks something like this: 

  • Semester 1-2: Quality Improvement, Patient Safety, Scholarly Writing, Evidence-Based Practice, Informatics, Statistics

  • Semester 3-4: DNP Application I and II, Informatics II, Epidemiology, Systems Management, Health Care Economics

  • Semester 5-6: Healthy Policy, Legalities, and Ethics, DNP Application III, Electives, & Completion of DNP Project


DNP Tuition Costs


Program tuition fees are highly variable. Generally, public schools are more expensive than private ones and online courses are more affordable than on-campus programs. Enrolling in in-state programs will also save you money, compared to costlier out-of-state DNP courses. Living on-campus or signing up for residential meal plans will also raise the price tag. On the other hand, hourly tuition costs for DNP classes are nearly identical to MSN rates. Though it is important to note that DNP lessons are longer than graduate courses. 


In-state online programs cost $27,745. In 2017, the most expensive programs could get as expensive as $60,000, while cheaper offerings hover at around $12,000. Covering costs will not be easy, but those who can shoulder those costs will be rewarded with exciting career opportunities, higher income, and more. 


Financial Aid 


Few people can pay for an RN to DNP program directly in cash. Luckily, students can avail themselves of multiple financial assistance programs. Some of the most trusted ones include: 


Tuition Reimbursement


Some employers offer reimbursement programs to aspiring DNP students. This can range from partial to full tuition repayment. Contact your employer or refer to your facility’s workplace policy for more information. 




Unlike loans, grants are financial aid that does not need to be reimbursed. They are commonly given out on the basis of need, though some grants set their criteria on merit or availability. They are most commonly handed out by the federal government, state governing bodies, or colleges.  


Payment Plans


If you can pay in cash, consult your school’s financial aid office regarding payment plans. If you are concerned about money in the future, some schools have plans where students can defer semesters thanks to financial concerns. 


Graduate students can avail of grants through one of several methods. First, they can submit a FAFSA form so that Federal Student Aid locates grants you may qualify for. Aspiring DNP students can also ask their school’s financial aid office for assistance. Finally, you can locate grants specific to your speciality field. You can contact relevant institutions or even your program director for more information on this.




Like grants, scholarships do not require repayment. Some scholarships cover the full tuition while others are more like partial monetary assistance. Both private and public programs are available for aspiring DNP student. You can check with your school regarding their scholarship offers, or you can search online for private institutions or wealthy individuals with their own scholarship offerings. You also want to look for offers specific to your field of expertise, if possible.



If you can afford to, setting aside some money before you enroll for your DNP can ease the financial burden down the line. Working while studying can be costly, and having some money stored for a rainy day could make all the difference. 


Student Loan


Unlike scholarships or grants, loans are financial assistance that you need to pay back. Because of interest rates, you usually pay more than what you borrowed in the end. The exact terms will depend on a tender and a number of other factors. There are two types of loans: Federal and Private. Thanks to government backing, interest rates for federal loans are lower and there are less to no hidden fees. You can find out what loans you qualify for by sending your FAFSA application. If you are in significant financial need, you may qualify for a loan that does not gain interest until you graduate college. 


Private loans are offered by private institutions like banks, loan firms, or other private entities. Interest rates are significantly higher, there are usually a few extra terms of agreement and you may incur some additional fees like late fees or origination fees. You can search for these loans online, but you must do so with scrutiny. Look for any hidden additional fees and inquire about things such as policy for when you can no longer keep up financially or payment structures. Your school’s financial aid may also help you with this. 

Deferring Undergraduate Loans 


Students still handling loans from their undergraduate degrees can defer paying these loans for the duration of their DNP program tenure. Though this postpones loan payments for the near future, remember that your loans will still gain interest. 


Loan Forgiveness


Though DNP degrees are not always eligible for loan forgiveness, Nurse practitioner degrees can be in the right circumstances. Studying NPs may qualify if they either work for a government agency, a qualifying area/school of need, or have worked for a National Health Service Corp site for around two years. You can contact the Department of Education for more specifics, regarding these loan forgiveness programs. 


Go out there! 


Making the move from RN to DNP is a daunting task. For those of you looking to advance beyond their station, however, these costs are more than worth it. A DNP represents a unique opportunity for further growth. With this degree, nurses can step into advanced nursing roles, take on educational jobs, or even administrative roles. DNPs have the capacity to change healthcare policy and patient outcomes for the better if they put their minds to it. Both within the hospital and beyond, the sky's the limit for DNP nurses. 

Should I Really Get My DNP? A Comprehensive Guide


As a terminal degree, acquiring your Doctorate of Nursing Practice opens up a host of professional opportunities. DNP programs train nurses into becoming leaders in nursing space. Through evidence-based practice, advanced leadership abilities and innovative problem solving, DNPs have the unique opportunity to change overall healthcare outcomes for the better. 


Despite all these appealing benefits, the true value of a DNP is often debated. Some HCPs look at the degree as an inferior alternative to the PhD. Others take a step further and call them a waste of time and money for graduate students. You cannot enter a DNP program with zero plans but to label it as worthless would be gross misinformation. With clear long-term goals and reasonable expectations, your degree will take you very far. To help you decide on whether or not this degree is for you, this article will go over everything you need to know about the DNP. This includes salary ranges, growth, specializations and more. 


Common Misconceptions


There are a couple of common misconceptions surrounding the DNP degree and program. For example, a DNP is not a job role unto itself. It is a degree, just like your BSN or an ADN. The DNP is a common degree for roles like Advanced Practice Registered Nursing (APRN) but those jobs also come with their own educational and miscellaneous requirements. 


Speaking of APRNs, some people think that this is the only career path for a DNP nurse. That could not be farther from the truth, since many nurses opt to work as leaders and administrators. Additionally, not all APRN nurses have DNPs, as there are many who just have their MSN. However, it is true that the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) wants to move the minimum requirements from Masters to DNP, eventually. 


Nature of Work 


DNP nurses will usually choose between two career paths- direct patient care as APRNs and executive leadership roles. What you pick will depend on your goals and career preferences.  




The nursing world is becoming more volatile and complex, with each passing day. With knowledge rooted in evidence-based practice and advanced leadership training, DNPs are uniquely positioned to take on leadership and administrative roles. The hopes are that these individuals will improve patient outcomes by creating innovative and sustainable care solutions that are rooted in hard data.


 These DNPs often work in nurse management, health informatics systems, healthcare policy and organizational leadership in healthcare companies. As far as location goes, you can find work in policy advocacy groups, research centers and even government offices. 


APRN Direct Care 


Advanced Practice Registered Nurses are registered nurses who have furthered their education to an MSN or DNP level. This additional training lets APRNs take on more advanced roles, such as assessing or diagnosing patients, prescribing medications, managing the care process and more. To become an advanced practice nurse, you need to pass the APRN exam. To further specialize in a certain field, you may have to complete advanced certification tests as well. 


There are a number of different kinds of APRNs. Certified Nurse Midwives provide reproductive healthcare throughout the entire birthing process, along with care and counseling during infancy. Certified Nurse Anesthetists are trained and educated to administer anesthesia throughout procedures, and provide postoperative care. 


Nurse practitioners are similar to registered nurses, in how they work to provide high-level patient care. The main difference is autonomy. While RNs always need doctor oversight, NPs can work independently in their own offices or clinics (In some states). They also take on a number of more advanced responsibilities, such as creating care plans or prescribing medications. 


NPs can also focus on a specific area of the nursing population. This includes, but is not limited to: 

  • Cardiac Nurse Practitioner

  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner 

  • Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (Acute/Primary) 

  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

  • Family Nurse Practitioner 

  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner


DNP vs PhD


Though they are both terminal nursing degrees, the DNP and Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D.) are significantly different. For one, the PhD is more focused on research and scholarly work. Though you can become a Nurse Practitioner with both, PhD nurses will also need a post-graduate certificate. Conversely, DNP programs aim to apply advanced knowledge and findings into practice. Even if both will end in research-based dissertations or final projects, DNP theses will integrate their practice experiences into their final presentations. 


Reasons to Consider DNP


There are understandable reasons to be hesitant to pursue your DNP. Tuition prices are extremely high, and acquiring one is a lengthy process. If you can shoulder the costs and extra labor, however, you will find a treasure trove of advantages and benefits. For one, the DNP will eventually become the minimum educational requirement for all APRNs. As early as 2004, the AACN was working to change the minimum from MSN to DNP. Though this has not been fully implemented, certifying bodies have been shifting towards this direction for quite some time. 


Nurses with DNPs also enjoy a greater level of career flexibility and opportunities. With their unique training and credentials, DNP nurses can take on some of the most well-respected and in-demand professions in the business. This includes APRN roles, leadership and administrative positions like Chief Nursing Officer and even a nurse educator role. You will be able to work in facilities that would not have considered you before, such as universities, prestigious hospitals and more.


In general, a DNP is the perfect degree for aspiring leaders. Training in courses like evidence-based practice, system informatics, quality improvement and more prepares students to tackle a complicated and constantly-changing healthcare industry. This is partially why hospitals prefer to admit DNP nurses into nursing leader and nursing management positions. On top of helping them achieve “magnet” status, DNP leaders are better suited to improve healthcare outcomes with their leadership and forward thinking. 


Then there is the matter of salary. In 2020, the BLS reported that APRNs earned $117,670 a year. This dwarfs the $75,330 in annual salary earned by registered nurses. Executive nursing positions and nurse educator roles also earn significantly more than RNs. Though the costs of education are no joke, employed DNPs will often recoup their tuition costs faster than most other professions. 


DNP Tracks 


DNP programs tend to have multiple tracks and specializations you can choose from. This includes nurse anesthesia, nurse midwifery, neonatal, emergency medicine and more. What you choose will depend on your inclinations and (more importantly) prior experience. 


There are also a number of tracks available to you based on your educational background. Just to name a few:  


  • MSN to DNP: For students with MSNs. This is the most common track, since you can directly enroll into graduate level studies.  

  • BSN to DNP: Rarer than an MSN-to-DNP. For students without their MSN. At bare minimum, you will usually require your RN license, a diploma or ADN degree and your BSN.

  • Post Masters’ DNP. If you are an administrator or educator who wants to get your DNP, you can opt for this track to avoid repeating the same lessons. This is especially beneficial for students who already have MPA, MPH, or MBA degrees. 


Go Out There!


Acquiring your DNP means more than just furthering your career. With your extensive education and specialized training, you become uniquely qualified to advocate for positive change in the healthcare landscape. This is in addition to more lucrative career opportunities and the chance to further your training in your field of expertise. If this sounds appealing to you, then a DNP is well worth pursuing. 

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