Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs
Registered nurses who enjoy the clinical side of their practice but want to move into advanced leadership roles beyond what a Master's degree can provide can opt for a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. With multiple pathways, including direct programs for students who currently hold a BSN and options for those who hold an MSN or a PhD, a DNP prepares nurses to become leaders in interdisciplinary health teams to improve healthcare systems and policies, patient outcomes, and promote healthier communities. Keep in mind, a DNP is different from a PhD in nursing, which is more focused on research and teaching rather than clinical practice. In other words, a DNP is considered a practice doctorate, while a PhD is a research doctorate.
Upon graduating with a DNP, nurses are eligible for leadership roles in clinical practices or healthcare administration, and have a direct impact on pushing the profession forward and developing policies that improve both patient outcomes and healthcare as a whole. Along with these rewarding tasks, DNP nurses regularly earn, on average, over $100,000 per year. With opportunities like this on the horizon, it's imperative that RNs choose the right school and DNP program. Read on for our comprehensive guide to choosing the best DNP program for you:
Does the DNP Program Offer Campus or Online Options?
More and more schools these days are offering online programs to accommodate the increasingly busy schedules of their students. This is particularly true for RNs pursuing a DNP, who often need to balance studying alongside their nursing practice. Many of the online DNP programs out there have on-campus requirements that are minimal-to-none, dedicated faculty and staff to help students succeed, and round the clock technical support to allow students to complete coursework at any time.
Alternately, on-campus programs are still popular for those who want hands-on time with their instructors and the ability to network with fellow students. Many of these classroom-based programs are designed to allow students to continue working as well, offering just a few classes per semester along with a final clinical project that can often be completed in the student's place of employment.
Learn more about online DNP programs.
Is the DNP Program Accredited?
One of the first things a prudent nurse must check when considering a DNP program is proper accreditation. An accredited program assures the student that it is legitimate and held to rigorous standards. Accrediting organizations exist to continually evaluate the success of these programs, so finding a school accredited by a respected nursing school organization is a good indicator of its caliber.
Learn more about accreditation of campus based and online programs.
How Long Has the DNP Program Been Around?
It's important to read up on your school of choice's program and history. A program that has been around for a long time is likely to be reputable, and more importantly, should be able to provide some statistics on student outcomes, such as how many students graduate from the program and what the success rates are. Online programs, though relatively new, are often off-shoots of traditional campus-based programs, with the same resources and faculty. If your preferred online program is associated with a long-running classroom-based program, you can usually assume it has the same standards and reputation.
Learn more about program curriculum and classes.
DNP Program Course Topics
Curriculum requirements will vary based on what type of DNP program a student chooses (BSN to DNP, MSN to DNP, etc.). Some programs allow a student to pursue a specialty, such as Family Nurse Practitioner or Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, so coursework may revolve around these concentrations. A good DNP program will require students to complete a mix of high-level nursing and administration courses, and will typically culminate in a final scholarly project.
Learn more about program course topics.
Associated Tuition Costs
As RNs know, a proper nursing education comes with a price tag. Much like undergraduate nursing programs, DNP programs require students to cover costs for tuition and a host of other mandatory expenses. Books, CPR training/renewal, immunizations, transportation, and registration fees are just a few of the non-tuition costs of a DNP program.
Learn more about tuition and costs.
A popular choice with today's fast-paced lifestyles, online DNP programs can be a lifesaver for busy working RNs. These programs are just as academically rigorous as campus-based programs, but allow students to take courses when and where they are able to, making them ideal for those who don't live within reasonable commuting distance of a university. If you're interested in earning your DNP on your own schedule and are able to study independently and stay on task, an online program might be for you. Read on to learn more about what makes online DNP programs great:
Flexibility is one of the main draws of an online DNP program. Most RNs enrolled in a doctorate program choose to continue working, making it crucial to have the ability to work around an employment schedule. Online DNP programs, such as the University of Arizona's, typically offer full-time or part-time options so that students can customize the program to their lifestyle, and online courses can be accessed from anywhere, making it especially convenient for those on the go. These programs also offer easy access to faculty, staff, and other students via online discussion boards, email, or even Skype. Keep in mind that even though the coursework can be completed online, there are often a few days required on campus for immersion courses or projects, and students will typically still need to complete an in-person clinical requirement.
Tuition and Costs
Most students will agree that one of the main factors in returning to school is cost. Online DNP programs will require that students cover tuition and mandatory expenses, such as residency and project fees, application fees, books, and more. While the amounts will differ from program to program, prospective students can guarantee that they will face these expenses for an online DNP.
Where an online program comes out ahead, however, is in the absence of certain school-related personal expenses. Online students don't need to worry about things like transportation, separate room and board, parking, and other things that campus-based students must account for. These extra expenses may not seem like much, but added up over the course of 3 or more years, they can become substantial.
Accessibility and Convenience
If convenience is a top priority, you'll be hard pressed to find a better option than an online DNP program. With coursework accessible from your own computer, you can complete the courses anywhere, at any time. This is especially attractive for working RNs and those who have family or other time-consuming commitments that would make a traditional classroom-based program nearly impossible. Modern technology makes it easy to connect with instructors and other students; email, online messaging, Skype and/or telephone appointments, and more allow online students to interact and get additional guidance just like they would in a classroom program.
Students wanting to finish their doctoral program as quickly as possible can do so via an online DNP program. With dedicated study, students can often move through the online curriculum much faster than they would be able to in a classroom program. For example, the post-master's DNP program at American Sentinel University in Colorado can be completed in just 28 months. With classes that are 8 weeks in length (instead of 14 weeks), students can cycle through the coursework in a much more efficient fashion. Rolling admission in many online programs also means that prospective students don't have to wait for a particular semester to start, meaning no time is wasted once a student enrolls.
Reputable online DNP programs are academically comparable to their campus-based counterparts, the only real difference being the method of delivery. In addition to a rigorous curriculum, online DNP students can expect:
- Minimal (if any) trips to campus
- 24/7 technical support available
- Access to faculty and staff via online methods/telephone
- Online networking opportunities with fellow students
- Supervised clinical practicum
- Final clinical project
Both online and classroom-based programs can be accredited by a multitude of organizations that exist just for this reason. It is incredibly important to choose a school that is properly accredited by a respected organization to ensure that its academic standards are up to par. There are a few main accrediting agencies to look for when considering a DNP program. It is advised to make sure your program of choice has at least one of them:
- Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing's Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
- Each state has an individual Board of Nursing that can endorse programs
- Regional accreditation organizations, such as the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) or the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
Students enrolled in a Doctor of Nursing Practice program take a variety of nursing courses that cover the application of advanced concepts and practice. Specialty courses may also be taken, depending on the program. For example, the following courses are offered as part of the DNP program at Gonzaga University:
- NURS 563: Evidence-Based Practice for Quality & Safety
- NURS 700: Theoretical Foundations for Doctor of Nursing Practice
- NURS 701: DNP Practicum I: Integrative Application of Evidence-Based Practice
- NURS 710: Population-Focused Care
- NURS 730: Clinical Program Development, Implementation, and Evaluation
The following courses are offered via the University of San Diego's BSN to DNP program:
- DNPC 611: Methods of Translational Science
- DNPC 626: Strategic Planning and Quality Initiatives
- DNPC 610: Philosophy of Reflective Practice
- DNPC 653: Financial Decision Making for Health Care Settings
- DNPC 686: Perspectives in Program Planning and Evaluation
Those familiar with undergraduate and Master's programs should recognize the structure of expenses for a DNP program. Online and campus-based programs share some of the same cost categories, including:
- Tuition (usually charged per credit or unit)
- Mandatory university fees (examples include application and graduation fees)
- Related expenses (books, course materials, costs associated with background checks/insurance)
In addition to this, campus-based students must also factor in the cost of:
- Room and Board (if attending a school away from home)
- Parking (not needed for online dnp programs)
Both online and campus-based students will typically have to pay a residency fee. This fee is sometimes rolled into the tuition rate, but not always. For example, American Sentinel University in Colorado requires DNP students to attend two residencies. The first has an estimated cost (including travel and meals) of approximately $900. The second is a virtual residency in which a student would need to purchase a microphone and webcam, if they don't already own these items. Some schools may also charge a fee for a student's final/capstone project.
It's important to remember that tuition rates and other expenses will fluctuate depending on state, school, and program type. For instance, the cost of the DNP program (including tuition and fees) at Columbia University in New York runs roughly $54,653 annually, while the total cost of the post-MSN DNP program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (also including tuition and fees) is approximately $21,292.50 for the entire 5-semester program.
If paying for a DNP is an issue, nearly all schools have financial aid departments that can help direct students toward loan options, scholarships, and other methods of financial help.
Nurses who hold a DNP can go on to reach the highest levels of a variety of nursing careers. While some specialties don't require a DNP, those who want to advance to the top of their chosen nursing niche will be well-served by a doctorate. Some of these APRN careers include:
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
- Certified Nurse Midwife
- Nurse Practitioner
- Nurse Educator
- Nurse Executive
- Clinical Nurse Specialist
Below is a list of popular online DNP programs offered. Follow the links to get more information from the program's website.
American Sentinel University
American Sentinel University offers three online ACEN-accredited DNP program specializations: Executive Leadership, Educational Leadership, and Informatics Leadership. The mission of these programs is to prepare highly qualified nurse leaders and educators to serve in complex healthcare and higher education settings. Other features include:
- 28-month program length with rolling admission
- Classes are 100% online with one short four-day residency in Aurora, CO
- DNP Travel Assistance Program offered (the school will cover the hotel cost for your residency)
Ashland University offers both a BSN-DNP program with a Family Nurse Practitioner concentration, and an MS/MSN-DNP program. Each of these programs is completely online, incorporating residency activities throughout the program. The curriculum focuses on healthcare informatics, health policy and advocacy, research methods, and more. Other features include:
- BSN-DNP can be completed in four years of full-time study over 12 semesters
- MS/MSN-DNP can be completed in two years of full-time study over 6 semesters
- Financial aid available
Bradley University offers two unique tracks: the DNP-Family Nurse Practitioner track (BSN entry), and the DNP-Leadership track (MSN entry). Bradley's programs prepare students to innovate in the industry, lead change and educate the next generation through clinical expertise. Other features include:
- 100% online with no campus residency requirements
- Complete the program in 12 semesters for the BSN entry; 9 semesters for the MSN entry
- Students choose their own site preceptor and complete clinicals locally
Drexel offers an accredited online DNP program with two study tracks: the Practitioner track for those who want to remain in clinical practice, and the Executive track for those who want careers in executive nursing and health care management. Upon graduation, students will be able to translate research into clinical practice to improve policies and patient outcomes. Other features include:
- Program is organized into four 10-week quarters per year, allowing students to take more courses in a shorter timeframe
- Tuition is approximately $953 per credit
- Special tuition rates are available for Drexel alumni, military members, and more
Frontier Nursing University
FNU's Post-Master's DNP program (PM-DNP) is an accredited, distance-education program for those who have already earned an MSN. It aims to advance the leadership skills of practitioners in primary care practice, and offers specializations including Adult Nurse Practitioner, Certified Nurse Midwife, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, and more. Other features include:
- Full-time or part-time options (12-18 months)
- One 4-day on campus experience
- 28 semester credits required, including 8 credits of clinical practicum
Gonzaga offers an online Post-Master's DNP as well as a Post-Baccalaureate pathway. The Post-Baccalaureate DNP has the choice of two specializations: Family Nurse Practitioner or Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. These programs focus on leadership, health policy, system improvement, collaboration, and more. Other features include:
- 13-15 semester completion time for post-BSN pathway; 7 semesters (including summers) for post-MSN pathway
- Cost per credit for either program is $1000
- Three-day on campus immersions required (one for post-MSN, multiple for post-BSN)
Indiana State University
Terre Haute, Indiana
The online Post-Master's DNP program at Indiana State University prepares nurses to be innovative leaders to transform healthcare delivery. A focus on safety and efficacy of nursing practice in the program empowers nurses to improve patient outcomes. Other features include:
- Program consists of 39 credit hours requiring 1,000 hours of supervised clinical preceptorship
- No dissertation requirement
- Program is ACEN-accredited
Kent State University
Kent State's 100% online DNP program is geared toward nurses who want to advance their knowledge of the nursing practice and reach new leadership heights. Graduates of the program will be ready to practice with interdisciplinary teams and make an impact on healthcare policy. Other features include:
- Program can be completed in only five semesters
- Cohort structure allows students to learn and collaborate with peers and faculty throughout the program
- An experienced faculty advisor helps students develop and conduct their scholarly project
New Orleans, Louisiana
Loyola offers two fully online, CCNE-accredited pathways: BSN-DNP, and MSN-DNP. The BSN-DNP specialization offered is Family Nurse Practitioner, while the MSN-DNP specialty choices are Nurse Practitioner or Executive Leader. These programs prepare students to work in and with interdisciplinary teams to solve intricate healthcare challenges. Other features include:
- BSN-DNP program is designed to completed within 3 years of full-time study
- MSN-DNP program is designed to completed within 2 years of full-time study
- One campus visit per year required
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico
New Mexico State University offers an online BSN-DNP, with concentrations including Family Psych/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Public/Community Health, Adult/Gero Nurse Practitioner, and Family Nurse Practitioner. They also offer a Post-Master's DNP. Only full-time students are admitted to the BSN-DNP program, while full-time or part-time study is available for the Post-MSN to DNP. Other features include:
- Programs are CCNE-accredited
- All DNP students are required to attend the annual, on-campus Doctoral Summer Seminar
- Clinical component consists of over 1000 contact hours
Nova Southeastern University
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
NSU has a fully online DNP program designed specifically for busy professionals. Four DNP capstone courses allow students to develop expertise in their chosen area of interest, and graduates of the program will have the framework necessary to explore critical nursing issues. Other features include:
- Convenient 8-week format
- Tuition is $895 per semester credit hour
- Program can be completed in 6 semesters
Nashua, New Hampshire
Rivier University offers a fully online DNP program designed to help nurses advance to the highest level of nursing practice. Graduates of the DNP program will be prepared to lead interdisciplinary teams and improve systems of care, leading to better patient care. Other features include:
- Estimated program length of 2.5 years
- 39 credit hours required
- Tuition ranges from $545-$970 per credit hour depending on the course level
UMass Amherst's DNP program was one of the first online DNP programs in the country, and has since won several awards for excellence in online education. DNP specialization options include Family Nurse Practitioner, Adult Gerontology PCNP, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, and Public Health Nurse Leader. Other features include:
- Completely online with clinical internships arranged in the student's local area
- Program is CCNE-accredited
- Estimated cost per credit is $750
University of Alabama in Huntsville
UAH Huntsville offers both post-BSN and post-MSN online DNP pathways. The program aims to expand the expertise of nurses in areas like population-based care, leadership, health policy, research, and more. Graduates will be able to mentor and educate new nurses and provide complex care for patients and families. Other features include:
- Tuition is $381 per hour with no additional fees, regardless of residency
- Fully online program with one required orientation on campus and annual DNP intensive in Spring semesters
- Nurse Faculty Loan Program available for those who plan to teach after graduation
University of Arkansas
The University of Arkansas offers an online DNP with two concentration options: Family Nurse Practitioner and Adult-Geriatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner. BSN to DNP and Post-MSN to DNP pathways are available. Students enrolled in the program will learn to solve complex health issues, lead the transformation of healthcare, and more. Other features include:
- Locally arranged clinical practicum hours with qualified preceptors
- BSN to DNP takes three years to complete with full-time study, five years with part-time study
- MSN to DNP takes two years to complete with full-time study, three years with part-time study
University of Missouri-Kansas City
Kansas City, Missouri
Students enrolled in the online DNP program at UMKC can work from the comfort of their own home while receiving the same quality education as on-campus students. Online tracks include Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Women's Health Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner, and Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner. Other features include:
- Post-BSN and Post-MSN options available
- Clinical rotations can be arranged near the student's physical location
- Courses are conducted in synchronous and asynchronous modes depending on the professor and class
University of New Hampshire
Durham, New Hampshire
The University of New Hampshire offers a flexible online DNP program open to students who hold an MSN. The online program admits students into two cohorts per year: January and August. The program is designed for working advanced practice nurses looking to become healthcare leaders. Other features include:
- Comprised of 11 courses which can be completed in 28 months
- Academic year consists of five 8-week terms
- 21-33 credit hours required
University of Pittsburgh
Pitt Online offers a Post-Master's DNP with a host of concentrations, including Clinical Nurse Specialist, Health Systems Executive Leadership, and multiple niche Nurse Practitioner specialties. Some specializations require limited travel to Pittsburgh, no more than a few days towards the end of the program. Graduates of the DNP program will be able to evaluate healthcare systems and become clinical leaders. Other features include:
- Program is CCNE-accredited
- Access to same faculty, library/computing resources, and 24/7 tech support as onsite students
- Minimum 36 credits required
University of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
The University of South Carolina offers online DNP programs for both BSN and MSN educated nurses. BSN-DNP students can choose from Family Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, or Adult Gerontological Acute Care Nurse Practitioner. MSN-DNP students can choose from an APRN or Nurse Executive concentration. Other features include:
- BSN-DNP students will take a minimum of 60-75 hours for degree completion
- MSN-DNP students will take a minimum of 33 hours of course study
- 500 clinical hours required
Washburn's online DNP program is the first program in the United States to offer students enrollment in Master of Business Administration courses as part of the DNP curriculum. This focus on entrepreneurship allows for a blend of advanced nursing knowledge and strong business skills. Washburn offers three pathways: BSN to DNP, MSN to DNP with APRN-NP, and MSN to DNP without APRN-NP. Other features include:
- Family Nurse Practitioner or Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner specialties offered
- On-campus experiences scheduled 3 times per year
- Program is CCNE-accredited
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing
- American Nurses Association
- Doctors of Nursing Practice
- Evidence Based Nursing Journal
- National League for Nursing
- Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing
- National Student Nurses' Association
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