If you’ve wondered how to advance in your career after earning a BSN or MSN degree and are working as an advanced practice registered nurse, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) may be a great next step. As a DNP graduate, you are prepared to provide a higher level of care to patients, improve patient outcomes by integrating new research into practice, manage caregivers, spear-head system improvements and educate the next generation of nurses.
After earning the doctorate of nursing practice distinction, you may go on to become a practice-focused nurse leader such as a nurse executive, director or manager. You could lead interdisciplinary health care teams and work to improve processes to boost patient outcomes, quality and safety, or focus on teaching nurses at the university level. Or you can operate your own practice in a number of care specialties and may be able to prescribe medication to patients.
Fortunately, as with most health care roles, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects that the fields related to advance practice registered nurses will grow by 31 percent between 2014 and 2024. Plus the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that there will be a shortfall of between 7,300 to 43,100 primary care physicians through 2030, which will increase the need for nurses with advanced medical skills.
DNP students usually have a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree and have worked as an advanced practice care nurse, but some colleges accept students who hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) with extensive practice experience.
These doctorate nursing degrees are the highest academic credentials that advance practice registered nurses are able to earn, but they lead to different areas of health care. Take a look at how they differ to decide which terminal nursing degree is right for you.
DNP vs PhD: What’s the difference?
Studies the practice system, including how a clinical environment works, how to integrate science into patient treatment, managing an organization effectively and how to measure patient outcomes and improve them. They can teach at the university level or practice patient care independently. At the doctoral level, students are required to complete a thesis.
Focused on scientific research to expand nursing knowledge. They study the way illness develops. The coursework involves advanced theory, research methodology and data analysis. Graduates may work in academia or scientific research. Teaching is a required part of the coursework needed to become a PhD; the educational program requires a thesis or research paper.
In an online DNP degree program, you may be exposed to advanced theory in nursing practice, scientific data related to human health, as well as organizational and ethical practices needed to make critical, system-level decisions related to care and patient outcomes. Online DNP curriculum may include:
- Leadership in clinical environments
- Integrating emerging treatments
- Emerging challenges and advances in population health
- Sustaining the highest level of care and outstanding patient outcomes
- Information technology and data analysis
- Budgeting and organizational management
The combination of scientific research, treatment and system study with advanced business skills can help you apply to the highest levels of management following the successful completion of the DNP program.
Choose coursework related to health administration and leadership to help prepare for management opportunities, or education if you’d prefer to teach at the university-level. Other areas of focus include anesthesia and informatics. You should have an idea of your career trajectory prior to enrolling in an online DNP program to ensure that your education prepares you for your next role.
If you want to know what it’s like to pursue the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, take a look at this sample full-time DNP course schedule.
A doctorate of nursing practice program requires many hours of independent and focused study, making an online degree ideal for doctoral candidates. Although you’ll be required to meet coursework requirements, a large portion of your program will be spent working on your thesis.
Some doctoral programs require a clinical residency and on-campus visits to collaborate with professors, peers and dissertation managers. Check to see how many on-campus visits you’ll be required to make in order to earn your DNP degree.
The time it takes to complete a doctoral program differs between institutions and whether you are attending class full or part time. If you are an MSN-prepared nurse practitioner who is attending an online DNP program full time, it may take around two years to earn your degree; part-time coursework may take three to five years to complete.
If you are a BSN-prepared registered nurse enrolled in a full time DNP, plan for three to four years to complete your degree.
Even if you haven’t taken an online course in your academic career, at the doctoral level, online will likely work well if you are self-motivated and self-disciplined. Some online programs offer a more robust online education experience, with live-streaming classes and group projects; others may feel more independent. Make sure you know which type of online experience a program offers before enrolling.
You will enroll in online classes that require regular attendance, peer discussions and assignments. Some of the classes will occur in real time, and some may be prerecorded by your professor so you can “attend” at your convenience.
At the doctoral level, your dissertation chair will establish regular meeting times, just like a traditional program. Except in distance learning you’ll have meetings by phone or streaming video.
Ready to start comparing programs?
See which DNP program is right for you.