The first practice-focused doctoral degree program in nursing was established at Case Western Reserve University in 1979. Today, a DNP, or Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, is one of the most highly respected credentials for advanced practice nurses and opens the door to opportunities for advancement into executive and leadership roles. In fact, the American Association of College of Nursing (AACN) supports the DNP as the terminal degree for clinical nursing education and the graduate degree for advanced nursing practice preparation.
DNP degree programs build on the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired at work and in the classroom by providing education in evidence-based practice, quality of care and management of health care delivery systems. The DNP degree prepares students for a variety of clinical and administrative leadership positions, as well as academic and policy-making roles.
What does a DNP do?
To better understand the role of the DNP, it may be helpful to consider the entry-level competencies for practice doctorate nurse practitioners. Doctor of Nursing Practice competencies can also help guide you to an online DNP degree program that best prepares you to advance your nursing career after graduation. According to the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF), some of the core competencies of the DNP include:
- Practices independently by assessing, diagnosing, treating and managing patients
- Assumes full accountability for actions as a licensed independent practitioner
- Translates research and data to anticipate, predict and explain variations in practice
- Uses best available evidence to enhance quality in clinical practice
- Applies clinical investigative skills for evaluation of health outcomes at the patient, family, population, clinical unit, systems and/or community level(s)
- Demonstrates information literacy in complex decision making
- Participates in the development of clinical information systems
- Evaluates the impact of globalization on health care policy development
- Facilitates development of culturally relevant health care systems
According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), fewer than one percent of nurses have a doctoral degree in nursing or a nursing-related field. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a demand for doctorate-level advanced practice nurses. The AACN, which at one point called for the “DNP by 2015” transition, cites the growing complexity of health care, burgeoning growth in scientific knowledge and increasing sophistication of technology as factors leading to the necessity of a DNP for advanced practiced nurses.
The growing demand for DNPs can also be seen in the growth of DNP programs nationwide and in the number of students enrolled in these programs. According to the AACN, from 2015 to 2016 the number of students enrolled in DNP programs increased from 21,995 to 25,289.
Should I get a DNP or PhD in Nursing?
The answer to that question depends on the trajectory of your nursing career. The DNP degree is a practice doctorate whereas the PhD in Nursing degree is a research doctorate. If you want to conduct independent nursing research and disseminate your findings to influence the practice, you may be interested in a PhD program. On the other hand, if you want be on the frontlines leading interdisciplinary health care teams to improve patient outcomes, the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree may be the next step in your career.
How long does it take to earn a DNP degree?
The time it takes to earn the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree depends on a number of different factors, including your status as a full- or part-time student and your highest earned degree. For example, if you are seeking a DNP with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, you will need to complete advanced practice studies (equivalent to a master’s nursing degree) before focusing on DNP-specific coursework. Full-time MSN-prepared students can expect to earn a DNP degree in approximately five semesters.
Do I need a master’s degree to apply for a DNP program?
Registered nurses who hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) are eligible to apply for Doctor of Nursing Practice bridge programs (BSN to DNP) that award graduates with both a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and a DNP degree.
DNP Careers & Salaries
Learn more about DNP careers, job outlook, salaries & education requirements.