Anyone considering the DNP is going to have a lot of practical questions. How much does it cost? What kinds of degree programs exist? How does it affect APRN licensure? To give you the straight story, we’ve put together this comprehensive list of FAQs. Here you’ll find useful resources and no-nonsense advice on achieving your dream degree.
Q: What is the DNP?
Designed to be a hands-on qualification, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a terminal degree focused on clinical practice. Like the MD or DDS, the DNP will allow you to incorporate doctoral coursework into your day-to-day tasks. Learn more about the history, purpose, and requirements of DNP programs in our What is a DNP Degree guide.
Q: What is the Purpose of the DNP?
- Prepare nurses to become expert practitioners and nursing leaders within their workplace.
- Train nurses to design and assess care, adapt to new models of care delivery, apply recent research innovations to clinical work, and transform healthcare policy.
- Provide a practice-based alternative to doctoral research degrees such as the PhD.
- Phase out advanced practice master’s programs in nursing that carried a credit load equivalent to a doctorate.
Q: What are the Benefits of Earning a DNP?
Practical Experience: DNP degrees focus on evidence-based practice. You’ll learn how to evaluate existing research, make data-driven decisions, and implement clinical innovations in your own healthcare setting.
Career Advancement: DNP programs are explicitly intended to train leaders and executives in clinical nursing.
APRN Preparation: Earning a DNP can help you become a state licensed and nationally certified advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).
Higher Income: As a DNP graduate, you will typically earn more than nurse practitioners with a master’s degree.
Patient Care: Multiple studies suggest higher levels of nursing education = better patient outcomes.
Joy of Learning: To paraphrase the army, your current job may not be challenging you to be all that you can be. A DNP makes you think deeper and harder.
Industry Respect: A doctoral degree puts you on par with healthcare colleagues who hold a practice-based terminal degree (e.g. Pharmacy, Dentistry, Physical Therapy, etc.). As long as patients understand that you are a nursing provider, you are allowed to call yourself “Doctor.”
Q: How Long Does the DNP Take?
The length of your DNP degree will depend on the school, the program, and your choice of full-time vs. part-time. In general, you might expect 1-2 years full-time for MSN/master’s degree holders and 3-5 years full-time for BSN holders. Part-time programs tend to vary in length depending on just how part-time you are, and how many courses you’re capable of taking on. Browse our list of the fastest online DNP programs and fastest online BSN to DNP programs if you’re interested in shorter degree programs.
Q: How Much Does a DNP Cost?
A lot. Annual fees for tuition, supplies, and clinical work may run into the tens of thousands. And that’s not including expenses such as accommodation, transportation, and interest payments on student loans. That being said, there are many ways you can offset costs. Check out our section on Financing the DNP for ideas, as well as our rankings of the cheapest online DNP programs.
Q: Can I Apply with a BSN?
Yes. Like an MD or DDS, there are DNP programs that expressly cater to students who only hold a bachelor’s degree. On the flip side, there are plenty of programs that tailor to nurses who already have an MSN and state licensure. Learn more about going from a BSN to a DNP on campus or online.
Q: Do I Have to Write a Dissertation?
Probably not. Instead, DNP students are required to complete a DNP capstone project that demonstrates what they’ve learned in their courses and applied in their clinical practice. We list examples of DNP capstone projects under each APRN Specialty. You will also find plenty of samples in DNP Capstone Projects: Exemplars of Excellence.
Q: What Areas Can I Specialize In?
DNP programs are aimed at aspiring or current advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who work in clinical roles, management and leadership positions, health policy, and education. You’ll find DNP degrees tailored to Nurse Practitioners (e.g. pediatrics, psychiatry, family care, gerontology, etc.); Nurse Anesthetists; Nurse Midwives; Clinical Nurse Specialists; Nursing Administrators; Nursing Informaticists, and more. For more information on each specialty – and real-world advice from DNP graduates – check out our DNP Specialties section.
Q: Does the CCNE Accredit DNP Programs?
You bet. Take a look at our section on Is Your DNP Program Accredited? for more information on accreditation.
Q: Which DNP Programs are Best?
Students should consider a number of factors when picking a DNP program. For example, how much does it cost? How many students end up graduating? Does the program have a solid reputation? We put together our own rankings of the best DNP programs to help you get started, as well as guides to the best online BSN to MSN and online MSN to DNP programs. We researched everything from graduation rates to APRN exam pass rates. All rankings should be taken with a grain of salt, but you can be sure that the schools on our list provide excellent DNP programs.
Q: What Other Kinds of Doctoral Programs Are There?
The DNP is a practice-based doctoral program and the PhD is a research-based doctoral program. For detailed info, see our Comparison Chart on the DNP vs. PhD. The Doctor of Nursing (ND) is an older, practice-based degree that is gradually being phased out in favor of the DNP. If you currently hold an ND and are interested in changing your credential to a DNP, contact your program about how you can make the switch. The Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS) is an older research-based degree that is gradually being phased out in favor of the PhD. If you are interested in a practice-based graduate degree that will help you earn state licensure, look at the MSN or the DNP instead.
Q: Do I Need a DNP to Become an APRN (Advanced Practice RN)?
Not at the moment. Most states continue to accept the MSN as the minimum requirement for advanced practice licensure, including NP, midwife, and CNS. There are a variety of reasons for this. For one thing, the DNP is a relatively new program. In the past, a practice-based master’s degree was the traditional route to advanced licensure. In some cases, schools may still be working on developing DNP programs. Remember that, in addition to state licensure, employers may require you to complete national certification in your specialty area. Please check with your State Board for Nursing for precise information on licensure/certification.
Q: If a Master’s Degree Will Get Me APRN Licensure, Why Get a DNP Too?
We won’t lie – master’s degrees are generally cheaper than doctorates. However, if you’re coming out of a bachelor’s program, take a good hard look at the DNP. The AACN is pushing for all entry-level APRN programs to transition from MSNs to DNPs. In addition, the degree is only 1-2 years longer than a traditional master’s program and has a great deal of tangible career benefits. By earning a practice-based doctoral degree, you will be in an excellent position to apply for well-paid jobs. You’ll also have the highest qualification in your area. We cover this topic (and more) in our guide to the differences between the DNP and an NP.
Q: I’m Already a Licensed APRN – Why Should I Go Back to School?
You’ve earned a master’s degree from a great school and have spent years building your clinical experience – why on earth would you want to spend money on a DNP? The short answer is career advancement. Thanks to degree inflation, the DNP is rapidly becoming the norm for nurses in high-level positions. There are many useful DNP benefits that every student will appreciate, but opportunities for promotion are often at the top of the list for licensed APRNs going back to school. However, if you are a licensed NP, clinical nurse specialist, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist, or APRN executive and you hold a master’s degree, you do not need to earn a DNP just to retain your licensure.
Q: Can I Continue to Work While I’m Earning My DNP?
Absolutely. Many schools have developed part-time programs that allow DNP students to apply what they’re learning in the classroom to their everyday practice. Be prepared for long hours.
Q: Will the Scope of My Practice Change?
No. As the AACN points out, the DNP does not alter the current scope of practice for APRNs that is outlined in each state’s Nurse Practice Act. However, your current role is likely to be enriched. DNP graduates have the chance to apply the lessons they learn in evidence-based practice, quality improvement, and systems leadership. This leads to better patient care and more career opportunities.
Q: Can I Use the DNP to Teach at University?
Yes. Like the PhD, the DNP is accepted as a doctoral qualification for university teaching positions. But – with the exception of the Nurse Educator DNP – neither degree is particularly interested in pedagogical skills. If you’d like to become a nurse educator, look for programs, post-graduate certificates, and/or assistantships that give you additional preparation in teaching.