Like many ambitious BSN students, you may be weighing up whether to pursue an MSN or a DNP after graduation. Since both programs will help you become certified and licensed as an APRN, your decision will depend a lot on your career goals. In the end, you could decide that the long-term benefits of a DNP are worth the extra time and money. If you’re determined to go straight into a DNP after graduation, we take a close look at what awaits you.
Preparing for a DNP During Your BSN
How to Improve Your Chances of Acceptance
One of the major goals of a DNP program is to prepare nurses to become expert practitioners and nursing leaders within their workplace. That means committees are looking for DNP candidates who have cultivated these skills during their undergraduate years. To gain real-world experience in an academic setting, you may wish to:
- Become an active member of a national nursing organization
- Pursue beginner nursing certifications
- Seize opportunities to display your leadership skills (e.g mentoring younger students)
- Engage in evidence-based practice projects
- Apply for traineeships/internships
Recommended Undergraduate Courses
- Statistics (highly recommended)
- Research skills
- Health assessment
- Community nursing
- Anatomy & physiology
What You Can Expect in a Post-BSN Program
Typical Admission Requirements
Degree: BSN from a program with nursing accreditation (CCNE, ACEN, or CNEA)
GRE/GMAT: Often optional, but schools may wish to see your test scores as part of the application process. For example, one program requires a score of 5oo or higher on the verbal & quantitative sections (old GRE) and a minimum of 153 in the verbal & 144 in the quantitative (new GRE).
GPA: Usually > 3.0-3.5 on a 4.0 scale.
RN License: Schools may ask for your license to be in the same state as the university. So if you’re from Florida and applying to a Georgia school, you could need an RN license from Georgia. Check with your program if you are in any doubt.
Letters of Recommendation: Schools may request that one of these letters be from an APRN. That’s why working for a few years before entering the program could help with your application.
Experience: Experience requirements vary widely from program to program. Some schools demand you have 2 years or more of full-time RN experience; some don’t have any stipulations. To be eligible for the DNP in Nurse Anesthesia, for example, you must have spent one year in a critical care setting. There are also schools that allow you to obtain your clinical experience at the same time as you’re taking graduate core courses or prerequisites. We cover the experience debate in more depth below.
Typical Program Components
Length: 3-4 full-time years (~75-90 credit hours). For nurses juggling a regular job, childcare, and a part-time degree, this can stretch into a lot of time!
Courses: Depends on the focus of the degree (e.g. Family Practice vs. Midwifery). Classes should cover the areas listed in AACN’s Essentials of Doctoral Education (e.g. scientific underpinnings for practice, clinical scholarship and analytical methods, healthcare policy, etc.).
Clinical Practice: 1,000 hours for post-BSN programs. Schools may use your capstone project as the source of these clinical hours; others give you credit for attending policy summits, leading work teams, etc.
DNP Capstone Project: DNP students must complete an evidence-based capstone project focused on the application and assessment of a healthcare topic in a community or patient practice.
Certification/Licensure Preparation: Just like MSN programs, the DNP prepares APRN candidates to sit for national certification exams and apply for state licensure.
Do You Need Clinical Experience?
Clinical Experience vs. No Experience
Many nursing students wonder if they need a lot of real-world clinical experience in order to apply to a DNP. The short answer is no – some DNP programs accept BSN graduates with no experience whatsoever. In your program, your classmates may be a mix of case-hardened RNs, fresh-faced BSN graduates, and nurses who have worked in a variety of healthcare roles such as administration or education. Regardless of experience levels, you will all have to pass APRN certification and licensure exams at the end of your DNP.
However, it’s a no-brainer to say you can learn a lot from working as an RN before you pursue a doctorate. For example, a nurse in a rural ER will be exposed to a vast range of healthcare issues that he or she may wish to study in a DNP. What’s more:
- Because they’re trying to cover a lot of ground, undergraduate programs don’t always prepare you for real-world situations.
- Some DNP teachers will assume a certain amount of background knowledge. Those without clinical experience may struggle to keep up.
- The DNP curriculum may be geared towards nurses who can apply their capstone project to their current workplace.
Ask your program to explain how NP candidates with no significant work experience deal with the capstone project and clinical practice requirements. For instance, instead of applying the project to a workplace setting, some students choose to conduct small-scale studies in their local area or school district.
Options for Gaining Clinical Experience
Don’t reject a DNP just because you don’t have clinical experience. There are many creative ways you can combine work and education.
- Enroll in a DNP that doesn’t have RN requirements and accrue clinical practice hours during the course of your degree.
- Find work and pursue a DNP on a part-time basis. This will add years to your degree, but you will also be earning money to pay for fees and living expenses.
- Find part-time work and pursue a DNP on a full-time basis. This is an extremely tough challenge.
- Find work, earn enough money to pay for your degree, and then take the full-time DNP.
- Find work, enroll in a part-time DNP, and then switch to a full-time degree a few years later. Be aware that you run the risk of alienating your employers if you leave them after a short time period.