Across the nation there is a push to make the DNP the most-wanted degree for advanced nursing practice. Often confused with a PhD in nursing, the DNP is geared towards nurses with an interest in becoming a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse specialist, nursing administrator, or person in charge of staff development. Nurses with a background in public or community health also pursue a DNP. In many health-care settings, the degree helps a nurse advance within his or her career as well as enjoy greater autonomy.

Education Prerequisites

Nurses with an interest in entering a DNP program must possess a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) and a master’s degree in nursing or a related field (such as a MPH, MBA, or MHA). Those who do not have a BSN must have a master’s in nursing to enter a DNP program. Depending on school and state requirements, a prospective student must show evidence of an unrestricted nursing license as a registered nurse in the United States. One year of professional nursing experience is preferred but is not a requirement to enter a DNP program.

Depending on the school of choice, nurses must supply current certification in various areas, such as American Heart Association or Red Cross Professional Rescuer training. Certain DNP programs also require proof of NP certification.

As for coursework, students are expected to have completed at least one research course and one statistics course at the undergraduate or graduate level before starting DNP studies. Statistics is an important course to have under the belt when applying for a DNP program, and most schools require the completion of an upper-level statistics course (often finished within five years of an upcoming application deadline).

Program Coursework

Program coursework places emphasis on health-care delivery, the health-care delivery system, and also addresses clinical populations. The DNP prepares students to influence policy and to become leaders in the latest healthcare trends at the highest organizational level.

Typical courses in a DNP program often include subjects such as healthcare policy and politics, biostatistics, the business of healthcare, leadership theories and applications, project planning theories, healthcare ethics, and field experience.

A full-time course of study to obtain a DNP often takes two years (or six semesters) to complete, while a part-time course of study often takes three years or nine semesters. Depending on the school, students may combine online courses with intensive one and two-day sessions.

Nurses entering post-master’s DNP programs are often required to have 500 additional clinical hours that go beyond the requirement for a master’s degree. The clinical hours help establish a nurse’s competency related to leadership and scholarship and do not necessarily focus on advanced practice specialties.

Factors to Consider

When pursuing an advanced degree, the cost of education plays an important role in choosing a DNP program. Prospective students will also address the following factors and issues when it comes time to select the next step in his or her education path:

  • Application requirements
  • Financial aid options
  • Availability of flexible scheduling
  • Online and offline opportunities to learn
  • State requirements in education
  • Graduation rates and job placement percentages
  • Options to transfer credits, if necessary

Options for Continuing Education

Nurses who earn a DNP can enjoy greater autonomy within their prospective fields and also encounter more employment options. Those with an interest in teaching on the academic level (at a college or university) or conducting research may choose to pursue a PhD in nursing to continue their education.

However, prospective students looking to choose a DNP program that fits specific circumstances can start researching potential education selections by considering the following schools and programs: