Introduction to the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree
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The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a terminal nursing degree that prepares nurses for advanced practice roles such as nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, certified registered nurse anesthetist, and certified nurse midwife. The DNP is also increasingly being recognized as the minimal educational requirement for entry into certain specialty areas of nursing such as informatics and systems leadership.
This terminal degree typically requires 3-5 years of full-time study beyond the bachelor’s level, including completion of a research project or dissertation. Although most programs require at least some on-campus coursework or residencies, many offer distance learning options that allow working nurses to continue their education while still employed. Graduates of DNP programs are prepared to assume significant responsibility for improving patient care outcomes through direct clinical practice, nursing research, and system leadership. For those interested in pursuing a career in nursing at the highest level, the DNP is an excellent choice.
Advanced Practice Nursing Roles That Require a DNP Degree
In the United States, several advanced practice nursing roles require a DNP degree, including Nurse Practitioners (NPs), Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs), and Certified Nurse Anesthetists (CNAs). According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), as of 2021, there were over 8,000 active DNP programs in the U.S.
Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are advanced practice nurses who provide primary and specialty healthcare services to patients of all ages. NPs are trained to diagnose and treat acute and chronic illnesses and often collaborate with physicians. According to the AACN, more than 50% of NPs hold a DNP degree.
Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs) are advanced practice nurses who focus on a specific population, such as pediatrics or gerontology, or a specific area of practice, such as oncology or critical care. CNSs work to improve patient outcomes by designing and implementing evidence-based practice guidelines and leading quality improvement initiatives. The National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists recommends that CNSs earn a DNP degree.
Certified Nurse Anesthetists (CNAs) are advanced practice nurses who administer anesthesia to patients undergoing surgery or other medical procedures. CNAs work closely with anesthesiologists and other healthcare team members to ensure that patients are safe and comfortable during surgery. In 2021, the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA) voted to make the DNP degree the minimum educational requirement for all new nurse anesthesia students starting in 2025.
Nurse midwives care for women’s reproductive health before to, during, and following childbirth. Additionally, they are tasked for providing primary care and counseling to the parent throughout the infant’s development.
There are many benefits to earning a DNP degree for advanced practice nurses. According to a survey conducted by the AACN, DNP-prepared nurses reported higher levels of job satisfaction and leadership experience compared to their counterparts with a master’s degree. In addition, DNP-prepared nurses reported higher salaries and more opportunities for advancement.
DNP Frequently Asked Questions
- What does a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree entail?
The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program is designed to prepare nurses to practice at the greatest level of nursing expertise possible in healthcare. Enrolling in a DNP program equips nurses with the knowledge and skills necessary to improve patient outcomes at the community and industrial levels.
These clinical experts may fulfill duties that contribute to the quality of direct care. Additionally, they may contribute to the improvement of the medical facility’s outcomes by utilizing their organizational leadership abilities.
DNPs may also find themselves in a position to effect change in the sector. They accomplish this through enacting more favorable health policies, assisting nursing students, or joining the faculty of a university.
- What Is the Function of a Doctor of Nursing Practice?
By joining advanced nursing practice, a DNP-holder nurse can assume a leadership role or provide direct patient care.
- Is a DNP and a Ph.D. the Same Thing?
The DNP, like the Ph.D., is a terminal degree. Additionally, the DNP and Ph.D. are the only two doctoral-level nursing degrees.
You will be able to work as a Nurse Practitioner regardless of whether you get a DNP or a Ph.D. While neither degree is more “advanced” than the other, there are distinctions.
It is critical to understand that a Ph.D. is a more research-oriented degree that is often obtained by individuals interested in conducting scholarly research.
If you wish to work as a nurse practitioner after earning a Ph.D., you must first earn a post-graduate certificate. However, earning a practice-focused nursing degree, such as a DNP, will provide you an advantage in many instances while providing main or specialized care to patients.
You will possess all of the necessary expertise to implement evidence-based procedures.
- Where Do Doctor Of Nursing Practice Work?
After completing a doctorate, nurses may pursue positions in health care administration. These leaders are responsible for ensuring the seamless operation of a medical institution or an entire leadership team on a daily basis.
A PhD holder may opt to work in the nursing education system, such as in a university, or as professors at nursing schools. They can assist in educating and graduating the next generation of students and nurses.
After earning their post master’s degree, these nurses can also work as Advanced Practice Nurses, offering primary care/acute care to patients.
Following completion of the program, a doctorate holder may establish their own clinical practice, work as a health lobbyist to ensure that evidence-based practice is implemented throughout the state or country, or work as a clinical health researcher.
- Salary for a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
Calculating a DNP’s pay potential is challenging, as these individuals might do a variety of functions in the sector.
While a professional with a Master of Science in Nursing can work as an advanced practice nurse, a professional with a DNP can also function as an APRN. The median income for APRNs was $117,670 in 2020, while DNP-qualified professionals make significantly more.
Nurse midwives make a median annual pay of $111,130, whereas CRNAs earn a median annual salary of $165,120. Because DNPs have the greatest level of education, they should expect to earn significantly more than MSN holders in comparable positions.
While having a DNP does not guarantee a higher compensation, a clinical expert with a DNP often earns the highest wage for the profession.
What Are the Tuition and Costs of a DNP Program?
The tuition and costs of a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program can vary significantly depending on the school, location, and type of degree being sought. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the average cost for a full-time student enrolled in an online DNP program is approximately $20,000 per year or around $70,000 in total. For traditional programs, the cost can be slightly higher due to associated fees such as lab equipment and books. Additionally, some schools may require internships or clinical rotations which may incur additional expenses like travel costs or lodging. Ultimately, it’s important to research all available options carefully before committing to a program in order to find one that fits both your financial needs and career goals.
What Is the Process for Becoming a Doctor of Nursing Practice?
Traditionally, a student must acquire a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from an approved nursing school before enrolling in a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program. After earning an MSN, students can enroll in a DNP program and acquire a doctorate.
However, there are several ways to get a DNP:
These nursing practice programs are designed for students and nurses who hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing discipline. A direct-entry DNP program prepares students by training and certifying them as highly knowledgeable nurses.
This school of nursing program requires between four and six years of full-time education to complete.
Bridge Programs for RNs to DNPs
A RN-to-DNP program trains registered nurses to become DNPs without requiring them to retake any courses. RNs who opt to study full-time can complete the degree in three years. However, RNs who prefer to work while learning might enroll in a part-time program and complete it in six years.
The majority of these programs provide nurses with an MSN prior to beginning the DNP curriculum.
Bridge Programs from BSN to DNP
These programs combine the MSN and DNP curricula and expedite the DNP procedure. After earning their MSN, a nurse may choose to leave the school or nursing program. Completion of these programs can take up to four years of full-time study and six years of part-time study.
DNP Programs Available Online
Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs offer nurses the opportunity to advance their education and obtain a higher-level degree. With online DNP programs, students have the flexibility to complete coursework on their own schedule, allowing them to work and/or attend to family obligations while advancing their education. Online DNP programs are designed with an advanced curriculum and research emphasis, preparing nurses to become reflective practitioners, ethical leaders, translational scholars, and health care advocates. Graduates of an online DNP program will be well-prepared to assume advanced nursing roles in clinical practice and leadership positions within the healthcare system.
- “As of 2021, there were over 8,000 active DNP programs in the U.S.” – American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). (2021). DNP Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.aacnnursing.org/DNP/Statistics
- “More than 50% of NPs hold a DNP degree.” – American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). (2021). DNP Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.aacnnursing.org/DNP/Statistics
- “The National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists recommends that CNSs earn a DNP degree.” – National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NACNS). (n.d.). Position Statement on the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree. Retrieved from https://www.nacns.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Position-Statement-on-the-Doctor-of-Nursing-Practice-DNP-Degree.pdf
- “In 2021, the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA) voted to make the DNP degree the minimum educational requirement for all new nurse anesthesia students starting in 2025.” – Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA). (2021). COA Votes to Raise Educational Requirements for Entry into Nurse Anesthesia Practice. Retrieved from https://www.coacrna.org/news/2021/2/22/coa-votes-to-raise-educational-requirements-for-entry-into-nurse-anesthesia-practice
- “DNP-prepared nurses reported higher levels of job satisfaction and leadership experience compared to their counterparts with a master’s degree. In addition, DNP-prepared nurses reported higher salaries and more opportunities for advancement.” – American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). (2020). The Impact of the DNP on Advanced Practice Nursing. Retrieved from https://www.aacnnursing.org/Portals/42/Publications/Impact%20of%20the%20DNP%20on%20APN%20Practice.pdf
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing. “Frequently Asked Questions About the DNP Degree.” AACN, 2019, https://www.aacnnursing.org/DNP/Frequently-Asked-Questions#costs.