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The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is one of the two highest degrees that can be attained by a nursing professional. Unlike the other terminal degree, the research-based Ph.D. in Nursing, the DNP involves a clinically focused program that prepares students for a variety of advanced nursing positions.
In recent years, the number of students enrolling in and graduating from this program has increased dramatically to keep up with the growing emphasis on academic credentials in the field of nursing. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), nearly 22,000 students across the country were enrolled in DNP programs in 2015 and more than 4,000 graduated the same year. 
A DNP provides the education and experience you need to pursue a career as an advanced practice nurse, a field that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects will grow by 31% between 2014 and 2024.  To meet this increasing demand, some educational institutions have created specially designed programs that enable registered nurses without a higher degree to earn a doctorate in one cohesive program. In an RN to DNP program, a professional who is already a registered nurse can complete the terminal degree without first earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.
While students pursue a DNP for numerous reasons, one of the most common is to attain a career as an advanced practice nurse.
You should first consider your career goals if you are interested in pursuing a DNP.
DNP graduates often enter careers as advanced practice nurses or as leaders in health care organizations and settings, including:
Popular career goals for DNP students — and their average salaries from Payscale — include:
When it comes to determining if a specific RN to DNP program — and not just a DNP outcome — is right for you, consider your current level of education and how you wish to achieve your academic goals. If you have already completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), you should look into programs that are tailored for students with that educational background.
However, if you are a registered nurse who has yet to complete a college-level degree, the RN to DNP program could be right for you. These programs ensure that you have the courses you need to succeed after graduation.
However, an RN to DNP program is not your only option for obtaining a doctorate. Some students choose to first earn a BSN and then enroll in a BSN to DNP program, or even complete an MSN before completing a terminal degree through a fast-track MSN to DNP program.
Nursing programs are accredited by a number of organizations, including specialized groups that look at DNP concentrations related to certain advanced practice nursing roles, such as the American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation.
Check out the DNP website for the program you’re interested in to read biographies for different faculty members. Ask questions about professor availability, especially if you are in a different time zone. You want faculty who can answers questions on your schedule.
Based on your circumstances and learning style, you may do best taking classes at a physical location, online, or a combination of both settings. Remote learning options are becoming increasingly popular in both nursing and education in general. According to the 2015 Online Report Card by Babson Survey Research Group, 28% of students take at least one online course. 
To be sure the program not only aligns with your professional goals but also can be accommodated in your current lifestyle, verify the length of the program you are considering. Many programs allow students to enroll full or part time and offer the option of taking a term off as needed. If a flexible schedule is necessary for you or you have to finish your degree in a certain amount of time, the program length should be a high priority.
When it comes to paying for your education, you should not simply look at the total price of tuition. Look into scholarships and other assistance — if any — the school offers. Also factor in the costs associated with a commute or move if you plan to complete your degree at a physical location. You may choose an online format to avoid those costs.
Curriculum and specializations
The courses you take and the specialization you choose for your degree can have a significant influence on your future career options. Choosing a program with the proper instruction that will most closely align with your ultimate goals is critical. When it comes to tailoring your degree to a specific career option, some of the most common specializations for DNP programs are:
Success of previous students
If you want to get an idea of how well a certain program will prepare you for life after graduation, look at the success of previous students. Most schools will offer statistics regarding the employment rate and other metrics of their graduates that will give you an idea of what you can expect upon completion of your degree. Also look into resources the program offers to nursing students, such as career counseling, resume assistance, and networking opportunities.
Ultimately, the easiest way to get an idea of the quality of an RN to DNP program is to see how it stacks up to other schools. Consult rankings issued yearly by credible organizations to gauge regional and national academic leaders.
Common areas of advanced nursing practice can include, but are not limited to, the following settings:
Within these settings, popular job titles include:
The role of a family nurse practitioner is similar to that of a family physician. Like doctors, FNPs provide primary care, which includes diagnosing conditions, prescribing medication, and ordering tests. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, about 55% of certified NPs are in the family clinical focus. 
Similar to an FNP, an adult care nurse practitioner also provides primary care, but specializes in adult care. According to the AANP, nearly 17% of NPs choose this specialization, which can focus specifically on geriatrics or adults of all ages. The AANP reported that approximately 32% of adult care NPs work in primary care. 
As opposed to the individual primary care provided by NPs, public health nurses work to protect and promote the health of the general public. According to the American Nurses Association, specific areas of advocacy and education for public health nurses can include topics such as infection prevention and immunizations. 
There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes at health care organizations, and the intimate knowledge of the field that nurses possess makes them well-suited for the job. Nurse administrators often oversee the management of staff teams within health care organizations.
The use of a midwife is becoming increasingly common in the U.S. According to the American College of Nurse-Midwives, the most recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics reported that about 12% of vaginal births in 2014 were attended by nurse-midwives and certified midwives.  Nurse-midwives are not only responsible for labor and delivery, but also provide primary and specialty care for female patients.
A nurse anesthetist helps care for patients from pre-surgery assessment through postoperative recovery, including the administration of anesthesia.
Ultimately, the curriculum of an RN to DNP program should prepare you to assume a leadership role in a health care organization following graduation. To ensure this objective is met, there are multiple things that you should look for when examining a program’s curriculum. This includes:
Ultimately, be sure that the coursework lines up with your career goals. If a particular program does not provide courses that would prove useful in your future role, consider earning your DNP with another school that better suits your career ambitions.
While the specific learning goals of a program vary by school and concentration, the overarching emphasis is to prepare students to provide the best possible care to patients after graduation. AACN reported that DNP programs with an advanced practice focus must prepare graduates in three specific areas:
In programs that have more of an aggregate/systems/organizational focus, the AACN reported that students must be competent in:
Family nurse practitioner
The FNP concentration is designed to train students to provide clinical primary care to patients of all ages. You will also learn to design and implement strategies in line with current health care trends and best practices and influence policies at the local, state, and national level.
Adult care nurse practitioner
Similar to the FNP program, the adult care nurse practitioner concentration — sometimes also referred to as adult gerontological primary care — also prepares nurses to provide primary care, but with a focus on adult and geriatric patients. Graduates will also work on strategies to ensure quality care and patient safety.
Public health nurse
The public health nursing concentration gives students the opportunity to focus on issues that affect entire communities. As primary health care and public health become more intertwined, nurses with a DNP in Public Health Nursing are well-placed to assume positions in national, state, and local organizations that promote population health.
In the nursing administration specialization, students are equipped with the skills to lead behind the scenes in a health care organization. This includes studying health care policy, human resources, informatics, and other administrative topics.
When pursuing a nurse-midwife concentration, students are trained not only to assist in labor and delivery but also to assess and manage the issues involved in women’s health. The program also prepares graduates to be leaders in their health care organization.
The nurse anesthetist specialization prepares students to care for patients from assessments prior to surgery through postoperative discharge. This includes creating individualized plans of care for patients and deepening knowledge of the practice of anesthesia.
Healthcare Needs Nursing Leaders. You Can Help. Find Your DNP Now.Learn More
Set Yourself Apart from 99% of Nurses with Your DNP. Learn more.Learn More
Want To Improve Patient Outcomes? Explore Your DNP Options Here.Learn More
The length of an online master’s degree program can depend on a number of variables, perhaps the most prominent of which is the pace at which you choose to study. You can finish a typical master’s degree program in about two to three years if you choose to study full-time, although some accelerated programs may be able to help you finish more quickly.
Online master’s degree programs tend to offer flexibility suitable for students who choose to study part-time. This option will likely extend your time to completion, but it can allow you to study while fulfilling your familial, social, and professional obligations.
You can find more information on this topic at our program length overview page.
The exact number of courses required in an RN to DNP program vary by school. However, students typically must complete somewhere around 85 and 95 credits, which usually takes approximately four to six years to complete. Some programs can be completed in as few as three years if you take courses full time.
While each program will set its admissions requirements based on its own criteria, many requirements are universal across all programs. No matter where you apply, you can expect to provide items like transcripts from previous degrees or coursework; standardized test scores; a personal statement or essay; letters of recommendation; and an overview of relevant work experience.
In certain cases, some of these requirements may be waived.
For more information about admissions, please visit our admissions requirements page.
To enroll in an RN to DNP program, the first thing to do is complete your registered nurse certification. It is also recommended that you work in the field for at least a year before applying to earn your DNP.
While specific admission requirements vary by institution, common requirements include:
You may also be asked to complete an interview, either in person or remotely.
If you are already an RN but are unsure if a DNP is right for you at this time, consider one of these alternative degrees to advance your career:
If you complete a BSN or MSN, you can choose to enroll in a DNP program at a later date. Your other degrees will shorten the number of credits you need to complete the doctorate.
Advanced practice nursing is a valuable part of the health care system, but it is not the only area in which you can help people.
Some alternative degrees that may interest you include:
Earning a higher degree in public health equips nurses to help care for patients on a large scale, whether in their own community or at a global level. These programs cover topics such as public relations, health informatics, and community health.
Data is being collected at an increasing rate across all industries, health care included. To collect, store, and leverage this growing amount of information, professionals are needed who have expertise in both health care and information systems, which nurses can gain through health informatics program.
Regional accreditation is the most prestigious type of accreditation that an online or traditional college or university can receive. It is granted only after careful consideration by private, not-for-profit organizations tasked with evaluating educational quality.
Regional accreditation is particularly important if you anticipate that you might want to transfer credits from one online degree program to another or use those credits to pursue another degree. Most regionally accredited schools will only accept credits from other regionally accredited institutions of higher learning.
For a school’s program to be accredited, it must conform to a number of predetermined regional or national standards. These accreditations not only demonstrate the program’s quality to potential students, but also ensure future employers that the advanced practice nurse is equipped to provide exemplary patient care after graduation.
Typically, programs are either regionally or nationally accredited. Specific concentrations also generally require their own accreditation. For example, the American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation approves nurse-midwife specializations, and the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs approves nurse anesthetists specializations.
You can learn more on this topic at our regional accreditation page.
Licensing is critical in the nursing field. Public safety depends upon set standards that nurses must meet.
At the most basic level, professionals must earn certification by passing the National Council Licensure Examination to be considered a registered nurse. The six-hour test is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Nurses typically then have to meet additional certification requirements that vary by state.
As an RN, you have already met these requirements. But if you wish to fill a leadership role after completing your DNP, addition licensing may be required. For example, to take on one of the advanced practice nursing roles, you will need to go through additional certification when you approach graduation. The following are licensure requirements for three of the most prominent advanced practice nursing roles:
To work as a nurse practitioner, graduates must first obtain board certification in a specific focus, such as family practice or women’s health. Once board certification has been obtained, aspiring NPs need to apply for state and federal level credentials, such as with the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. NPs must maintain certification by earning continuing education credits.
In addition to completing a higher degree, nurse anesthetists must complete certification through the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. The standing must be renewed every two years through the completion of continuing education courses.
After completing their education, nurse-midwives must be certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB). The AMCB is the same organization that certifies graduate-level nurse-midwife programs.
Yes. You must be a registered nurse with an active license in the United States with no encumbrances at the time of application.
Experience is usually recommended but might not be required.
n today’s evolving health care environment, there’s an increased complexity of patient care and concern about quality of care and safety. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for nurse practitioners will increase by 31% from 2014 to 2024 (much faster than average). 
A doctorate degree can help you stay ahead and be competitive in the field. There’s an increasing educational expectation, especially for those seeking top roles. A doctorate degree can help you build the advanced skills sought by employers and help expand career opportunities, such as roles in leadership and education. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, in 2014, there were a total of 1,236 faculty vacancies, of which 89% require or prefer candidates with doctoral degrees. 
Currently, DNP is not a common credential, but it might be prefered in the near future. There’s a movement to support more practice-based doctoral nurses. According to The Future of Nursing, a study done by the Institute of Medicine committee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, there is a need to double the number of RNs with doctorates to ensure registered nurses are fully engaged and well-prepared to assume leadership roles in redesigning care.  In response, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has created task forces on expanding doctoral nursing programs. 
While one can directly complete a BSN or MSN program before enrolling in a DNP program, the RN to DNP programs can be more time- and cost-effective. RN to DNP programs are generally designed for those with a bachelor’s, associate, or diploma looking to become an advanced practice nurse. As such, these programs usually offer various entry points with bridge courses to allow students to seamlessly transition and earn a BSN or MSN along the way to completing a DNP.
It varies and depends on the program you choose. While many programs do require a bachelor’s in nursing, some programs accept applications from experienced registered nurses who hold an associate degree or diploma in nursing. Registered nurses with a diploma or ADN should anticipate more coursework than those with a BSN, as many programs require additional bridge coursework.
Key attributes to look for include:
It should also be considered whether the program awards a BSN or MSN along the way to the DNP. Many online programs require on-campus visits, which should be considered to ensure it works with your commitments.
General RN-DNP programs provide students a comprehensive learning experience. You may touch on different specializations in small doses, rounding off your education. General RN-DNP programs usually focus on family nurse practitioner topics. On the other hand, picking a specialization will help give you an advantage in that specific career path, but you likely won’t have as much knowledge in other areas.
Usually there are. It varies based on the program’s required admission entry point: diploma, associate, or bachelor’s degree. Some required prerequisite courses can include college algebra, statistics, psychology, anatomy, physiology, foundations of nursing practice, research, and microbiology.
It varies. A sampling of online RN-DNP programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) indicates credit hours ranging from 60 to 115, which translates to programs taking about three to five years to complete. Registered nurses with a diploma or ADN should anticipate more coursework than those with BSN, because many programs require additional bridge coursework.
More often than not, online RN-to-DNP programs require some on-campus or clinical hours. Typically, programs require at least 1,000 clinical hours plus potentially two to three on-campus sessions during the program.
ook for a program with a curriculum that fits your interest or needs. Based on your career or academic goals, choose a specialization that interests you. As most online programs require clinical hours, understand in advance the necessary time commitment.
The general learning goal for an RN-DNP program is to help students improve care for patients, health care teams, and communities through building advanced nursing practice, informatics, and leadership skills. Courses may include health systems leadership, applied statistics analysis, and health care ethics. If you choose to pursue a concentration, specialized courses should complement and further build on the core courses. With clinical hours required, students will also gain hands-on experience.
Some programs also prepare you to take the Family Nurse Practitioner certification exam through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).
Because the end goal of an RN-DNP program is to obtain a DNP, all programs, online or on campus, must adhere to a consistent set of standards titled the Essentials of Doctoral Education of Advanced Nursing Practice (DNP Essentials). 
Asynchronous coursework can be completed on your own time — a big plus for many online graduate students who may be working around a busy work schedule or home life. Synchronous coursework has to be completed within a set timeframe. This is typically done for group projects, seminars, presentations, and other learning initiatives that require multiple attendees.
The elements of asynchronous and synchronous learning in your online program depend on the professor and the course. Once you enroll, reach out to teachers for specifics, but remember that the curriculum may be divided into these two subsets.
A sampling of online RN-DNP programs accredited by Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) shows some nurse practitioner specializations include Adult-Gerontology Primary Care, Clinical, Family Primary Care, Health Care Systems, Nurse Midwife, Pediatric Primary Care, and Psychiatry Mental health.
The general education and nursing core courses are usually the same. Specializations allow students to find and tailor a curriculum based on his or her interests. Picking a specialization will help give you an advantage in that specific career path, but you likely won’t develop as much knowledge of other specific areas.
Clinical experiences can complement your professional experience and help you apply what you learn from your online program. They can help you integrate the skills and knowledge from classroom settings into practice settings. If you are pursuing a specialization that might be new to you, clinical experiences will be a great opportunity for you to demonstrate your understanding and readiness for a career in this track.
DNP preceptors are mentors during the program’s required clinical experience. They guide and work with you as you complete your clinical hours. They also evaluate and sign off on your hours.
It varies. While some programs ask you to secure your own preceptors, there are programs that offer arrangement assistance. Whichever the case, be sure to inquire in advance how the school’s student advising/support or program’s faculty can help. Many schools provide online students the same access to on-campus resources.
Most schools ask that you document your hours. The documentation method varies by school. There might be a form for you, your student advisor or advising faculty, and the preceptor to sign and confirm hours completed. As you work toward your required clinical hours, be sure to follow your school’s verification method.
As a RN with a DNP, career options are many and varied, depending on your interest and experience. Aside from hands-on nursing roles, a doctorate degree can help expand career opportunities related to leadership and teaching roles. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, in 2014, there were 1,236 faculty vacancies, of which 89% require or prefer candidates with a doctoral degrees.  Some settings include:
Most RN-DNP programs require at least 1,000 clinical hours.
A sampling of online RN-DNP programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) indicates credit hours ranging from 60 to 100, which translates to three to five years of completion time.
Although the programs are delivered online, they usually have a maximum period to complete the degree. Within each course, while you may be able to choose when to complete readings or lecture videos, assignments typically must be completed within a specified timeframe.
Tuition can vary significantly based on a number of factors including state of residency and the total required credit hours. Based on a sampling of accredited online RN-DNP programs, the tuition cost can range from $59,000 to $80,900.
Generally there are supplementary costs apart from tuition. The tuition does not usually include the cost of books or additional fees. These additional costs will vary from program to program.
The largest provider of student financial aid in the nation is the Federal Student Aid office in the U.S. Department of Education. It supplies college-level or career school students with loans, grants, and work-study funds. You can apply for federal financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as FAFSA.
There are numerous other scholarships available, but you will need to research which opportunities you’re qualified to pursue. Many states, associations, websites, and businesses award scholarships based on specific criteria. Be sure to do your research and apply for any scholarships you’re qualified to be awarded. 
There are two types of accreditation to be considered: programmatic and institutional. Programmatic accreditations are administered by professionally oriented speciality bodies. The accrediting bodies judge a program’s educational quality based on a set standard. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) are the two most recognized program accrediting agencies in the nursing field. Institutional accreditations are administered by regional agencies. They evaluate colleges and universities as a whole to ensure they meet certain standards of quality.
The CCNE accredits only bachelor’s, master’s, and residency programs in nursing, while the ACEN accredits all types of nursing education programs, from associate-level programs through doctorates, as well as a number of more specialized program types.
While ACEN and/or CCNE accreditations are important for reassurance of education quality, regional institutional accreditation should also be considered. There are a number of regional accrediting bodies that oversee higher education institutions in their areas:
Yes, pursuing a non-accredited RN-DNP can pose some risks. Pursuing a program that isn’t accredited can mean the curriculum doesn’t meet industry standards. While accreditation doesn’t guarantee quality, it does provide assurance that there is some oversight on its instruction and authority to issue degrees. Lacking accreditation can restrict your ability to transfer credits to another school.
Also, it may affect your federal financial aid eligibility. The U.S. Department of Education requires schools participating in student aid programs to be accredited.  This may also impact how employers evaluate your credentials when compared to others with an accredited degree.
As a graduate from an accredited program, your degree will remain accredited because the curriculum at the time of your graduation was accredited.
SARA (State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement) applies only to distance education programs in the United States that cross state lines. This agreement is made between member states and establishes comparable postsecondary national standards for distance education courses.
Not every state is a SARA member. Through SARA, member states only have to receive authorization in their home state. Without SARA, non-member states would have to receive authorization in their home state and the state of each of their online students. 
Every school has a department or team responsible for online education. This department will be able to answer questions regarding compliance for your home state. Additionally, you can locate the school through SARA (if it is a SARA institution) to confirm compliance.
No, SARA is separate from any professional licensing board approval for programs leading to state licensing. You should inquire and follow your state licensing requirements through the appropriate state board of nursing.
The best source to determine licensure requirements is your state’s board of nursing. As stated by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the general components of nursing licensure include: 
To understand your state’s requirements, contact its Board of Nursing.