Top Online DNP Nurse Practitioner Programs

A doctor of nursing practice (DNP) is the highest degree an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) can earn in the nursing field. This includes nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, clinical nurse specialists, or nurse-midwives. While registered nurses (RNs) are not required to earn a DNP in order to become an APRN, there is a movement toward making that the standard, spearheaded by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

There are several reasons behind the movement to require a DNP to become an APRN. First, the number of credits required to earn a master’s degree in one of these fields is often equivalent to the number required for doctoral degrees in other health professions. Second, quality and safety requirements are becoming even more critical in nursing and health professions, and the DNP provides a higher level of education and training in these areas. Third, nurse practitioners and other nursing specializations are being called upon to be educated in leadership, health care systems, and other organizational roles in the workplace. And finally, as the complexity of patient care increases, nurses need to know how to navigate these complex issues.

Why choose to earn a DNP rather than an MSN? The two biggest differences between a DNP and MSN are the scope of practice and salaries. An APRN with a DNP degree has the same level of practice autonomy as a nurse with an MSN (depending on the state practice environment) but is prepared for higher-level leadership roles in healthcare-related research and hospital administration. In addition, DNPs may be sought after as policy-makers and consultants for private industries such as insurance, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical companies.

Although the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) does not distinguish between MSN- and DNP-prepared NPs, it reports that nurse practitioners in the US earn an average wage of $114,510, with the bottom 10 percent making $82,960 or less and the top 10 percent making $156,160 or more (BLS May 2020).

Furthermore, nurse practitioners are in high demand, with an expected 52 percent increase in positions nationally between 2019 and 2029, compared to the average of 4 percent for all occupations (BLS 2020).

Earning a DNP provides an opportunity to study leadership, evidence-based practice, quality improvement, interpersonal communication, and health care systems in a practice-focused manner rather than a research-based doctoral education. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) outlines the areas of study for DNP programs:

  • Scientific underpinnings for practice
  • Organizational and systems leadership for quality improvement and systems thinking
  • Clinical scholarship and analytical methods for evidence-based practice
  • Information systems/technology and patient care technology for the improvement and transformation of health care
  • Health care policy for advocacy in health care
  • Interprofessional collaboration for improving patient and population health outcomes
  • Clinical prevention and population health for improving the nation’s health
  • Advanced nursing practice

The DNP degree requires the completion of a practicum consisting of 1,000 or more clinical hours in a supervised setting. Master’s-prepared RNs may be able to apply up to 500 hours from their master of science in nursing (MSN) to their DNP clinical requirement. However, those with a bachelor’s degree in nursing must complete the full DNP practicum. In their practicums, nursing students work with practicing NPs and others in a professional healthcare facility such as a hospital. Many online NP programs also require students to visit campus one or more times to complete clinical intensives at the nursing school.

Based on trends supported by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), RNs aspiring to become APRNs stand to benefit from a wider range of career options and higher salaries by earning a DNP degree.

Read on to learn more about top online DNP-NP programs.

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