Top Online DNP Nurse Practitioner Programs

A doctor of nursing practice (DNP) is the highest degree an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) such as a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse specialist, or nurse-midwife can earn in the nursing field. It is the terminal degree for nurses interested in advanced clinical practice. 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 for that. 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.

The DNP also 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) published a fact sheet in 2006 which outlined 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.

Online DNP-NP Program Rankings

Aspiring doctors of nursing practice should seek out educational programs that are accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), such as the ones listed in the table below (all have at least initial accreditation, and the vast majority have full accreditation).

These distance-based DNP-NP programs have mostly or fully online instruction with practicums local to the student and minimal campus visits. To qualify for inclusion in our rankings, a DNP-NP program must require no more than nine campus visits over its duration.

The programs listed are drawn from the NPSchools.com database, which contains information for more than 700 online advanced practice nursing programs at the MSN, DNP, and post-master’s certificate levels. We believe the database to contain a comprehensive list of online NP, clinical nurse specialist, and nurse-midwifery programs accepting applications at the outset of the 2019-2020 academic year.

The online DNP programs listed here are ranked by our AdvanceU score, which factors in cost, admissions flexibility, and program variety.

At NPSchools we seek to ensure the accuracy of the data on our website. Should you find an error or missing program, please contact us to bring it to our attention.

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DNP Nurse Practitioner Career and Salary

Salary ranges for RNs with a DNP and a nurse practitioner specialization fall into the overall category of nurse practitioners, anesthetists, and nurse-midwives, with DNP graduates edging toward the higher salary ranges. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) reports that salaries for these occupations range from approximately $80,000 to $182,000 with a median wage of $107,030 for nurse practitioners (BLS, 2018).

Additionally, MSN- and DNP-prepared nurse practitioners are in high demand with an expected growth of 28 percent between 2018 and 2028, compared to the average of 5 percent for all occupations (BLS, 2018). Correspondingly, employment for nurse-midwives is expected to rise 16 percent during that same time frame.