doctor of nursing practice
doctor of nursing practice

Doctor of Nursing Practice: Is a DNP the Right Degree for You?

If you’re thinking about obtaining a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), you’re in good company.

The number of nurses enrolled in Doctor of Nursing Practice programs increased almost fivefold between 2010 and 2018. Why?

Nursing authorities have called for all entry-level NP education to be moved to the DNP degree by 2025. In turn, interest in the degree has grown exponentially.

More nurses are heading back to school to earn the terminal clinical degree in nursing and the professional opportunity that comes with it.

As you consider whether the Doctor of Nursing Practice is right for you, keep this article close. It will help you explore your career options and educational paths and answer the question, "What is a DNP?"


what is the doctor of nursing practice

What Is a DNP?

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a terminal degree in nursing.

It's ideal if you're seeking an alternative to research doctoral degrees. Unlike the Doctor of Nursing Philosophy, the Doctor of Nursing Practice focuses on clinical practice.

It will enhance your ability to:

  • Advance the profession of nursing.
  • Ensure the highest quality of patient care.
  • Improve health care at a population level.

Many other health professions offer doctoral degrees in clinical practice. Examples are medicine (MD), dentistry (DDS) and pharmacy (PharmD).

The Doctor of Nursing Practice builds on master's degree programs. It cultivates expertise in advanced areas of nursing, such as evidence-based practice, quality improvement and leadership.

Over the next decade, the National Academy of Medicine believes the nursing profession will face multiple challenges in meeting health care demands.

The good news is DNP-prepared graduates are equipped to maximize the impact of nursing in a variety of roles.

They can fill the nation’s need for health care professionals, including nursing instructors, advanced clinicians and administrators. They're also best positioned for senior leadership and organizational positions.


doctor of nursing practice history

What Is the History of the Doctor of Nursing Practice?

Today, the U.S. is home to approximately 350 Doctor of Nursing Practice programs. But they weren’t always so prevalent.

Between 1979 and 2004, American universities established just eight practice-focused doctoral nursing programs. Each had its own approach to training advanced practice nurses.

The Millennium sparked a new interest in graduate nursing education. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) credits multiple factors, including:

  • The rapid expansion of the knowledge underlying nursing practice
  • Increasingly complex patient care
  • National concerns about the quality and safety of patient care
  • Shortages of nursing personnel and doctorally-prepared nurse educators
  • Growing expectations for the educational preparation of members of the health care team

In 2002, AACN created a task force to study clinical and practice doctoral programs. Its mission? Evaluate existing programs and provide suggestions for their future development.

Two years later, AACN members voted to endorse several of the task force recommendations.

First, they decided the Doctor of Nursing Practice would become the only degree title for practice-focused doctoral nursing programs. They also called for it to replace the master’s degree as the minimum level of preparation for advanced practice nursing.

AACN’s new position on the Doctor of Nursing Practice accelerated enrollment in degree programs.

Between 2010 and 2018, the number of employed nurses with a doctoral degree increased by over 235%. As of 2018, there were almost 34,000 doctorally prepared nurses working in the U.S.


doctor of nursing practice jobs

What Jobs Can I Hold with a Doctor of Nursing Practice?

The Doctor of Nursing Practice can prepare you to work in advanced practice nursing, nursing education or leadership and administration. Each field is crucial to improving the profession, patient outcomes and health care.

Advanced Nursing Jobs

According to AACN, the Doctor of Nursing Practice is designed to help graduates become leaders in nursing and scientific inquiry.

As a result, many choose to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

APRNs have advanced clinical training and provide a broad scope of direct patient care. They assess, diagnose and manage health problems, order tests and, in some states, prescribe medications.

A Doctor of Nursing Practice program in advanced practice nursing will prepare you for one of the four APRN roles:

  • Nurse Practitioner: A health care provider with expertise in diagnosing and treating health conditions, disease prevention and health management. Almost 67% of nurse practitioners are family nurse practitioners.
  • Certified Nurse-Midwife: A primary care provider for women across their lifespans. They provide care during pregnancy, childbirth and for gynecologic and reproductive health.
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist: An APRN who administers anesthesia and other medications to patients in collaboration with their physicians.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist: A clinician with advanced knowledge in a specialized area of nursing practice, such as a population, disease or health problem.

APRNs are one of the most in-demand roles in health care.

Between 2018 and 2028, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the employment of nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists to grow by 26%.

That's over five times faster than the national average.


nursing education jobs

Nursing Education Jobs

Continuing education enables nurses to improve their practice and patient outcomes. That's why they receive training throughout their careers and not just during a degree program.

The Doctor of Nursing Practice will prepare you to educate nurses at every stage. You can work in academic and clinical settings in an instructional or administrative capacity.

Job titles in nursing education include:

  • Nurse Educator
  • Nursing Education Consultant
  • Dean of Nursing
  • Director of Nursing Professional Development

The job outlook for nursing instructors is exceptionally bright. BLS projects employment will increase by 20% between 2018 and 2028, four times faster than average.


leadership administration jobs

Leadership and Administration Jobs

A Doctor of Nursing Practice program will also qualify you to work at a systems or organization level. You can make a broad impact in fields such as nursing administration, nursing informatics and health care policy.

Common positions are:

  • Chief Nurse Executive: Oversees nursing at a systems level, including standards of practice, operations, human resources and finances.
  • Director of Nursing: Designs and implements nursing practice initiatives and standards and serves as a liaison between the nursing staff and medical staff.
  • Director of Patient Services: Creates, implements and improves patient care initiatives and procedures, patient admission procedures and patient records.
  • Public Health Nurse: Promotes public health and safety in the community through prevention, advocacy and education.

It's a great time to become a healthcare administrator. Employment will rise 18% between 2018 and 2028, according to BLS.


doctor of nursing practice competencies

Doctor of Nursing Practice: Competencies

Your day-to-day practice as a DNP-prepared nurse will depend on your occupation. But every Doctor of Nursing Practice program prepares its students to carry out tasks in eight common areas.

These areas are called the DNP Essentials. According to AACN, they are the core competencies vital for all Doctor of Nursing Practice graduates.

Here’s an overview of the DNP Essentials and examples of how you might apply them on the job:

1. Scientific Underpinnings for Practice
Understanding and employing natural and social sciences, which form the foundation for nursing practice.

  • Evaluate the outcomes of health care delivery.
  • Enhance and develop new approaches to health care delivery.

2. Organizational and Systems Leadership for Quality Improvement and Systems Thinking
Using business and financial intelligence as well as the ability to assess systems, identify issues and facilitate change to eliminate health disparities and promote safety and excellence.

  • Create and assess approaches to delivering patient care.
  • Manage quality improvement initiatives, including planning and budgeting.

3. Clinical Scholarship and Analytical Methods for Evidence-Based Practice
Leading evidence-based practice by producing evidence and applying and assessing new science.

  • Design and evaluate approaches to quality improvement.
  • Analyze and apply relevant literature to create practice guidelines.

4. Information Systems/Technology and Patient Care Technology for the Improvement and Transformation of Health Care
Using information technology to improve patient care, support practice and strengthen administrative decision-making.

  • Select and evaluate programs that monitor patient care outcomes.
  • Lead the evaluation and resolution of ethics and legal issues related to patient information and patient care technology.


health care policy

5. Health Care Policy for Advocacy in Health Care
Contributing to the creation of health care policies that address the needs of the public and nursing profession.

  • Design and examine health policy proposals and policies.
  • Educate various stakeholders about nursing and patient care outcomes.

6. Interprofessional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes
Leading teams and promoting collaboration across health disciplines.

  • Guide teams in evaluating complex issues of practice and organization.
  • Employ effective communication and collaboration to create change.

7. Clinical Prevention and Population Health for Improving the Nation’s Health
Providing leadership in integrating health promotion and illness prevention to improve the nation’s health.

  • Analyze scientific data on individual, aggregate and population health.
  • Develop, implement and evaluate interventions to address health promotion and disease prevention.

8. Advanced Nursing Practice
Cultivating expertise in an area of nursing specialization.

  • Comprehensively assess health and illness parameters.


obtain doctor of nursing practice degree

How Do I Obtain a Doctor of Nursing Practice?

The process of becoming a Doctor of Nursing Practice has two parts: education and certification. This section summarizes the training you’ll need to earn the degree.

Prerequisites for Doctor of Nursing Practice Programs

To qualify for admission, you must have a current and unencumbered RN license and a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing.

Your degree must come from an accredited program. Accreditation is important because it demonstrates high academic quality.

The U.S. Department of Education recognizes two accrediting bodies in nursing: the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACNE) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Some colleges and universities may have additional admission requirements.

Educational Pathways

Doctor of Nursing Practice programs have two educational pathways that allow BSN- and MSN-prepared nurses to earn the degree:

  • BSN to DNP: Designed for BSN-prepared nurses, this track will help you obtain a doctoral degree and a master's degree along the way. In some programs, you can earn the Doctor of Nursing Practice in as little as two more semesters than earning an MSN.
  • Post Masters DNP: This track is intended for MSN-prepared nurses, such as APRNs.


doctor of nursing practice curriculum


The Doctor of Nursing Practice expands on master’s degree programs.

You’ll gain a deeper understanding of:

  • Leadership and Advocacy
  • Organizational and Systems Thinking
  • Quality Improvement
  • Evidence-Based Practice

The curriculum will cover the foundational knowledge of the DNP Essentials as well as specialized nursing coursework.

Every Doctor of Nursing Practice program focuses on a specialty area, such as nursing education or advanced nursing practice. Associated national nursing organizations outline the curriculum.

For example, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties has laid out the core competencies for Doctor of Nursing Practice programs for nurse practitioners.

Regardless of your program specialty, you'll complete a mix of coursework and clinical experiences. Together, these components will help you attain the highest competence in nursing practice.

Program Length

The time it takes to obtain a Doctor of Nursing Practice varies by program.

According to AACN, a typical BSN to DNP program requires 36 months of full-time study. That's four years on an academic calendar. A post-master’s program will usually take a minimum of 12 months of full-time study.

Program Cost

The tuition for a Doctor of Nursing Practice ranges from $500 to $1,800 per credit hour. The cost, then, for a 65-credit hour program (BSN-DNP) would be between $32,500 and $117,000.

Obtaining a Doctor of Nursing Practice is an investment that can significantly increase your lifetime earnings. Later in this article, we’ll explore your salary potential with the degree.


dnp certification licensure

Do DNP-Prepared Nurses Need Certification or Licensure?

Once you have completed your Doctor of Nursing Practice education, you may need to obtain certification or licensure to begin working. The requirements depend on your occupation.

Advanced Nursing Jobs

To practice as an APRN, such as a family nurse practitioner, you must obtain national certification and state licensure.

First, you’ll need to sit for the national certification exam for your specialty. For example, graduates of a Doctor of Nursing Practice – Family Nurse Practitioner program are prepared for the national family nurse practitioner certification exam. The test is available through ANCC and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board.

After you pass it, you can apply for state licensure. The requirements differ by state, but national APRN certification is a prerequisite everywhere.

With national and state credentials, you’re qualified for practice.


dnp nursing education jobs

Nursing Education Jobs

While national certification isn't required, many academic institutions prefer it. Certification will demonstrate your professionalism and competency.

The National League for Nursing awards the certification for nursing education after successful completion of a certification exam. 

Leadership and Administration Jobs

For roles at the systems or organization level, credentialing requirements typically depend on whether the position provides direct patient care.

Direct patient care jobs require national certification. 

Many indirect patient care roles do not require certification. However, it’s available and desired by employers for some positions, such as nurse executives.


dnp vs. other nursing jobs

How Does the Doctor of Nursing Practice Differ from Other Nursing Education?

In this section, we'll explore what distinguishes the Doctor of Nursing Practice from other kinds of nursing degrees.

DNP vs. PhD and DNS

Nursing has two types of doctoral degrees. While the Doctor of Nursing Practice focuses on practice, the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Science (DNS) concentrate on research.

PhD and DNS programs emphasize scientific content and research methodology. Graduates are prepared to advance the science of nursing in health administration, education and clinical research roles.
If you're interested in the clinical side of nursing, then the Doctor of Nursing Practice is right for you. As a graduate, you'll translate and apply the science developed by nurse researchers in your practice.

DNP vs. EdD

The Doctor of Nursing Practice and Doctor of Education (EdD) are both terminal degrees that develop nurse educators.

However, many EdD programs do not have a clinical nursing component. Instead, they emphasize education theory and research.

The Doctor of Nursing Practice blends these areas with clinical knowledge and skills. As you learn about teaching strategies and curriculum design, you’ll also build advanced nursing expertise.


doctor of nursing practice vs. msn


Like the Doctor of Nursing Practice, the MSN prepares nurses to practice at an advanced level, conduct research and teach. It’s the minimum required preparation for APRNs, nurse educators and many leadership and administrative roles.

But unlike the Doctor of Nursing Practice, the MSN is not a terminal degree.

DNP-prepared nurses have obtained the highest credential in nursing. They have mastery of critical areas of practice, including leadership, organizational systems and quality improvement.

As a result, nurses with a Doctor of Nursing Practice are often highly sought after for senior leadership roles.


Whereas the Doctor of Nursing Practice is a terminal degree, the BSN is an entry-level nursing degree. AACN views the BSN as a “platform" for future education at the graduate level.


doctor of nursing practice workplace

Where Does a Doctor of Nursing Practice Work?

They can work in health care settings and beyond.

APRNs practice in patient care environments, such as outpatient clinics or private practice. Nurse anesthetists work anywhere that anesthesia is administered, like surgical centers and dentist offices.

Nurse educators serve in academia or in clinical facilities, where they provide professional development training to nursing staff.

DNP-prepared nurses in leadership and administrative roles are employed in inpatient and outpatient settings as well as public health offices.

What Is a Typical Work Schedule for a Doctor of Nursing Practice?

Your occupation and where you work will determine your standard workday.

Nontraditional hours are typical for APRNs who work in inpatient settings. Traditional business hours are common for those in private practice and for healthcare administrators. In academia, nurse educators are on duty whenever classes take place.


reporting structure

What Is the Reporting Structure for a Doctor of Nursing Practice?

The Doctor of Nursing Practice will prepare you to practice at the highest level of influence in the nursing profession. So you’ll be qualified to manage individuals, teams and departments and to be supervised by senior leaders.

As a DNP-prepared nurse practitioner, you might supervise RNs and medical technicians. If you work in a state that allows nurse practitioners to practice independently, you can also manage a private practice.

As the dean of nursing at a university, you might manage the nursing faculty and report to the university president.

A patient experience director at a hospital can supervise program managers and might report to the medical director or hospital CEO.

How Much Money Does a Doctor of Nursing Practice Make?

You can expect to earn a substantial income as a DNP-prepared nurse. On average, nurses with a Doctor of Nursing Practice make more than those with MSNs.

The average salary of a nurse with a Doctor of Nursing Practice is $102,000. That’s 9% higher than the average wage for MSNs, $93,000.

A 2019 survey of APRNs reports an even higher average salary. Those with doctoral degrees took home $122,000, approximately 5% more than APRNs with master’s degrees.

But several factors drive salary potential, including your specialty, geographic location and work setting.


salary by specialty

Doctor of Nursing Practice Salary by Specialty

Because the Doctor of Nursing Practice is a terminal degree, it positions nurses for the highest earnings in their fields.

Following is the average salary of the top 75% of wage earners in three common Doctor of Nursing Practice specialties:

  • Nurse Practitioner: $123,812
  • Nurse Educator: $92,281
  • Health Administrator: $125,819

You can expect to earn a six-figure salary in many roles within advanced practice nursing and health administration. As a nurse educator, you can boost your income by pursuing leadership and administrative positions in nursing education.


salary by state

Doctor of Nursing Practice Salary by State

Where you work will also affect your salary. States on the West and East Coasts tend to pay more.

In the top-paying state, nurse practitioners and health administrators earn almost $32,000 to $39,000 above average. Nurse educators make more than double the mean wage.

Here’s how much you can make in states with the largest salaries:

Nurse Practitioner:

  • California: $155,780
  • Hawaii: $149,050
  • Alaska: $145,060
  • Massachusetts: $137,570
  • New York: $137,270

Nurse Educator:

  • Washington, D.C.: $187,520
  • Connecticut: $139,480
  • California: $125,520
  • New Jersey: $116,180
  • New York: $114,680

Health Administrator:

  • Washington, D.C. and New York: $164,210
  • Massachusetts: $157,710
  • California: $153,740
  • Rhode Island: $147,680
  • Delaware: $147,450


salary by work setting

Doctor of Nursing Practice Salary by Work Setting

Your work setting can also influence your earnings as a DNP-prepared nurse.

These are among the top-paying work settings for each occupation:

Nurse Practitioner:

  • Residential Facilities: $117,440
  • Outpatient Care Centers: $116,550
  • Specialty Hospitals: $114,880
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals: $113,900
  • Offices of Other Health Practitioners: $111,520


Nurse Educator:

  • General Medical & Surgical Hospitals: $123,760
  • Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals: $94,380
  • State Government (excluding schools and hospitals): $80,790
  • Colleges, Universities & Professional Schools: $80,380
  • Junior Colleges: $74,450


Health Administrator:

  • Scientific Research and Development Services: $166,960
  • Specialty Hospitals: $128,010
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals: $122,460
  • Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories: $121,390
  • Offices of Physicians: $107,530


doctor of nursing practice resources

Doctor of Nursing Practice Resources

If you want to learn more about the Doctor of Nursing Practice, check out these resources:

American Association of Colleges of Nursing DNP Resources: A webpage with news and history about the degree.

Doctors of Nursing Practice, Inc.: A corporation of APRNs that aims to promote and enhance the doctorally prepared nursing professional. It offers numerous online communities for discussions on practice innovation and professional growth.

American Organization for Nursing Leadership: An organization that strives to shape health care through innovative and expert nursing leadership. It offers professional development and networking resources.

National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties: An association dedicated to promoting high-quality nurse practitioner education and providing timely and critical resources for nurse practitioner educators.


walsh university online

Doctor of Nursing Practice Programs

Grounded in a Christian foundation, Walsh University Online's Doctor of Nursing Practice programs will prepare you to change lives as an empowered nurse leader to develop the expertise to improve, advocate and innovate to shape the future of health care.

Read everything you need to know about our approach to nursing education here.

We offer three accredited online DNP programs that will equip you for highly regarded roles in nursing by developing your expertise to improve, advocate and innovate the future shape of health care:

  • Online BSN to DNP – Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Online BSN to DNP – Nurse Educator
  • Online Post Master's Doctor of Nursing Practice

Walsh provides a dedicated faculty and one-on-one coaching within a supportive and passionate community of nurses.


Why not take a look at our online Doctor of Nursing Practice programs today?


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4. Where Can Family Nurse Practitioners Work?

5. What Does a Nurse Educator in a Hospital Setting Do?