In today’s rapidly changing health care environment, MSN-prepared nurses have found tremendous opportunities for progressive career growth through advanced education. As you consider the options for your next steps in nursing, you may be wondering, why get a DNP?
For the last decade, leading organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences have championed the need for a significant increase in the number of doctoral degrees for nurses. During this time, almost 50,000 individuals have earned the distinguished DNP degree, with numbers steadily increasing each year.
What Is a DNP Degree and What Is Required to Begin?
The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a terminal nursing degree, designating the highest practice or clinical credential offered in the field of nursing.
Unlike a Ph.D. in nursing, the DNP is a clinical practice-focused doctorate. Program content is designed to prepare nurses for the highest level of nursing practice. DNP graduates are equipped as leaders to shape the future of health care.
Nurses holding a valid RN license and an MSN degree from an accredited nursing school are eligible to apply for Post-Master’s DNP programs. By following this educational pathway, you’ll gain specialized expert knowledge of nursing practice and deepen your understanding of leadership, organizational systems, evidence based practice, translation research and quality improvement.
MSN to DNP Program Requirements and Objectives
Today, all 50 states and the District of Columbia offer DNP programs. The requirements for admission vary by institution.
MSN to DNP programs expect candidates to hold a valid RN license and a BSN and MSN from an accredited nursing school. Some may also require the completion of specific courses, letters of recommendation, and clinical hours.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing DNP Essentials states a DNP “develops and evaluates care delivery approaches that meet current and future needs of patient populations based on scientific findings in nursing and other clinical sciences, as well as organizational, political, and economic sciences.”
What Are the Career Paths for MSN to DNP Nurses?
Nurses who advance from MSN to DNP are prepared to work in direct and indirect patient care. DNP graduates are uniquely prepared for senior roles in nursing.
DNP-prepared nurses are highly sought after for today’s most in-demand roles:
- Advanced Practice Nursing: Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) provide primary, preventative and specialty care to patients across their lifespan. DNP-educated APRNs have achieved optimal preparation for this role and are equipped to lead other nurses.
- Nursing Education: Nurse educators teach at colleges and universities. They also serve in clinical settings where they provide continuing education to nurses.
- Nursing Administration: Nurse administrators have a variety of executive-level nursing responsibilities. They often coordinate or supervise patient care for a department, multiple departments or a network of health care facilities.
What Are the Trends in DNP Education?
Nursing schools nationwide are discovering the benefits of nursing education at the DNP level. In 2018, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) announced a plan “to move all entry-level nurse practitioner (NP) education to the DNP degree by 2025.” A recent update published by the National Library of Medicine explains that workgroups have been established to address these aspects of the NONPF’s commitment:
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has been promoting the recommendation for DNP education since 2004. “The changing demands of this nation's complex healthcare environment,” according to AACN, “require the highest level of scientific knowledge and practice expertise to assure quality patient outcomes.”
According to data from AACN, the number of DNP programs has been steadily increasing each year for more than a decade. There are now more than 350 active programs with another 100-plus in development. Students will find programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, with many states having numerous options.
What Other Factors Have Led to the MSN to DNP Shift?
In addition to our rapidly changing health care environment, other factors have propelled the emphasis on the DNP degree. This section will explore three of the leading concerns.
Health Care Provider Shortages
The American Medical Association (AMA) has issued a statement calling for urgent attention to the national nursing shortage. The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) is sounding the alarm for a “long-term investment in the health care workforce.”
The demand for nurses outpaces the supply for several reasons:
- An aging population and increased access to health care mean that Americans need more health care services than ever before.
- One million RNs are expected to retire by 2030, and nursing leaders are needed to expand nursing education programs.
- U.S. nursing schools are turning away qualified applicants because they don’t have sufficient faculty. During the 2019-20 academic year, nursing schools rejected more than 80,000 RN candidates due to a lack of resources, including nursing instructors.
The AAMC is projecting a shortage of 17,800 to 48,000 primary care physicians by 2034. Qualified to provide many of the same services as physicians, nurse practitioners are playing a vital role in filling primary care gaps.
Shortage of Doctorally Prepared Faculty and Administrators
Training more nurses for the workforce will require a corresponding increase in nurse educators and leaders. The most recent data from AACN shows that 892 nursing schools had 1,637 faculty vacancies for the 2019-20 academic year. Approximately nine in ten of these positions required or preferred a doctoral degree.
Without an ample number of doctorally prepared nurses, nursing schools cannot recruit, admit, or graduate enough RNs to fill the national demand.
What’s causing the faculty shortage? AACN points to:
- Faculty Age: During the 2019-20 academic year, 62.6 was the average age of professors with doctoral degrees. One-third of the current nursing faculty are expected to retire by 2025.
- Salaries: Many doctorally prepared nurses choose to work in clinical settings, rather than academic, to earn higher wages.
- Preparation limitations: The shortage of educators is compounded by nursing schools’ inability to accept more students to prepare as future educators.
Lack of Parity with Other Health Care Providers
Most licensed health practitioners, such as medical doctors, dentists and pharmacists, must hold a doctorate for clinical practice. Currently, APRNs only need a master’s degree. Because nurses regularly work with doctorally-prepared clinicians, the AACN believes educational preparation for APRNs should be analogous.
Nursing leaders have identified that some master’s-level nursing coursework is equivalent to other clinical doctoral programs. Earning a DNP degree will prepare you as an expert in nursing and equip you with the leadership skills to enhance interprofessional collaboration.
Why Get a DNP? —5 Benefits to Consider
In this section, we'll explore five of the most notable benefits of nursing education that moves from MSN to DNP. Learn how you’ll expand your expertise, practice, leadership, earning potential and influence as you consider the question, “why get a DNP?”
Benefit #1: Advancing to a Post-Master’s DNP will expand your nursing expertise.
DNP curriculum builds on master’s-level competencies, developing extensive knowledge and vital advanced skills. You’ll develop proficiency in these areas:
- Scientific Underpinnings for Practice: Integrate nursing science and other sciences, employ science-based theories and concepts and develop and evaluate new practice approaches.
- Organizational and Systems Leadership: Assess organizations, identify systemic issues and facilitate organization-wide change through business and financial intelligence.
- Clinical Scholarship and Evidence-Based Practice: Translate, apply and evaluate new science as you produce evidence and disseminate findings.
- Information Systems/Technology and Patient Care Technology: Learn to support your practice and strengthen your administrative decision-making to improve and transform health care.
- Health Care Policy for Advocacy in Health Care: Prepare to serve as a leader on behalf of the public and profession as you create, influence, analyze and implement health care policies to address access and social justice.
- Interprofessional Collaboration: As a DNP-prepared nurse, you’ll be equipped to establish and lead interprofessional teams and participate in their work. By promoting collaboration across health care disciplines, you can improve health outcomes for individuals and populations.
- Clinical Prevention and Population Health: Improve the nation’s wellness by analyzing data to develop, implement and evaluate clinical prevention and population health.
- Advanced Nursing Practice: Cultivate the highest level of expertise in a focused area of nursing specialization.
Benefit #2: Completing an MSN to DNP program will deepen your preparation.
Post-Master’s DNP programs develop the competencies above as they also build particular skills in a specific area of nursing. Depending on the focus of your DNP program, you’ll be ready for increasingly complex roles in your specialization.
Advanced Practice Nursing
MSN to DNP programs will prepare you to advance your career, including progression to the most independent level of clinical nursing. You’ll develop the skills for undertaking greater responsibility and accountability in caring for patients and leading health care teams.
Earning a DNP will prepare you at the highest level to educate the next generation of nurses or provide continuing education to practicing nurses. DNP programs benefit nurse educators with coursework that deals with issues such as ethics, data management and healthcare policy, preparing them to address health care and educational needs in their communities and on a larger scale.
Consider a Post-Master’s DNP program that focuses on systems or organizational leadership if you want to specialize in indirect care. You’ll learn how to define problems and design interventions in the context of health care administration, health care policy or informatics.
Benefit #3: Nurses who advance from MSN to DNP are highly qualified leaders.
Doctoral education in nursing is intended to prepare nurses for the highest levels of leadership. As a DNP graduate, you’ll be equipped to innovate nursing practice and education for improved patient outcomes. The following are just a few of the leadership roles you can undertake as a DNP graduate.
Advanced Practice Nurse
While APRNs can currently practice with a master’s degree, earning a DNP prepares you with the highest level of competence and ensures you’re ready for pending changes in practice requirements. You’ll also be fully prepared to supervise health care teams or operate an independent practice.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 52% increase in the number of jobs for nurse practitioners from 2020 to 2030. This is more than five times the growth rate of all other occupations on average.
According to BLS projections, there will be a 22 percent increase in jobs for postsecondary nursing instructors from 2020 to 2030.
Many roles in nursing education require or strongly favor candidates with a DNP degree. Further, you’ll be positioned to serve in leadership roles, such as a dean of nursing at a college or university or a director of nursing professional development in a health care setting.
DNP graduates are also qualified to work in the highest ranks of nursing administration. Positions may include chief nurse executive, director of nursing or director of patient services.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 32 percent increase in jobs for medical and health services managers from 2020 to 2030.
While MSN-prepared nurses are qualified for some nurse administrator jobs, employers are increasingly seeking DNP graduates for their robust understanding of leadership and advocacy, organizational and systems thinking, quality improvement and evidence-based practice.
Benefit #4: The transition from MSN to DNP can lead to higher earning potential.
While earning a DNP degree is a significant financial investment, obtaining the highest credential in nursing can boost your job opportunities and annual salary.
According to the most recent BLS data, the median salary for a nurse practitioner is more than $100,000, with top jobs starting at $190,000 annually. Since a DNP degree sets job candidates apart, you’ll be competitively positioned for the most in-demand jobs. Johnson & Johnson Nursing estimates that doctoral degree nurses have average salaries from $106,000 to $200,000.
A doctorally prepared nurse is prepared for the highest level of independent practice and for other leading roles, such as:
- Dean of Nursing
- Chief Nursing Officer
- Clinical Manager
- Director of Patient Care Services
Where you live can also raise your earnings as a DNP graduate. The following 10 states pay the highest average salaries for DNP graduates.
- Washington: $134,126
- New York: $125,971
- New Hampshire: $121,967
- California: $119,603
- Vermont: $115,127
- Massachusetts: $125,972
- Wyoming: $112,608
- Idaho: $112,552
- Hawaii: $111,428
- Maine: $110,766
Benefit #5: MSN to DNP graduates make a meaningful difference in health care.
Another benefit of MSN to DNP advancement is the opportunity to substantially influence health care. The opportunity to have a more meaningful impact is one reason why nurses choose to pursue an advanced nursing degree.
Here are just a few examples of how nurses with a DNP degree are making a difference:
- Providing primary care leadership in underserved areas
- Translating scientific research to improve outcomes
- Advocating for impactful health care policy
- Improving systems and patient outcomes in organizations
- Educating future nurses and nursing leaders
Explore Walsh University’s MSN to DNP Pathway
At Walsh, we recognize the vital importance of leadership in nursing. The Post-Master’s DNP program equips students to advance the practice of nursing, implement quality improvements in health care and empower fellow nurses.
As a DNP student at Walsh, you’ll enjoy benefits such as:
- Clinical placement support throughout the program
- A flexible online format, so you can continue working as you pursue your degree
- Small class sizes to promote personalized attention and a close community
- Supportive faculty who care about your future and offer field expertise
- A dedicated student success coach who will support you in finding balance until graduation
Victoria B., a DNP student from Cleveland, Ohio, has found all of the coursework applicable to the real world.
“I was very impressed that right from the beginning that every class I have taken has helped me understand something better and take it back to where I work. It's not taking a class just to take a class.”
Read more of Walsh University online's nursing-related blog posts below: