Nursing Career Paths: 5 Job Opportunities for DNP Graduates

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A group of DNPs meet around a conference table.

Graduates who earn a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) have many unique career opportunities. As the health care system grows and becomes more complex, DNP graduates can serve as industry leaders who contribute to meaningful reform, tackle new technologies and transform their workplaces. The nursing career paths that graduates of DNP programs can pursue largely depend on their skills and areas of interest. From health care administration to lobbying efforts, here are five career opportunities for DNP graduates.

What Can You Do With a DNP?

The variety of nursing career paths for individuals who possess a DNP is extensive. As the examples below demonstrate, the range of what you can do with a DNP encompasses roles from administration, to patient care and beyond.

1. Health Care Executive

To be successful, hospitals, private practices and long-term care facilities need to operate like well-oiled machines, which is why they need strong leaders who can keep their systems running smoothly and efficiently. Health care executives, also referred to as medical and health services managers, are the knowledgeable professionals who strategize, coordinate and direct health care services. This position is ideal for DNP graduates who want to be directly involved in the daily operations of their medical facilities.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the health care management field is projected to grow 32% from 2019 to 2029, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

Salaries can vary depending on location and position, but the median annual wage for all health care executives in May 2020 was $104,280. Data reveals 33% of these executives worked at hospitals, while 22% worked in long-term care or private offices.

The primary duties of health care executives are to improve quality in the delivery of health care services, develop departmental goals and ensure facility compliance with laws and regulations. They also may be responsible for communicating with team members, creating work schedules, preparing or monitoring budgets and representing their facilities at investor meetings. Individuals who pursue nursing career paths as health care executives keep facilities on track, yet they are flexible enough to adapt to changes in technology, health care standards, best practices and personnel.

2. Nursing Faculty

Members of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) have called the future nursing shortage a looming crisis and are working diligently with policymakers, universities, nursing organizations and the media to raise awareness about this problem. As the health care system moves to respond to this emerging crisis, it opens opportunities for DNP graduates who want to enter higher education. The increased need for nurses will call for more nursing faculty to prepare them.

AACN information shows that DNP graduates may choose clinical and/or theory-driven faculty positions in nursing programs. According to the BLS, the average annual salary for higher education faculty for May 2020 was $80,790. The projected job growth from 2019 to 2029 is 9%.

As nursing faculty, DNP graduates are responsible for the educational experience of their students. Depending on an institution’s job requirements, faculty may advise students, conduct research, publish work in academic journals and mentor future nurses. This position is ideal for doctoral students who want to educate the next generation of nursing professionals and send them on their chosen nursing career paths.

3. Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

Advanced practice registered nursing encompasses positions such as nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists and nurse-midwives. In these roles, APRNs coordinate patient care and may offer additional specialist health care services. The job responsibilities and experience requirements vary depending on the state or facility. APRNs may work in hospitals, clinics, private practices, and schools.

The BLS reports the field is expected to grow 45% from 2019 to 2029. This growth is due largely to a nationwide emphasis on preventive care, expanding demand for health care services from an aging population and changes in health care regulations and laws. Though the median yearly salary from May 2020 was $117,670, this figure varies based on specialty area, location, position, and employer.

A master’s degree is the common educational choice for entry-level APRN positions, yet many professionals choose to earn DNP degrees to further their careers and leadership opportunities.

APRNs are mid-level primary care providers. While the scope of their responsibilities depends on the specialty area, APRNs diagnose and prescribe treatment, make referrals, counsel patients, collaborate with physicians and other health care providers, and conduct research.

4. Health Care Lobbyist

Working as a lobbyist may not immediately come to mind when individuals contemplate nursing career paths, but DNP graduates who enjoy politics and want to influence health care policy should consider the field. Lobbyists may work for insurance companies, government agencies or professional nursing organizations that want to change the face of health care legislation and regulations. This field is ideal for students who have a background or an interest in law or experience working in corporate health care environments.

On a broad scale, lobbyists represent the interests of their professional organization to legislators. From local to federal levels, lobbyists build rapport with these government officials by showing them the effects of bills or laws on certain sectors of the health care industry. To be effective, lobbyists must stay up to date on the latest industry trends and constantly research how current events may affect the message or agenda they support.

The BLS does not offer precise figures regarding the salary or job outlook for health care lobbyists, but individuals in a related, similar profession — political scientists — earn around $125,350 a year. Specific job responsibilities vary based on the professional organization, location, position and level of industry experience.

5. Clinical Researcher

The field of clinical nursing research may be the right choice for certain professionals. DNPs involved in clinical research use their expertise to generate evidence that supports current practices or guides the changing of practices to improve patient outcomes. They may be involved in the critical appraisal of existing evidence, the development of practice guidelines and the evaluation of practice outcomes, as well as in the design, implementation and evaluation of quality improvement methodologies.

Consider Taking the Next Step on Your Nursing Career Path by Pursuing a DNP

Before choosing to enter into a DNP program, make sure it fits with your career goals and its curriculum format and offerings meet your unique educational needs. Bradley University’s online DNP program offers flexible and intensive coursework that supports students who wish to advance their careers and leadership opportunities.

Contact one of the program’s representatives today to hear more about our faculty and curriculum offerings. The many nursing career paths available to individuals with a DNP could make a rewarding career within your reach.

Recommended Readings:

A Look at the Job Market for DNP Graduates

Why Pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree?

When Will a DNP Be Required for Nurse Practitioners?


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical Scientists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Political Scientists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Postsecondary Teachers