Should I Move from an MSN to DNP?

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Nurse director leading a discussion.

There are several benefits in moving from an MSN to DNP. While a master’s is required to become an advance practice registered nurse (APRN), earning a doctorate can increase your skills and open further career doors. For instance, you may gain insight into health care organizational management and finance by completing a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

Interested in how a DNP can help you develop personally and professionally? Here’s what to know about moving from an MSN to DNP.

What is a DNP?

The doctor of nursing practice is the terminal degree for clinical nurses, as determined by the American Association of Colleges of Nurses (AACN). The AACN recommends that APRN positions move to require a DNP for practice, which makes moving from an MSN to DNP a good idea for those already holding a master’s. While that requirement isn’t in place yet, this doctorate gives nurses the most advanced understanding of nursing practice, theories and methods. This allows them to earn higher salaries — $102,000 a year for DNP nurses compared to $92,000 for MSN nurses, according to Payscale. A doctorate also allows professionals to impact care delivery, patient safety and nurse advocacy at the highest levels, such as a nurse executive.

DNP programs can be offered on a part-time or full-time basis. And if you earned your MSN online, it’s worth knowing you can also complete your DNP education online as well. Researching on-campus and online options can help you find a program that fits your needs.

What’s included in DNP curricula?

The curriculum of a DNP program will involve many of the same competencies as the MSN, but build on them and introduce new areas of expertise. DNP programs focus on achieving these eight core learning outcomes, as outlined by the AACN:

  • Integrating nursing science with ethical, psychological, analytical and organizational knowledge
  • Developing and evaluating care delivery and cost-effectiveness of initiatives, while also applying principles of budgeting and finance
  • Using information technology to inform quality of care improvements and further tracking, analyzing and interpreting data and outcome results
  • Designing and maintaining systems of evaluation that monitor everything from care outcomes to how patients engage with consumer materials and technology
  • Grasping policy formulation and dissemination; acting as an advocate and providing leadership to all levels
  • Ensuring effective communication and collaboration between departments
  • Analyzing cultural diversity and epidemiological, environmental and biostatistical records as a function of managing population health
  • Consistently demonstrating advanced knowledge of clinical judgment, accountability, evaluation and improving patient outcomes

To that end, DNP curricula generally include a mix of clinical-focused courses and those that address more intricate topics like health care informatics, statistical procedures, organizational leadership, data management and advanced practice nursing ethics. Some programs may include a DNP project, whether a practicum or capstone; all programs require that students complete 1,000 clinical hours.

The curriculum may also depend on the track of the degree. For instance, Bradley offers an MSN-to-DNP program that specializes in leadership, preparing students to

  • Manage personnel, patient care, policy and procedures from the executive level.
  • Develop, lead and evaluate new practices for improving care delivery or patient safety.
  • Spearhead planning and implementation of new health care technologies.
  • Educate or mentor nurses in advanced practice nursing positions.

Nurse practitioner and nurse leader talking together.

Why earn a DNP?

A doctorate can bring your career to the highest levels of health care. APRNs with a DNP are among the most prepared and skilled professionals in their respective fields of care, but more than anything, a DNP is central to advancing a career in leadership, management or administration. If you have an MSN and are in a mid-range position, a DNP may be able to help you compete for top jobs like:

  • Chief nurse officer
  • Health care director
  • Nurse executive
  • Nurse administrator
  • Lobbyist or legislative consultant
  • Nursing professor
  • Nursing care facility manager

Earn your DNP at Bradley

Want to move from an MSN to DNP? At Bradley, you can enter the MSN-to-DNP leadership track and complete your degree in as little as three years. The program is offered 100% online; you can sharpen your skills, increase your knowledge and build leadership capacity when your life schedule allows you to. You can also gain clinical hours at a local site and with an approved supervisor. Contact an enrollment advisor today to learn more.


Recommended Reading

What are The Benefits of an Online DNP Education?

What Are The Differences Between a DNP and an MD?

Bradley University Online DNP Program



American Association of Colleges of Nursing

Payscale – Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Payscale – Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)