What is a DNP Degree?

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DNP nurse smiling.

Nursing professionals looking to take their careers to the next level may ask the question, “What is a DNP?” As the highest degree available for clinical practitioners, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) can help nurses gain new skills and knowledge that may help them qualify for better jobs, like executive roles or advanced practice positions. The DNP can also be leveraged to increase leadership capacity, as programs offering the terminal degree are designed to prepare nurses to meet the challenges of modern health care.

Are you considering earning a DNP to build advanced nursing competency and further your career opportunities? Getting some answers for your most pressing DNP-related questions can help you find the right program for your needs, like an online DNP offered by Bradley University.

DNP nurse smiling with clipboard in hand.

What is a DNP?

The DNP has become a focus of professional associations and health care organizations as the U.S. deals with a chronic nursing shortage. As a solution, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) endorsed the DNP in October 2004 as the preferred terminal degree for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), as well as those in directorial or other clinical leadership roles. The AACN’s objective was to move the “level of preparation necessary for advanced nursing practice roles from the master’s degree to the doctorate level” by 2015.

The shift from a master’s degree as sufficient preparation to the DNP has been largely successful. According to the AACN, there are 348 DNP programs in the U.S. as of March 2019, with nearly another 100 new programs in the planning stages. Between 2017-2018, the number of students enrolled in DNP programs increased from 29,093 to 32,678, while the number of graduates also rose from 6,090 to 7,039.

What can DNPs do?

Earning a DNP enables nurses to expand their clinical skill sets and gain expertise in areas like health care finance management, policy-making and leadership. Adding such competency can help nurses who seek more autonomy, responsibility or influence in their careers find jobs at the highest levels of the profession. Nurses with a DNP may be able to:

  • Improve care delivery and patient safety: Evidence-based practice is a focus in DNP programs. Along with health care statistics, expertise in these areas equips nurses with tools and knowledge to improve patient care or safety.
  • Earn more: According to PayScale, the average annual salary for a nurse with a DNP is $102,000, more than the $92,000 that professionals with a master’s degree earn. Having a DNP can open further doors for increasing compensation depending on where you work.
  • Prescribe medication: Nurse practitioners with a DNP can prescribe medication, like those in advanced practice nursing roles. This responsibility reflects the level of autonomy and clinical expertise DNP-holding nurses may possess. Some NPs can practice independently, depending on the state in which they reside. However, DNPs in leadership roles who are not nurse practitioners cannot prescribe medication.
  • Manage from the C-suite: What nurses who specialize in leadership and management can do is become an executive or director. From these positions of influence, nurses can educate and motivate workforces, as well as be an advocate for the nursing profession and help bring about organizational change that ultimately improves health care.

What’s the difference between a DNP and Ph.D.?

Nurses who want to increase their level of education may wonder what separates a DNP from a Ph.D. The difference is a fundamental one: The DNP is the practicing doctorate and terminal degree for clinical or management-focused nurses, whereas the Ph.D. is the recommended degree for nurses who want a career in academic research.

What are the learning objectives of the DNP?

Any DNP program curricula will be structured around The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice, as identified by the AACN. These essentials include:

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

Can you get a DNP with only a bachelor’s degree?

Yes, depending on the schools you research and your track of interest, BSN-DNP entry programs are available. Some programs may allow you to accelerate your learning and move straight from the baccalaureate level of education to the DNP. Others will have streamlined MSN-DNP program tracks.

How long does it take to get a DNP?

Completion of the degree depends on a couple factors. One is your own schedule: Many nurses who seek to enroll in DNP programs are working professionals with a family life, making higher education a difficult pursuit if going to campus for classes is required.

Online programs allow you to complete your work when it’s convenient for you based on provided deadlines. Campus program structures are more rigid, with classes and exams occurring at specific, predetermined times.

A BSN-DNP track may take approximately four years, while a MSN-DNP degree may take approximately three years to complete, on average.

Earn your DNP at Bradley University

Nurses who want to advance their skills and career opportunities may want to consider learning online at Bradley. We offer BSN-DNP FNP and MSN-DNP Leadership options. At Bradley, you can expect to gain competencies that address every essential of the doctorate education. The rigorous and robust curricula features courses in data management, principles of advanced practice nursing, health care policy, leadership and management in health care organizations, ethics in nursing, evidence-based practice and population health, among other subjects.

In Bradley’s online DNP program, you can learn when your life allows you to. You will be prepared to deliver care to diverse patient populations or make decisions at the highest levels of health care management. Contact an enrollment advisor today for more information.


Recommended Reading

The Doctor of Nursing Practice Role in Health Care

What are The Benefits of an Online DNP Education?

Bradley University Online DNP program



DNP Fact Sheet – AACN

The Essentials of Doctoral Education – AACN

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree – PayScale

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree – PayScale