Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) can be beneficial for many reasons. Nurses who complete doctoral studies are among the most skilled, knowledgeable and experienced professionals in the field. Such educational preparation enables them to take on increased responsibility and influence in care settings or organizational management. Not only does the degree open doors to new and exciting career paths, it can also increase earning potential.
Nursing can be a rewarding profession, both personally and financially. If you’re planning the next steps in your career, consider the value in earning a DNP. The degree is sought by advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) and leadership-focused nurse executives alike. If you want to compete for jobs at the highest level of care delivery or nursing leadership, a DNP ensures you have the requisite skills, competencies and clinical experience needed to increase your salary.
Have questions about what the DNP is, what jobs require it and what the average DNP salary is? Let’s explore some facts about Doctor of Nursing Practice programs, typical career paths of graduates, average salaries and how you can earn a DNP online.
What is the DNP?
The Doctor of Nursing Practice is the terminal degree for practice-focused nurses. That means there’s no higher degree available for nurses whose main focus area is clinical practice. It’s a key point in differentiating the DNP from the Nursing Ph.D., the other terminal degree available. In comparison to the practice-focused DNP, the Ph.D. is designed for nurses whose primary ambition is research.
However, that’s not to say that there’s a strict delineation between which nursing professionals earn the Ph.D. and which strive for the DNP. For example, a nurse educator working as faculty for a nursing college may want to pursue the DNP instead of the Ph.D. That’s because the tools and knowledge gained from DNP studies may be more applicable in classroom teaching and clinical education, whereas a Ph.D.-prepared nurse may have more insight into research methodologies and statistical procedures.
In general, the DNP is ideal for nurses who deliver primary care and manage or educate other nurses. Such a practice-focused doctoral education can produce many benefits for graduates and health care overall. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), these include:
- Preparing nursing professionals with advanced competencies needed for increasingly complex practice, faculty and leadership roles
- Improving the practice of nursing, which improves patient outcomes and strengthens care delivery standards and efficacy
- Increasing the supply of skilled and experienced nurses to combat shortages amid growing health care needs nationally
What are the learning objectives of a DNP program?
Increasing clinical skill and building leadership capacity are two of the main objectives of any DNP program. Courses address subjects like evidence-based practice, nursing theory, principles of advanced practice nursing and health care policy-making, among additional topics.
To understand what the exact learning objectives are, let’s look at the eight essentials of the DNP program as outlined by the AACN:
- Scientific underpinnings for practice: Nurses will learn how to integrate nursing science with knowledge from ethics and biophysical, psychosocial, analytical and organizational sciences. This multidisciplinary competency forms the basis for the highest level of nursing practice, which will be used to develop and evaluate new practice approaches based on theories from nursing and beyond.
- Organizational/systems leadership and quality improvement: Students will develop and evaluate care delivery approaches that meet current and future needs of patient populations based on medical sciences, as well as organizational, political and economic sciences. DNP graduates ensure accountability through communication, cost analysis, cultural sensitivity and ethics.
- Clinical scholarship and analytical methods for evidence-based practice: Nursing professionals use analytic methods to evaluate patterns and implement the best evidence for practice. Additionally, they design, direct and evaluate quality improvement methodologies to promote safe, timely, effective, efficient, equitable and patient-centered care.
- Improvement and transformation of health care through technology: Nurses must demonstrate the conceptual ability and technical skills to develop and execute an evaluation plan involving data extraction from practice information systems and databases. They must also display leadership in evaluating and resolving ethical and legal issues within health care systems. These relate to using information, information technology, communication networks and patient care technology.
- Health care policy and advocacy: Nurses are tested in how they advocate for the nursing profession within the policy and health care communities. They will learn how to influence policy-makers through active participation on committees, boards or task forces and educate others, including policy-makers at all levels, on nursing, health policy and patient care outcomes.
- Interprofessional collaboration for improving patient outcomes and population health: This is an opportunity for nurses to lead interprofessional teams in analyzing practical and organizational issues. Deploying effective communication and collaboration skills in implementing new policies will shape their soft skills.
- Clinical prevention and population health to improve the nation’s health: This objective focuses on effective analysis of epidemiological, biostatistical and environmental data related to individual and population health. Nurses will evaluate care delivery models and strategies using concepts related to community, environmental and occupational health, as well as its cultural and socioeconomic dimensions.
- Advanced nursing practice: Students should be able to demonstrate advanced levels of clinical judgment, systems thinking and accountability in evidence-based practice. They should also be able to guide, mentor and support other nurses to achieve excellence in nursing practice.
Crucially, these objectives are achieved through both traditional classroom teaching and experiential learning opportunities — namely practicums, internships or residencies that test nurses’ learning comprehension in a real-life care environment or scenario. DNP programs commonly require completing at least 1,000 clinical hours throughout the course of studies.
What is the average DNP salary?
As evidenced by the robust and dense learning objectives of the DNP program, it’s safe to say that nurses with doctorates are some of the most skilled, educated and experienced in the workforce. Such qualifications and credentials typically enable DNP-prepared nurses to command a higher salary. This may especially be the case if they work in an executive capacity or director-level role, which commonly requires a doctoral degree.
However, it can be difficult to pinpoint an exact average DNP salary across professions. PayScale estimates the average annual salary for nurses with a DNP at $102,000 in 2019. This is $9,000 more than what MSN-prepared nurses earned that year.
Though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not keep salary data specific to the DNP, it does have national averages for broad categories of educational degrees. In 2017, the median annual wage was $103,820 for an occupation that typically required a doctorate for entry. Comparably, the median annual wage for an occupation requiring a master’s was $68,090.
Advanced practice registered nurse is one of the most common careers for DNP graduates. Since a master of science in nursing or a DNP is required for certification as an APRN, many of these nurses pursue a DNP as a way to enhance their clinical preparation, expand their career options and increase their salaries.
There are three main roles under the umbrella of APRN: nurse practitioner (NP), certified nurse midwife (CNM) and CRNA. APRNs take on a primary role in care delivery, whether diagnosing patients and prescribing them medications as an NP, overseeing safe administration of anesthesia as a CRNA or managing prenatal and postnatal care as a CNM.
The high level of these job responsibilities is reflected in demand for APRN positions — which in turn impacts the average salaries for these nursing professionals. In general, all APRNs can expect positive mid-term job growth and competitive salaries. According to the BLS:
- CNMs earned a median annual wage of $103,770 in 2018; the position is expected to see 16% job growth between 2018 and 2028.
- NPs earned a median annual wage of $107,030 in 2018; the position is expected to see 28% job growth between 2018 and 2028.
- CRNAs earned a median annual wage of $167,950 in 2018; the position is expected to see 17% job growth between 2018 and 2028.
Many other factors contribute to compensation and total earnings, not just a DNP salary. For instance:
- NPs can practice independently — depending on the state they work in — which can lead to profit-sharing from private practices.
- Commissions and bonuses are common for many APRN positions and may be tied to performance criteria such as patient outcomes and safety.
- NPs might earn more depending on their specialty (e.g., FNP).
Years of experience, level of education and skills impact salary as well. The more you have in each category, the more likely you can command a higher salary. According to BLS, the top 10% of APRNs earned above $182,750 on average. Also, APRNs who work in hospitals, whether state, local or private, stand to earn the highest median annual wage ($120,540).
Earning a DNP makes good sense for many reasons besides salary, too. An MSN is currently the standard for certification as an APRN. However, in 2004 the AACN recommended the DNP replace it as the preferred degree for NPs, CNMs and APRNs. The change has not yet been enacted, but it’s still the position of the AACN.
Leadership is innate to a degree, but also learned. Nurses who want to impact health care at the highest levels can pursue a DNP to build leadership capacity, as well as a level of clinical skill that’s necessary for nursing leaders. Such roles must balance patient care with other duties like organizational management and performance evaluation.
Two popular career paths in leadership are director of nursing and nurse executive. Employers recruiting for either typically look for a doctoral degree, as the positions come with significant influence, responsibilities and accountability. Some of the common duties of the nursing director include:
- Managing the day-to-day of care delivery and nursing operations for the provider
- Conducting performance assessments and creating improvement plans
- Interviewing nursing candidates and overseeing staffing
- Mentoring nurses and advising them in their careers
- Ensuring staff and departmental compliance with federal and state regulations
- Managing the finances of the department
- Collaborating with interprofessional departmental leaders
The nurse executive has job responsibilities commensurate with their position in the C-suite. Often, they are responsible for:
- Contributing to strategic vision and decision-making for the overall business
- Fulfilling duties of a board member or coordinating with those who sit on the board
- Developing and implementing policy or performance initiatives
- Fundraising and identifying areas of investment or cost-savings
Jobs at the highest levels of nursing, such as director or executive, are also some of the highest-paying. According to Salary.com, the national average annual salary for a director of nursing was $147,535 in 2019. The upper range was $170,047.
Top executives, as they are classified by the BLS, earned a median annual wage of $104,980 in 2018. Health care was among the top-paying industries for high-level decision-makers, which affects nursing executives. Top executives in health care earned a median annual wage of $173,770 in 2018.
The job responsibilities of directors and executives require skills well beyond clinical nursing. While a deep understanding of evidence-based practice and advanced practice principles is needed, these leaders also have to be highly skilled in communication, systems management, institutional financing and professional development. All of these skills can be gained or refined with a DNP, which is the preferred degree for many nursing director and executive openings.
Public health lobbyist
There is an increasing number of nurses interested in advocating for patients or the nursing profession. Lobbyists are key cogs in the policy-making machine, whether providing expert insight to actual policy-makers or raising issues and problems that need to be addressed through new policy. In the context of nursing, this may mean taking on a job that lobbies for better patient protections, increased investment in nursing education or extension of full practice authority for APRNs.
The career can be a high-paying one. Salary.com reported the average annual salary for a general lobbyist in 2019 was $112,948. The upper range’s limit was $155,688. Nursing lobbyists can expect salaries within this range, and may earn more based on their experience or previous job titles.
However, the machinations of policy-making itself can be complex. Nurses interested in a career as a public health lobbyist will need nuanced knowledge and skill — the type that can be gained from earning a DNP.
For instance, the online DNP offered by Bradley includes the course “Health Care Policy.” In it, students explore the development and implementation of policy and its impact on health care regulation, delivery and finance. The course focuses on promoting wellness and health in local, national and worldwide populations through health initiatives. To do this, students examine the role of health care providers in health promotion, care delivery, quality improvement and policy reform. Other courses concentrate on nursing leadership and ethics to round out the skill set required to be a lobbyist.
Earn your online DNP from Bradley
Nurses interested in advancing their skills with a Doctor of Nursing Practice may want to consider earning their degree from Bradley.
We offer two tracks for the DNP:
- DNP-FNP, which takes four years to complete and prepares graduates for practice as a family nurse practitioner
- DNP-Leadership, which takes three years to complete and prepares graduates for leadership roles like manager, director or executive
Both of these DNP tracks are offered online. That allows nurses to complete their doctoral degree when personal and professional commitments allow, as many prospective students are working nurses. Without the hassle of commuting, nurses can complete learning modules and exams at their own pace and still graduate in the expected timeframe. The DNP tracks are offered 100% online with no on-campus residency requirements. Also, students can select their own approved local sites and preceptors for clinical hours.
Want to learn more about the specifics of one of our online DNP tracks? Contact an enrollment advisor at Bradley today.