Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /var/www/ on line 208
Master of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (MSN to DNP) | Context - Context
Online Master of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (MSN to DNP)
Master of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (MSN to DNP) In Context

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a terminal nursing degree that trains students in advanced clinical practice. The DNP can help prepare nurses for a range of roles, including leadership positions in administration, policy-development, and patient care.

The Master of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (MSN to DNP) degree is designed to help those who currently hold an MSN make the transition to doctorate-level practice.

As the push for increased nursing education grows, the DNP is becoming more popular among professionals. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), there are currently nearly 300 DNP programs accepting students across the U.S. Additionally, there are more than 100 new programs in the works to accommodate the number of nurses who wish to enroll, which has grown consistently since 2006. In 2015 alone, 21,995 new students started DNP programs, a nearly 17% increase from the 18,352 that enrolled in 2014. [1]

While graduates have a variety of career options, the DNP is most often completed en route to a career in advanced practice nursing.

Advanced practice nursing in the world
An advanced practice registered nurse is a professional with a higher degree who is involved in the coordination and provision of primary or specialty care to patients. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be approximately 224,000 advanced practice nursing positions in the U.S. by 2024. [2]

How do I earn a DNP?

A DNP is earned through the completion of courses online, at a physical location, or a combination of the two at an accredited college or university. Students are generally also required to complete approximately 1,000 hours of clinical experience in order to graduate.

How long does a DNP take?

Most DNP programs are set up to be completed in two to six years. In an MSN to DNP program, program length is significantly shorter than it is for programs catering to students starting with only an RN certification. Since students in a DNP program have previously earned both the BSN and MSN degrees, the MSN-DNP can generally be completed in as few as two years.

What else should I know?

By choosing an MSN to DNP program, you are able to receive credit for many of your previous courses on your way toward this terminal degree.

Exploring the Doctor of Nursing Practice

A DNP is an advanced degree that can prepare you for a number of leadership positions within the field of health care. It has a clinical focus, as distinguished from the research-based Ph.D. in Nursing, and offers a number of concentrations that allow you to tailor your degree specifically to your career goals.

It is possible to start a DNP program at a variety of points in your nursing career. RN to DNP, BSN to DNP, and MSN to DNP programs make the degree attainable for professionals coming from almost any kind of educational background. An MSN to DNP recognizes that you already have gained much of the knowledge and skills necessary for DNP competency during your previous nursing degree programs. By receiving credit for these courses, you are able to earn your doctorate more efficiently, which can help you to save both time and money.

Is an MSN to DNP right for me?

If you are interested in enrolling in an MSN to DNP program, you should first think about the direction you want your career to take. Common job titles for nurses who earn a DNP include — but are not limited to — nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, nurse-midwife, and clinical nurse specialist. DNP grads also frequently take leadership positions behind the scenes in nurse administration or teach at an educational institution or in a clinical setting.

While an MSN qualifies you for many positions, having a DNP on your resume provides a competitive edge when applying for these jobs. Furthermore, the AACN reported that over the last decade, a push from health care leadership is leading toward a higher level of educational requirements for advanced nursing positions. [3] Though the MSN used to be the norm for advanced practice registered nurses, the DNP is quickly becoming the preference.

Why earn an MSN to DNP?

Nurses choose to pursue a DNP for a number of reasons. Common motivations for earning this degree include:

  • Earning potential: A higher level of education typically translates to increased earning potential. For example, a survey by ADVANCE Healthcare Network found that nurse practitioners with a DNP degree earned $96,807 on average in 2012, as compared to professionals in the same role who only have a master’s, who earned only $92,867. [4]
  • Career Advancement: The doctorate degree not only qualifies you for advanced nursing positions and other leadership roles, but can make you more competitive when you apply for these jobs and promotions.
  • Job Security: The BLS reported that demand for advanced practice nurses is expected to increase between 2014 and 2024 by 31%, a much faster rate compared to the average across industries. During this time, the department estimates that an additional 53,400 jobs will be added to the market.
How do I choose a DNP program?
Picking the right DNP program is a multi-faceted decision. It’s important to find a program that will fit your current personal and professional commitments and prepare you for the career you want after graduation. Consider the following when you choose a program:


Through the accreditation process, governing bodies hold programs to certain standards to ensure graduating professionals are trained in necessary competencies. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), which operates through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), is the primary accrediting entity for DNP programs. The organization grants accreditation based upon on-site evaluations. It is critical that the school you enroll in is accredited by a regional organization.

Also, for specific concentrations, look for licensure or approval by an associated group, such as the way that nurse anesthetic concentrations are approved by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs.


When choosing a DNP program, ensure the faculty members are well-versed in the particular areas you wish to study. While most programs touch on similar core competencies in courses, having knowledgeable instructors with both workplace and academic experience will help you to dig deeper into the subjects. If the school you are interested in does not have faculty bios available on the website, contact the admissions department to learn more about who will be teaching your program.

Delivery method

More students than ever are pursuing degrees online. In fact, a survey by the Babson Survey Research Group revealed that about one in four students takes at least one remote-learning course. [5] Whether you wish to pursue your DNP online, at a physical location, or through a combination of the two methods, be sure to choose the form that will be most conducive to both your educational efforts and your professional and personal commitments outside of school.

Program length

Because an MSN is required to enroll in an MSN to DNP program, the length of time that it will take you to earn a DNP may be greatly reduced. The average MSN to DNP takes about two years to complete, but the length is influenced by a number of factors, such as whether you enroll full- or part-time.


Tuition can vary greatly by institution, so finding a program that fits your budget is important. However, the price per academic unit does not necessarily need to be an obstacle to enrolling in a school you like. Scholarships and other forms of financial assistance are often available to make the process more affordable for students no matter their financial situation. There are also a number of loan-forgiveness options at both the federal and state level.

Curriculum and specializations

When you enroll in a DNP program, you will typically choose a specific concentration, which can be closely tied to the position that you want to obtain after graduation. Make sure the program in which you enroll offers the specialization and courses you need to pursue this career to maximize the value of your degree. Some of the most common concentrations for DNP students are:

  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Community/Public Health Nursing
  • Nurse-Midwife
  • Nursing Administration
  • Nurse Anesthesiologist

Success of previous students

While it is impossible to predict just how much of an impact a DNP will have on your future career, a good metric is to look at the success of previous students. Schools typically put out numbers that relate to employment rates and other measures of success of their graduates to demonstrate the strength of their programs.


To get a good idea of the quality of a particular school and program, see how it stacks up to MSN to DNP programs at other schools. Multiple organizations create rankings of nursing programs to give potential students an idea of how schools are doing in providing the best possible education to nurses. However, keep in mind that rank alone is not enough to make a decision. A lower-ranked program might have other qualities to help you succeed, such as the right concentration and delivery method.

What is advanced practice nursing?

The Doctor of Nursing Practice degree is commonly pursued en route to a career as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). APRNs are nursing professionals who are typically responsible for providing primary or specialty care to patients. As opposed to an RN, APRNs are more involved in decision-making and are generally seen as leaders in the health care organization at which they are employed.

Common job titles include:

  • Nurse practitioner
  • Nurse anesthetist
  • Nurse-midwife
  • Clinical nurse specialist

In recent years, demand for health care services has increased. This growth is in part due to the aging baby boomer population, the increased frequency of chronic health conditions that require care, and a rise in the number of people with health insurance. According to data from Gallup polls, the number of adults in the U.S. without health insurance fell from 17.1% in Q4 of 2013 to 11% in Q1 of 2016. [6] To meet this growing demand for services, health care organizations are looking to APRNs to take a more active leadership role in the workplace, from diagnosing patients to prescribing medication.

If you have completed your MSN, you may already have experience working as an APRN. However, that does not negate the value of a DNP. The degree may give you the opportunity to dive deeper into your particular area of focus in the nursing field, giving you the skills and knowledge you need to pursue a leadership position within your organization. The DNP may also help set you apart if you want to apply for a promotion or a position at a different health care organization.

Degrees in nursing

When it comes to earning a nursing degree, the DNP is not your only option. In fact, it is not even the only terminal degree from which to choose. In addition to the DNP, the other available nursing degrees are the Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Master of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing:

  • Baccalaureate: Typically a four-year degree, the undergraduate level Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) covers the basic principles of nursing, including anatomy and physiology. It is increasingly common among RNs.
  • Master’s: The first of the advanced nursing degrees is the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). It builds on the foundation created in the BSN program and gives students an opportunity to deepen their knowledge in a specific area. It generally takes approximately two years to complete.
  • Doctorate: The other terminal nursing degree is the Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D.). While similar to the DNP, it is more research-based rather than clinically focused. Ph.D. students often go into research following graduation.

If you have already completed a BSN and MSN, choose between the DNP and Ph.D. to further your education. The decision will largely be based on whether you want to obtain a clinical or research position after graduation.

An increasing number of RNs are considering pursuing higher degrees. A 2013 AMN Healthcare survey of registered nurses found that 40% of RNs between the ages of 19 and 39 are interested in pursuing a graduate-level degree. [11]

Common areas of practice

Graduates of DNP programs are employed in a number of settings, including, but not limited to:

  • Hospitals
  • Ambulatory care centers
  • Public health facilities
  • Private medical centers
  • Nursing homes
  • Private residences

Common job titles within these settings include:

  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

    The responsibilities of a family nurse practitioner are similar to those of a general practitioner. Like physicians, FNPs provide primary care and are authorized to perform actions such as diagnosing conditions, ordering tests, and prescribing medication. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, the family clinical focus is the most common, with about 55% of certified NPs falling into that category.

  • Adult Care Nurse Practitioner

    The role of the adult care nurse practitioner is similar to that of the FNP, but it focuses primarily on adult and geriatric care. It is a less-common, but nonetheless popular, area of concentration, with 17% of NPs choosing this area of study, according to the AANP.

  • Public Health Nursing

    While nurse practitioners focus on providing care to individual patients, public health nurses are responsible for promoting and protecting the health of large populations. They may work to identify and solve specific problems or help educate communities about important health topics such as immunizations and infection prevention.

  • Nursing Administration

    While patient care is important, nurses are also well-equipped to fill critical roles behind the scenes. Nurse administrators help manage and organize nursing teams to ensure that care is provided safely and efficiently.

  • Nurse-Midwife

    While the majority of births in the U.S. are still aided by a physician, the use of midwives is on the rise. According to recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics, about 12% of vaginal births were attended by nurse-midwives and certified midwives in 2014, the American College of Nurse-Midwives reported. But nurse-midwives are not only involved in labor and delivery. They also provide both primary and specialty care for women of all ages.

  • Nurse Anesthetist

    From pre-operative assessments to post-surgery care, nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia and monitor the vital signs of patients. According to the BLS, there were nearly 40,000 nurse anesthetists employed in the U.S. in 2015, making a mean wage of $160,250 a year. [12]

Who is the MSN to DNP degree program for?

A DNP degree is for any registered nurse who wishes to pursue an advanced role in health care, generally in either a clinical or academic setting. While nurses can earn a DNP no matter their educational background, already having an MSN significantly speeds up the process.

The MSN to DNP track recognizes that nurses who have earned a master’s degree have already learned many of the skills and information required by the set doctoral competencies. If you have an MSN, this fast-track program can help you to complete your DPN more efficiently, giving you the opportunity to save both time and money.

Things to consider when choosing an online MSN to DNP program
While you can complete an MSN to DNP at a physical location, an online program offers a number of advantages, particularly if you are planning on working at the same time. Most remote programs can be tailored to your work schedule, allowing you to pursue your degree at the time and place that is most convenient. Furthermore, with online learning, you can avoid the hassle and expense of relocating or commuting if the school you wish to attend is far from where you currently live. Consider the following to determine if a particular online MSN to DNP program is the right next step for your career:

When you enroll in an online program, you are generally able to complete your assignments and listen to lectures on your own schedule. That style of program is known as asynchronous. Programs that take place at a physical location — and some online programs as well — are synchronous, meaning that you are required to be at a certain place at a certain time to participate in the course.

In an MSN to DNP program, you will work and learn alongside classmates with similar learning goals. Depending on the program that you enroll in, you may be with the same students for your whole career (cohort) or take courses with a different group of people each term (non-cohort).

Although coursework in an online program is completed remotely, hands-on learning is still an important part of your DNP, as it provides opportunities to practice the skills you are learning. The standard MSN to DNP program requires some degree of experiential learning. To accommodate the format of an online program, students are typically able to do their clinical hours at a location near their home under the supervision of a staff member who has been approved by the program faculty.

Master of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (MSN to DNP) Career Advancement
Statistics from the BLS suggest that it is a good time to enroll in an MSN to DNP program en route to a career in advanced practice nursing. According to the organization, these roles are expected to increase by 31% between 2014 and 2024. [27] This is almost double the anticipated growth rate of RN positions, which the organization put at 16%, a rate that is nonetheless very fast. [28]

Salaries for advanced practice registered nurses also tend to be significantly higher than those of the average RN. The BLS reported that in 2014, the mean annual salary of an APRN was $104,740 per year, compared to $67,490 for an RN.

Even if you are already working in an APRN position, completing a DNP degree can significantly increase your earning potential after graduation. For example, a survey by the ADVANCE Health Care Network revealed that among NPs, those with a DNP degree reported the highest salaries. [19] NPs with a DNP made an average of $96,807 in 2012, compared to the $92,867 those with an MSN made.

According to data provided by the salary and career website PayScale, salary ranges for common DNP positions in the U.S. are:

  • Nurse practitioner: $72,802-$119,954
  • Clinical nurse specialist: $59,943-$112,107
  • Nurse-midwife: $50,110-$111,429
  • Nurse educator: $53,082-$98,953

With a DNP, you may likely improve your chance of earning a salary that falls at the higher end of those wage ranges.

Master of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (MSN to DNP) Curriculum
The length of an MSN to DNP program varies by school, but it usually takes around two years to complete. The credits you previously earned in an MSN program make the process of earning a doctorate shorter than the related BSN to DNP or RN to DNP tracks. During your time in an MSN to DNP program, you will build on your existing knowledge of health care and nursing best practices through core curriculum and additional elective courses.
How many courses are required?

While the precise number of courses you are required to take in an MSN to DNP program varies by school, the fact that you have already completed a master’s means you will need to complete fewer courses than the average student. Most MSN to DNP programs require students to complete between 35 and 45 units by graduation.

What should I look for when considering an MSN to DNP curriculum?

Your course curriculum should prepare you for life after graduation, supplying you with the knowledge and skills you need to succeed on the job.

A few especially timely topics in advanced practice nursing that you should look for include:

  • Leadership development
  • Technological strategies
  • Evidence-based best practices

Ultimately, compare the curriculum to your career goals. If the coursework is not going to help you succeed after graduation, it is likely not the program for you.

What are the overall learning goals?

While the specific learning goals of the program that you enroll in will vary by concentration and school, there are a number of overarching learning goals across DNP programs related to advanced practice nursing. The AACN reported that DNP programs with an advanced practice focus must prepare graduates in three specific areas:

  • Advanced health/physical assessment
  • Advanced physiology
  • Pathophysiology, and advanced pharmacology

In programs that have more of an aggregate/systems/organizational focus, the AACN reported that programs must provide students with:

  • In-depth knowledge of biological and behavioral sciences
  • Competency in assessment techniques
  • Expertise in related nursing topics [13]
Clinical vs. non-clinical

The DNP degree is specifically tailored to prepare nurses for a career in clinical practice. Nurses who are interested in a research-based position should consider pursuing the non-clinical Ph.D. in Nursing. While the focus differs, both degrees can prepare you for a career in nursing education, which is an area that currently has particularly high demand.

A report by the AACN found, in 2014, there were 68,938 qualified applicants turned away from BSN and graduate-level nursing programs. Nearly two-thirds of the schools surveyed reported that a shortage of nurse educators contributed to the problem. [14]

Core courses in MSN to DNP programs

Specific courses in an MSN to DNP program will vary depending on the educational institution in which you enroll and what concentration you choose. However, there are certain educational requirements that form core competencies across programs and schools.

Core courses in a Doctor of Nursing Practice program are primarily focused on the following subjects:

  • Business management
  • Health policy
  • Leadership
  • Health assessment
  • Health informatics
  • Differential diagnosis.
  • Statistics
  • Population health.
  • Evidence-based practice
Electives in MSN to DNP programs

While the majority of courses in an MSN to DNP program are based around these core competencies, and their completion is required for graduation, students are typically able to choose one or two elective courses in an area in which they are particularly interested.

While the electives that are offered will vary depending on the institution in which you enroll, common topics include:

  • Clinical leadership
  • Global health
  • Scholarly writing
  • Health education
  • Project management
  • Operations analysis
Why would I choose a particular elective?

Electives are an important part of your DNP program. Though they are not part of the core courses that are required for competency, they provide an opportunity to take a deeper dive into a particular subject that interests you. They may or may not be related to your concentration, depending on what you want to gain from the additional courses. It may be a chance to learn more about your specific area of study, or you could use electives as an opportunity to gain knowledge of a different subject that adds variety to your educational background.

Concentrations and specializations

Depending on the online MSN to DNP degree program you choose, you may be offered the opportunity to choose a concentration, specialization, or track. While the term “concentration” is typically more commonly used, these terms typically refer to the same opportunity to direct the focus of your studies.

If applicable, the concentration or specialization you choose will dictate which courses you take. A concentration can help you specialize your practice and the direction of your career.

Do I need a concentration?

While concentrations are not necessarily required, they are common in MSN to DNP programs. The most-common non-concentration degree option is usually a focus in advanced nursing practice, which is a general area of study that could prepare you for more than one position after graduation.

A snapshot of 6 concentrations

he right concentration is critical, because it will tailor your degree to your specific interests and career focus. Most concentrations are closely tied to particular careers. While your options will vary by school, there are a number of concentrations that are common among different programs. Some of the most popular are nurse-midwife, family nurse practitioner, adult care nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, public health nurse and nurse administrator.

To make the best decision for your career, read more about these six popular concentrations:


In a Nurse-Midwife MSN to DNP program, students are trained to assess and manage all the issues involved in providing care for women. Labor and delivery are important elements, but nurse-midwives provide care at every stage of female health.

Family Nurse Practitioner

The family nurse practitioner concentration equips students to provide clinical primary care for patients young and old. This includes a focus on designing and implementing evidence-based practices for improving quality care and influencing local, state, and national policies. The FNP specialization is the most popular for certified NPs, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, which reported that 55% practice in this category. [15]

Adult Care Nurse Practitioner

The adult care nurse practitioner is similar to the family nurse practitioner but focuses on primary care for adults and geriatrics. Students are also trained in identifying problems in health care systems and creating strategies to ensure patient safety and quality care.

Nurse Anesthetist

A nurse anesthetist concentration trains students not only in anesthesia, but also in patient care pre- and post-surgery. Students learn to create care plans for individual patients and monitor vitals before, during, and after the procedure.

Public Health Nursing

While an MSN to DNP program can prepare nurses for a number of roles working with individual patients, a public health nursing concentration focuses on providing care for entire populations of people at the local, state, and national level. As preventive care becomes an increasingly important part of health care, efforts in educating the public play a more prominent role in ensuring the health of large populations. Most nurses find working in public health to be very rewarding. According to a 2012 survey by the University of Michigan, 85% of RNs reported that they were satisfied with their job and would recommend that students pursue a position in public health nursing. [16]

Nursing Administration

For students who are interested in working behind-the-scenes in a health care organization, the nursing administration concentration may be the right decision. The specialization covers topics such as human resources, health care policy, and informatics to prepare the graduate for a career organizing and managing nursing teams.

Experiential learning

Gaining hands-on experience while you pursue your DNP is an important part of earning the degree, as potential employers will likely ask about the clinical work you completed over the course of your program. A field placement provides an opportunity to practice the skills and strategies you are studying before you need to use them regularly after graduation.

While specific requirements may vary depending on the program in which you enroll, the majority require the completion of approximately 1,000 hours, in addition to the educational coursework, to graduate. If you are continuing to work in nursing while you earn your DNP, some of that workplace experience may count toward your required hours.

A field placement is important to your DNP program because it:

  • Helps determine if the specific career path is right for you
  • Provides experience in your chosen field before you graduate
  • Offers opportunities to practice the skills and techniques you are learning
  • Eases your transition to a new career after graduation

While learning everything that you can from your coursework is critical, gaining hands-on experience is also an important part of mastering the skills and techniques that you will need to succeed in your career after graduation.

Master of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (MSN to DNP) Program Length

The length of an online master’s degree program can depend on a number of variables, perhaps the most prominent of which is the pace at which you choose to study. You can finish a typical master’s degree program in about two to three years if you choose to study full-time, although some accelerated programs may be able to help you finish more quickly.

Online master’s degree programs tend to offer flexibility suitable for students who choose to study part-time. This option will likely extend your time to completion, but it can allow you to study while fulfilling your familial, social, and professional obligations.

You can find more information on this topic at our program length overview page.

Master of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (MSN to DNP) Admissions Requirements

While each program will set its admissions requirements based on its own criteria, many requirements are universal across all programs. No matter where you apply, you can expect to provide items like transcripts from previous degrees or coursework; standardized test scores; a personal statement or essay; letters of recommendation; and an overview of relevant work experience.

In certain cases, some of these requirements may be waived.

For more information about admissions, please visit our admissions requirements page.

Master of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (MSN to DNP) Alternative Degrees/Fields of Study
As students pursuing this degree track have already completed their MSN, the doctoral level their only remaining option for a nursing-specific degree. However, the DNP is not the only degree that falls into that category. Nurses who wish to pursue a terminal degree but find that a DNP does not meet their academic needs can opt instead to enroll in a Ph.D. in Nursing program.
Similar Fields of Study

While completing a DNP degree sets you up to pursue a number of rewarding careers, it is not the only academic path that can lead to a position helping people in health care.

Some alternative degrees that may interest you include:

Ph.D. in Public Health

If you enjoy promoting health on a community, national, or even global level, you may want to consider a doctorate degree in public health. These programs cover important topics such as community health, public relations, and health informatics to prepare professionals for a career in public health.

Ph.D. in Health Informatics

Data is being used at an increasing rate in health care to improve patient care. If you are interested in the way numbers and information can be leveraged to improve best practices and decision-making in health care, a career in health informatics could be a good fit for you. To make the transition to a career in this area, a Ph.D. in Health Informatics in addition to your nursing background could set you on the right path.

Master of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (MSN to DNP) Accreditation

Regional accreditation is the most prestigious type of accreditation that an online or traditional college or university can receive. It is granted only after careful consideration by private, not-for-profit organizations tasked with evaluating educational quality.

Regional accreditation is particularly important if you anticipate that you might want to transfer credits from one online degree program to another or use those credits to pursue another degree. Most regionally accredited schools will only accept credits from other regionally accredited institutions of higher learning.

You can learn more on this topic at our regional accreditation page.

Typically, nursing programs are accredited at either the regional or national level. The primary accrediting entity for DNP programs is the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), which operates through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Individual concentrations are often also accredited by organizations that are specific to their particular subject.

Master of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (MSN to DNP) Licensure and Certification

Licensure requirements enforce certain standards for nursing professionals. First, aspiring nurses must earn certification from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing through the National Council Licensure Examination test. To work as an RN, nurses typically then have to meet additional requirements based on the state in which they work.

As a student who has already earned an MSN, you are likely already licensed to practice in the state of your choice. However, if you are not already working in advanced practice nursing and wish to pursue a career in the field, you will need to go through additional certification upon completion of your DNP degree depending on the position that you will hold.

The following are the licensing requirements for three of the popular advanced nursing positions:

Nurse Practitioner

If you plan to work as a nurse practitioner after completing your MSN to DNP program, you will need to first obtain board certification in the specific area in which you plan to practice, such as family practice or geriatrics. You will then need to complete state and federal credentials and maintain certification through continuing education credits. The largest national professional membership organization that offers full services — including certification and continuing education — for NPs is the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

Nurse Anesthetist

To practice as a nurse anesthetist, you will need to complete certification through the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. This certification must be renewed through continuing education courses every two years.


Once you have completed your higher degree, you will need to be certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board to work as a nurse-midwife. It is the same organization that also provides certification for nurse-midwife programs at the graduate level.

The History of Professional Nursing

Nurses have played an important role in caring for and healing patients for centuries. The field of modern nurses is largely considered to have started with the work of English social reformer Florence Nightingale, a nurse whose work during the Crimean War in the 19th century set the framework for future patient care. She later founded the first secular school for nursing and increased the acceptance of female nurses.

Clara Barton, a contemporary of Nightingale, did similar work forwarding the field of nursing in the U.S. during the Civil War and later founded the first American chapter of the Red Cross.

Thanks in large part to the work of Nightingale and Barton, women became a larger part of the nursing force, eventually gaining a majority in the Western world for much of the 19th century through modern day. However, in recent years, men have begun entering the field again at a growing rate. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 2.7% of nurses were men in 1970. By 2011, that number had more than tripled to nearly 10% of the workforce. [7]

Along with changing demographics, educational standards have also been shifting over the last several decades. Though nurses have never been required to hold an undergraduate or graduate degree, it is becoming increasingly encouraged. According to the AACN, in 1980, the highest level of education for 55% of nurses was a high school diploma. Only 22% had earned a bachelor’s degree. [8] But since that time, the rate of higher degrees among nurses has increased significantly. The Health Resources and Services Administration reported that as of 2013, 55% of RNs held a bachelor’s degree. [9]

This trend toward increased education has been encouraged by the Institute of Medicine, which set a goal of having 80% of nurses complete a BSN by 2020. [10] Because this undergraduate degree is becoming more of a standard in the field, nurses who wish to obtain leadership positions or otherwise advance their careers are now pursuing MSN and DNP degrees.

Master of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (MSN to DNP) Tuition and Fees

There are a number of factors that can greatly affect how much your education will cost. These include whether you attend a public or private institution; whether you attend as an in-state or out-of-state student; and whether you qualify for financial aid like grants or scholarships.

For a more detailed breakdown of tuition, fees, and other financial issues, please visit our tuition and fees page.

Loan forgiveness

Taking out student loans is a common way to pay for your education. While you can typically work out a plan to pay these back over a period of 10 to 15 years, there are also multiple options for earning loan forgiveness while working as a nurse.

Examples of these types of programs include:

  • Disadvantaged Faculty Loan Repayment Program (DFLRP): Nurses from disadvantaged backgrounds can apply for this program, which provides loan payment assistance up to $40,000 in return for teaching at pre-approved health professions and/or nursing schools.
  • The State Nursing Assumption Program of Loans for Education (SNAPLE): This California-based program allows nurses to earn up to $25,000 of loan payment assistance for teaching at a regionally accredited college or university in the state.
  • The Army Nurse Corp: Nurses can earn loan forgiveness in exchange for time served in the military by earning their degree through the Army Nurse Corp.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Both are terminal degrees, but the DNP is a practice-based doctoral degree accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), while a Ph.D. is a research-focused doctoral degree.

For many years a nurse practitioner (NP) degree has been the standard for advanced practice nurses. However, recently the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has recommended that the DNP become the standard. According to the AACN: [20]

  • The DNP will better prepare APRNs for their current roles given the calls for new models of care delivery and the growing complexity of health care.
  • The DNP is designed for nurses seeking a terminal degree in nursing practice and offers an alternative to research-focused doctoral programs.
  • DNP-prepared nurses will be well-equipped to fully implement the science developed by nurse researchers prepared in Ph.D., DNS, and other research-focused nursing doctorates.

Due to the increasing complexity of health care, there is a strong movement across the United States to require a DNP for entry into advanced practice roles. Although there is no regulatory change at this time, the AACN identifies the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree “as the most appropriate degree for preparing advanced-practice registered nurses (APRNs) to enter clinical practice.” [21] Obtaining a DNP now will prepare nurses with the highest credentials should this become a regulatory requirement in the future.

As of 2016, 303 DNP programs exist across all 50 states, with 124 new DNP programs in their planning stages. From 2015 to 2016, student enrollment increased from 21,995 to 25,289. For that same time period, graduates increased from 4,100 to 4,855. [22]

There are many career options for DNP graduates. These include chief nursing officer (CNO), director of nursing, nurse educator, nurse administrator, clinical instructor, and informatics manager, to name a few. Other roles may include government positions, advocating for patient rights and practices, applying evidence-based research to improve the quality of patient care, becoming a practice manager, or CEO of a health care organization. [23]

Key attributes to look for in a DNP degree include:

  • Accreditation: Is the program accredited?
  • Flexibility: Is the program on campus or online? If online, does the institution required synchronous sessions? Are there optional synchronous sessions?
  • Student support: What support systems are in place for your success?
  • Travel requirements: Will you need to pay for additional travel arrangements to meet degree requirements?
  • Interactive learning: What type of learning management system is used?
  • Faculty expertise: Do faculty have a strong theoretical and practical knowledge base in the field?
  • Fees: Are there any additional fees beyond tuition?

To be admitted into an MSN to DNP program, applicants will need to hold an MS or MSN from an NLNAC/CCNE-accredited nursing program and must hold current board certification as an advanced practice nurse. Admission requirements will vary by program, but typical requirements include transcripts, a minimum of a 3.0 GPA, letters of reference, and possibly a written essay and interview.

Whether you will need to complete the GRE prior to applying for a program will largely depend on what school you have chosen. There are many programs that do not require a GRE. Check the admissions requirements for your school before applying.

Some institutions also admit students on a conditional basis with a GRE score. For example, if the applicant has a GPA below their standard, they may admit a student on a conditional basis after reviewing a GRE score.

The largest provider of student financial aid in the nation is the Federal Student Aid office in the U.S. Department of Education. [24] You can apply for federal financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as FAFSA.

There are numerous other scholarships available, but you will need to research which opportunities you’re qualified to pursue. Many states, associations, websites, and businesses award scholarships based on specific criteria. Do your research and apply for any scholarships you’re qualified to be awarded.

Completion time ranges from two to three years depending on the program.

Credit hours for an MSN to DNP degree will vary by university. The average number of credit hours, based on a survey of 10 universities, was approximately 42.

You will want to consider accreditation of the university, the nursing department, and the actual MSN to DNP degree.

You can find a list of regional and national institutional accrediting agencies at the U.S. Department of Education’s website. [25]

The professional accrediting body for the baccalaureate, master’s, DNP, and post-graduate APRN certificate program is the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). [26] The CCNE is recognized as a national accreditation agency by the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Programs can also be accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). [27] The ACEN provides accreditation for all types of nursing programs, including clinical doctorate, master’s/post-master’s certificate, baccalaureate, associate, diploma, and practical nursing programs. The ACEN accredits nursing programs in secondary, postsecondary, and hospital-based governing organizations that offer certificates, diplomas, or degrees.

CCNE serves the public interest by assessing and identifying programs that engage in effective educational practices. It seeks:

  1. To hold nursing programs accountable by ensuring they have mission statements, goals, and outcomes that are in line with what the profession requires.
  2. To ensure programs deliver a quality education while living up to their mission and goals.
  3. To assess and ensure that a nursing program meets accreditation standards.
  4. To encourage continuing improvement in nursing programs. [28]

Accreditations are a strong indication of quality, but are also required for students who plan to apply for federal financial aid. Accreditation ensures that your degree is recognized by employers, professional associations, and other accredited institutions of higher education.

A majority of currently available DNP programs build upon previous MSN experience and education by adding high-level, evidence-based practices, quality improvement, systems leadership, and more.
[22] Graduates are generally prepared to provide a greater spectrum of services and work with increased autonomy. [22]

The eight Foundational Essentials are the basis for the DNP curricula. These include:

  • Scientific Underpinnings for Practice.
  • Organizational and Systems Leadership for Quality Improvement and Systems Thinking
  • Clinical Scholarship and Analytical Methods for Evidence-Based Practice
  • Information Systems/Technology and Patient Care Technology for the Improvement and Transformation of Health Care
  • Health Care Policy for Advocacy in Health Care
  • Interprofessional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes
  • Clinical Prevention and Population Health for Improving the Nation’s Health
  • Advanced Nursing Practice [29]

To enroll in an MSN to DNP degree program, you will need a master’s degree in nursing. Universities will want to verify that the program you graduated from was an accredited nursing program.

Regardless of your undergraduate degree, to enroll in an MSN to DNP program you will need to provide proof of a current nursing license.

Other university requirements will vary, so be sure to check with your admissions advisor if you meet all prerequisites for enrolling in a specific program.

Online synchronous learning happens in real time. There is a required time that you would need to log in or be present to participate. For example, you would log in to watch a faculty presentation at a specific time for a live question and answer session.

In an asynchronous online format, you are not required to be online at a certain time, allowing you to participate according to your schedule. There will still be due dates, but students are solely responsible for their own time management in an asynchronous environment.

Clinical experience has the potential to create strong job recommendations and even lead to careers after graduation. Be sure to make the most of your clinical experience by being proactive in inquiring about procedures you would like to practice and asking questions that you can’t easily find the answers to on your own. It is better to learn as much as you can during your clinical experience so you can be prepared once you have a job.

Making a good impression with your preceptors creates a network you may be able to lean on when searching for a job upon graduation.

Support for finding a preceptor will vary based on the university. The institution may or may not have a list of affiliated sites/personnel that you can reach out to about considering a preceptor role. Regardless, you should be prepared to start networking early to secure preceptors for your clinicals. Inquire with a guidance counselor about the support provided for students when finding a preceptor.

The difficulty and competition to acquire a preceptor and clinical site will vary by location and individual. You will need to be proactive in securing preceptors for your clinicals. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Consider your personal network of doctors, friends, and family.
  • Inquire with NP groups in your state that may offer guidance or support in securing a preceptor.
  • Explore websites with preceptor directories.
  • Investigate whether your state has Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) that may help you find preceptors. [31]
  • Be creative when considering sites. For example, consider Planned Parenthood or a nurse midwife for women’s health clinicals, or nursing homes for a gerontology clinical.

Inquire with an admissions advisor about preceptor requirements before beginning to look for preceptors.

This will vary by university. In general, you will need to have the clinical site approved by the university. In addition, some universities use software that preceptors, professors, and students can access. Others will require campus visits or have scheduled visits from advisors to review the sites. Inquire with an admissions advisor to determine the process followed by each university.

SARA (State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement) applies only to distance education programs in the United States that cross state lines. This agreement is made between member states and establishes comparable postsecondary national standards for distance education courses.

Not every state is a SARA member. Through SARA, member states only have to receive authorization in their home state. Without SARA, non-member states would have to receive authorization in their home state and the state of each of their online students. [35]

Every school has a department or team responsible for online education. This department will be able to answer questions regarding compliance for your home state. Additionally, you can locate the school through SARA (if it is a SARA institution) to confirm compliance.

Each state has its own nursing board that licenses advanced practice nurses, along with a website specifically for nurses in that state — nurse practitioners, certified midwives, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse anesthesiologists. There are general components of nursing licensure, including: [32]

  • Verification of graduation or intent to graduate from an approved RN or LPN/VN nursing education program
  • Successful completion of NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN examination
  • In some states, criminal background check

To understand the requirements for the state you live in, visit the State Boards of Nursing website and select your state to view applications. [33]