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

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is one of the two highest degrees that can be attained by a nursing professional. Unlike the other terminal degree, the research-based Ph.D. in Nursing, the DNP involves a clinically focused program that prepares students for a variety of advanced nursing positions.

In recent years, the number of students enrolling in and graduating from this program has increased dramatically to keep up with the growing emphasis on academic credentials in the field of nursing. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), nearly 22,000 students across the country were enrolled in DNP programs in 2015 and more than 4,000 graduated the same year. [1]

A DNP provides the education and experience you need to pursue a career as an advanced practice nurse, a field that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects will grow by 31% between 2014 and 2024. [2] To meet this increasing demand, some educational institutions have created specially designed programs that enable registered nurses without a higher degree to earn a doctorate in one cohesive program. In an RN to DNP program, a professional who is already a registered nurse can complete the terminal degree without first earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.

While students pursue a DNP for numerous reasons, one of the most common is to attain a career as an advanced practice nurse.

Advanced practice nursing in the world

What is advanced practice nursing?

An advanced practice registered nurse is a highly educated nursing professional who generally provides primary care to patients. The four main roles within this field are nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, nurse-midwife, and clinical nurse specialist.

How do I earn a DNP?

Students must already be a registered nurse to enroll in an RN to DNP program. A DNP can be completed through an accredited school by taking courses on campus, through an online program, or a combination of both.

How long does it take?

Earning a DNP typically takes between two and six years, but the length varies greatly depending on whether you enroll full or part time and what level of education you have already obtained. An RN to DNP program generally takes between four and six years.

What else should I know?

An RN to DNP program encompasses the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees. Some students choose to complete these degrees separately, while others find that the single program is conducive to completing their education more efficiently. If you already have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing, you can enroll in a BSN to DNP or MSN to DNP program, respectively.

Exploring the DNP

A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a terminal nursing degree with classes designed to prepare nurses for a variety of leadership roles in the workplace. If you are starting the program as an RN, you will typically be required to complete approximately 85 to 95 credit units.

DNP programs can be accredited through a number of governing bodies, such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or organizations that are specific to the subject matter, such as the American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation or the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs.

The popularity of this degree has increased significantly since 2006. According to the AACN, the number of students enrolled in U.S.-based DNP programs grew from 18,352 to 21,995 between 2014 and 2015 alone. [3] The number of DNP graduates also increased during this time, from 3,065 to 4,100.

Is an RN to DNP right for me?

You should first consider your career goals if you are interested in pursuing a DNP.

DNP graduates often enter careers as advanced practice nurses or as leaders in health care organizations and settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Ambulatory care
  • Home health
  • Community health
  • Academia
  • Pediatrics
  • Neonatal
  • Adult care

Popular career goals for DNP students — and their average salaries from Payscale — include:

  • Nurse practitioner – $90,167 [4]
  • Nurse anesthesiologist – $137,288 [5]
  • Nurse-midwife – $87,864 [6]
  • Clinical nurse specialist – $82,600 [7]
  • Nurse educator – $71,575 [8]

When it comes to determining if a specific RN to DNP program — and not just a DNP outcome — is right for you, consider your current level of education and how you wish to achieve your academic goals. If you have already completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), you should look into programs that are tailored for students with that educational background.

However, if you are a registered nurse who has yet to complete a college-level degree, the RN to DNP program could be right for you. These programs ensure that you have the courses you need to succeed after graduation.

However, an RN to DNP program is not your only option for obtaining a doctorate. Some students choose to first earn a BSN and then enroll in a BSN to DNP program, or even complete an MSN before completing a terminal degree through a fast-track MSN to DNP program.

Why earn an RN to DNP?

Common motivations for pursuing a DNP when starting as an RN include:

Earning potential

A higher degree can have a significant impact on your earning potential, and the DNP is a terminal nursing degree. According to the BLS, the mean salary of an advanced practice nurse in 2015 was $104,740. [9] This is nearly $40,000 higher than the average salary of a registered nurse, which was $67,490 in the same year. [10]

Career advancement

A DNP may be a requirement for a number of high-level nursing positions. Within advanced practice nursing, a DNP can qualify you for a position as a nurse practitioner, nurse-midwife, nurse anesthesiologist, or clinical nurse specialist, as well as other leadership and executive positions in clinical departments and education.

Job security

Demand for advanced practice nurses is on the rise. According to the BLS, the number of jobs in this specialty is expected to increase by 31% between 2014 and 2024, adding an additional 53,400 positions to the market. With a higher degree, you will also be more competitive when applying for new positions or promotions. As a larger percentage of RNs earn their BSN, a DNP signifies that you are a cut above the rest.

How do I choose a DNP program?
Many Doctor of Nursing Practice programs are available, but you should also look at your earning potential, specialization opportunities, and personal growth afforded by individual programs when choosing the right one for you. By carefully examining your choices, you can find the school that will most effectively help you achieve your career goals.


Nursing programs are accredited by a number of organizations, including specialized groups that look at DNP concentrations related to certain advanced practice nursing roles, such as the American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation.


Check out the DNP website for the program you’re interested in to read biographies for different faculty members. Ask questions about professor availability, especially if you are in a different time zone. You want faculty who can answers questions on your schedule.

Delivery method

Based on your circumstances and learning style, you may do best taking classes at a physical location, online, or a combination of both settings. Remote learning options are becoming increasingly popular in both nursing and education in general. According to the 2015 Online Report Card by Babson Survey Research Group, 28% of students take at least one online course. [11]

Program length

To be sure the program not only aligns with your professional goals but also can be accommodated in your current lifestyle, verify the length of the program you are considering. Many programs allow students to enroll full or part time and offer the option of taking a term off as needed. If a flexible schedule is necessary for you or you have to finish your degree in a certain amount of time, the program length should be a high priority.


When it comes to paying for your education, you should not simply look at the total price of tuition. Look into scholarships and other assistance — if any — the school offers. Also factor in the costs associated with a commute or move if you plan to complete your degree at a physical location. You may choose an online format to avoid those costs.

Curriculum and specializations

The courses you take and the specialization you choose for your degree can have a significant influence on your future career options. Choosing a program with the proper instruction that will most closely align with your ultimate goals is critical. When it comes to tailoring your degree to a specific career option, some of the most common specializations for DNP programs are:

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

Success of previous students

If you want to get an idea of how well a certain program will prepare you for life after graduation, look at the success of previous students. Most schools will offer statistics regarding the employment rate and other metrics of their graduates that will give you an idea of what you can expect upon completion of your degree. Also look into resources the program offers to nursing students, such as career counseling, resume assistance, and networking opportunities.


Ultimately, the easiest way to get an idea of the quality of an RN to DNP program is to see how it stacks up to other schools. Consult rankings issued yearly by credible organizations to gauge regional and national academic leaders.

What Is an advanced practice registered nurse?

Due to health care reform in the U.S., nurses are taking an increasingly active role in patient care and treatment. The advanced practice registered nursing role was created to help meet this need. APRNs are nurses with advanced degrees who fill a generalist or specialist position in a health care organization.

Job titles that fall under the umbrella of advanced practice nursing include nurse practitioner, nurse anesthesiologist, nurse-midwife, and clinical nurse specialist. These positions, and the nurses who fill them, are typically seen as leaders within their place of employment.

The position of the APRN became an especially prominent part of the health care system after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law in 2010. Many provisions of the legislation provided patients with greater access to APRNs.

While some APRN roles only require a Master of Science in Nursing degree, a common option in pursuing a career in this area is the Doctor of Nursing Practice. This terminal degree is specifically tailored for clinical practice, as opposed to the research-based Ph.D. in Nursing.

Degrees in nursing

The DNP is one of two terminal degrees in nursing — the other being the Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing. Nurses can also pursue two other formal degrees, the Bachelor of Science in Nursing and the Master of Science in Nursing.


The undergraduate level degree is the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Topics covered include physiology, anatomy, and basic math and science, providing a general foundation in nursing theory and practice.

Master’s Degree

The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree builds upon the principles and strategies established in the bachelor’s degree program. The master’s learning outcomes offer a chance to deepen your knowledge in a particular aspect of nursing, and the degree is typically completed within two years.


There are two terminal nursing degrees: the DNP and the Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D.). The Ph.D. is research-based as opposed to clinically focused. It is typically chosen by students who wish to pursue a career in research after graduation.

According to a 2013 survey of registered nurses by AMN Healthcare, the younger generation of nurses — those between ages 19 and 39 — are especially eager to advance their education. The survey found that 40% of RNs in this category are planning to pursue an MSN or higher level of education. [18]

Common areas of nursing practice

Common areas of advanced nursing practice can include, but are not limited to, the following settings:

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

Within these settings, popular job titles include:

Family Nurse Practitioner

The role of a family nurse practitioner is similar to that of a family physician. Like doctors, FNPs provide primary care, which includes diagnosing conditions, prescribing medication, and ordering tests. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, about 55% of certified NPs are in the family clinical focus. [19]

Adult Care Nurse Practitioner

Similar to an FNP, an adult care nurse practitioner also provides primary care, but specializes in adult care. According to the AANP, nearly 17% of NPs choose this specialization, which can focus specifically on geriatrics or adults of all ages. The AANP reported that approximately 32% of adult care NPs work in primary care. [20]

Public Health Nurse

As opposed to the individual primary care provided by NPs, public health nurses work to protect and promote the health of the general public. According to the American Nurses Association, specific areas of advocacy and education for public health nurses can include topics such as infection prevention and immunizations. [21]

Nursing Administrator

There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes at health care organizations, and the intimate knowledge of the field that nurses possess makes them well-suited for the job. Nurse administrators often oversee the management of staff teams within health care organizations.


The use of a midwife is becoming increasingly common in the U.S. According to the American College of Nurse-Midwives, the most recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics reported that about 12% of vaginal births in 2014 were attended by nurse-midwives and certified midwives. [22] Nurse-midwives are not only responsible for labor and delivery, but also provide primary and specialty care for female patients.

Nurse Anesthetist

A nurse anesthetist helps care for patients from pre-surgery assessment through postoperative recovery, including the administration of anesthesia.

Who is the DNP degree for?

The DNP degree is for any licensed nursing professional who wishes to pursue a leadership position or otherwise advance in the workplace.

An RN to DNP program is specifically designed for registered nurses who want to pursue a doctorate, but have not yet earned a BSN or MSN. The program allows nurses to complete the entire process in a single program, creating a more efficient educational journey.

Things to consider when choosing an online DNP program

For many nurses, the flexibility provided by an online program makes it easier than ever to complete a DNP, particular if you wish to continue working part or full time.

Consider the following to determine if an online RN to DNP program is right for you:

Asynchronous or synchronous

The majority of online programs are asynchronous, meaning that you are able to complete online assignments, readings, and other course assignments at the time of your choosing. However, there are some programs that require you to be online at certain times, which are known as a synchronous programs. While asynchronous programs are usually more conducive to a nursing schedule, you should pick whichever will be more suited to your lifestyle and study habits.

Cohort or non-cohort

In some programs, you will study and learn with the same group of nurses from day one through graduation. This is known as a cohort. In non-cohort programs, the students with whom you go through the program may change by term.

Experiential learning

The vast majority of online RN to DNP programs require some aspect of hands-on learning. Usually, you will work under a health care professional who will be pre-approved by the school.

Registered Nurse to Doctor of Nursing Practice Career Advancement
With increased demand put on the health care system due to an aging population and the rise of chronic conditions, a higher number of qualified professionals are needed to ensure patients receive quality care. This is especially true of the nursing field. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts demand for registered nurses to increase by 16% between 2014 and 2024, a much faster than average rate, demand for advanced practice nurses is growing even more dramatically.

Earning an advanced degree can have a significant impact on your earning potential. According to the BLS, advanced practice nurses earned a mean annual salary of $104,740 in 2015. [24] This is compared to an RN’s average salary in 2015, which the BLS reported at $67,490 a year. [25]

This is particularly true when it comes to a career as a nurse practitioner. According to a 2013 survey by ADVANCE Healthcare Network, the average salary of an NP with a DNP degree was $97,452. Based on the averages from NPs with lower degrees, the survey revealed that those who held a DNP were the highest-paid NPs in the survey. [26]

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

  • Nurse practitioner: $72,802 – $119,954 [27].
  • Nurse-midwife: $50,110 – $111,429 [28].
  • Clinical nurse specialist: $59,943 – $112,107 [29].
  • Nurse educator: $53,082 – $98,953 [30].

Due to the desirability of candidates with advanced degrees, you may have a better chance to earn a salary at the higher end of these ranges when you have a DNP on your resume.
RN to DNP Curriculum

On average, an RN to DNP program takes about four to six years to complete, though the duration is largely influenced by whether you choose to pursue your degree full or part time.

Registered Nurse to Doctor of Nursing Practice Curriculum

Ultimately, the curriculum of an RN to DNP program should prepare you to assume a leadership role in a health care organization following graduation. To ensure this objective is met, there are multiple things that you should look for when examining a program’s curriculum. This includes:

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

Ultimately, be sure that the coursework lines up with your career goals. If a particular program does not provide courses that would prove useful in your future role, consider earning your DNP with another school that better suits your career ambitions.

What are the overall learning goals of DNP programs?

While the specific learning goals of a program vary by school and concentration, the overarching emphasis is to prepare students to provide the best possible care to patients after graduation. 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 students must be competent in:

  • Assessment techniques
  • In-depth knowledge of behavioral and biological sciences
  • Expertise in applicable nursing topics [23]
Clinical vs. non-clinical

The DNP is specifically designed for nurses who wish to pursue an advanced position in a clinical setting. Those who are interested in a non-clinical role, typically in research, should consider earning a Ph.D. in Nursing.

Core courses

While courses vary by specialty and school, there are certain competencies that are consistent across all programs. The core curriculum is created around those areas and students are required to take those specific courses. Core courses in a Doctor of Nursing Practice program are primarily focused on the following subjects:

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

In addition to core courses, RN to DNP programs typically also involve taking electives. These are usually associated with the concentration you are pursuing. Most programs have a number of options you can choose from to tailor the coursework to your interests and career goals.

While the electives that are offered will vary by institution, common topics include:

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

On top of your core courses, electives give you the opportunity to delve deeper into a particular area that interests you, which will often align with your career goals. However, you can also use your electives as a chance to explore a different topic. For instance, if you have an interest in health informatics but the subject is not included in your core coursework, you could consider enrolling in an elective course to expand your knowledge of the area.
Concentrations and Specializations

What’s the Difference?

When you enroll in a DNP program, you may have the option to choose a concentration or specialization. In higher education, the terms are used synonymously. While you likely will hear the term concentration more frequently, both signify the option to refine your area of study.

Often, your concentration or specialization will impact the courses you take. A typical program will have a core set of courses that any student must complete and an additional number that relate to the concentration you decide to pursue. Choosing to specialize in a certain area is your chance to shape the direction of your career.

Do I need a concentration?

While concentrations are common in DNP programs, they are not always required. Some students choose to enroll in a more general program, such as an advanced nursing practice DNP, that is not geared toward one particular career.

A snapshot of six concentrations
Choosing a concentration is important for determining the direction of your career in nursing. Concentrations are closely tied to the position you wish to obtain once you complete your DNP. While there are a number of options, which vary by school, certain choices appear frequently across educational institutions. Some of the most common are:
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Public Health Nursing
  • Nursing Administration
  • Nurse-Midwife
  • Nurse Anesthesiologist
Learn more about these six popular concentrations below to make an educated decision for your career:

Family nurse practitioner

The FNP concentration is designed to train students to provide clinical primary care to patients of all ages. You will also learn to design and implement strategies in line with current health care trends and best practices and influence policies at the local, state, and national level.

Adult care nurse practitioner

Similar to the FNP program, the adult care nurse practitioner concentration — sometimes also referred to as adult gerontological primary care — also prepares nurses to provide primary care, but with a focus on adult and geriatric patients. Graduates will also work on strategies to ensure quality care and patient safety.

Public health nurse

The public health nursing concentration gives students the opportunity to focus on issues that affect entire communities. As primary health care and public health become more intertwined, nurses with a DNP in Public Health Nursing are well-placed to assume positions in national, state, and local organizations that promote population health.

Nursing administration

In the nursing administration specialization, students are equipped with the skills to lead behind the scenes in a health care organization. This includes studying health care policy, human resources, informatics, and other administrative topics.


When pursuing a nurse-midwife concentration, students are trained not only to assist in labor and delivery but also to assess and manage the issues involved in women’s health. The program also prepares graduates to be leaders in their health care organization.

Nurse anesthetist

The nurse anesthetist specialization prepares students to care for patients from assessments prior to surgery through postoperative discharge. This includes creating individualized plans of care for patients and deepening knowledge of the practice of anesthesia.

Experiential learning and field placement

What’s the importance of experiential learning?

In a field that is as hands-on as health care, gaining experience on site is an important part of a nursing education. Field placements give you an opportunity to practice what you’re learning before you’re expected to implement it as part of your job after graduation.

The majority of DNP programs require approximately 1,000 hours of clinical experience alongside the educational coursework. If you are continuing to work in the field while pursuing your doctorate degree, you may be able to use your workplace experience toward that requirement. You will need to have your placement and the person who will oversee your time onsite approved by the faculty in your program to ensure that everything meets requirements.

Field placement can ensure that you:

  • Are truly suited to a specific career path
  • Acquire work experience before you graduate
  • Gain hands-on experience learning skills and techniques
  • Are prepared for a career after graduation

While the information you learn during your coursework is important, gaining hands-on experience simultaneously ensures you have mastered the skills to succeed on the job.

Registered Nurse to Doctor of Nursing Practice 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.

How many courses are required?

The exact number of courses required in an RN to DNP program vary by school. However, students typically must complete somewhere around 85 and 95 credits, which usually takes approximately four to six years to complete. Some programs can be completed in as few as three years if you take courses full time.

Registered Nurse to Doctor of Nursing Practice 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.

Core requirements for admission

To enroll in an RN to DNP program, the first thing to do is complete your registered nurse certification. It is also recommended that you work in the field for at least a year before applying to earn your DNP.

While specific admission requirements vary by institution, common requirements include:

  • Letters of recommendation
  • A resume or curriculum vitae (CV)
  • A specific grade point average (GPA), typically above a 3.0
  • A Graduate Record Exam (GRE) that meets or exceeds the school’s standard

You may also be asked to complete an interview, either in person or remotely.

Registered Nurse to Doctor of Nursing Practice Alternative Degrees/Fields of Study

If you are already an RN but are unsure if a DNP is right for you at this time, consider one of these alternative degrees to advance your career:

  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing
  • Master of Science in Nursing
  • Ph.D. in Nursing

If you complete a BSN or MSN, you can choose to enroll in a DNP program at a later date. Your other degrees will shorten the number of credits you need to complete the doctorate.

Similar fields of study

Advanced practice nursing is a valuable part of the health care system, but it is not the only area in which you can help people.

Some alternative degrees that may interest you include:

Ph.D. in Public Health

Earning a higher degree in public health equips nurses to help care for patients on a large scale, whether in their own community or at a global level. These programs cover topics such as public relations, health informatics, and community health.

Ph.D. in Health Informatics

Data is being collected at an increasing rate across all industries, health care included. To collect, store, and leverage this growing amount of information, professionals are needed who have expertise in both health care and information systems, which nurses can gain through health informatics program.

Registered Nurse to Doctor of Nursing Practice 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.

For a school’s program to be accredited, it must conform to a number of predetermined regional or national standards. These accreditations not only demonstrate the program’s quality to potential students, but also ensure future employers that the advanced practice nurse is equipped to provide exemplary patient care after graduation.

Typically, programs are either regionally or nationally accredited. Specific concentrations also generally require their own accreditation. For example, the American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation approves nurse-midwife specializations, and the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs approves nurse anesthetists specializations.

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

Registered Nurse to Doctor of Nursing Practice Licensure and Certifications

Licensing is critical in the nursing field. Public safety depends upon set standards that nurses must meet.

At the most basic level, professionals must earn certification by passing the National Council Licensure Examination to be considered a registered nurse. The six-hour test is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Nurses typically then have to meet additional certification requirements that vary by state.

As an RN, you have already met these requirements. But if you wish to fill a leadership role after completing your DNP, addition licensing may be required. For example, to take on one of the advanced practice nursing roles, you will need to go through additional certification when you approach graduation. The following are licensure requirements for three of the most prominent advanced practice nursing roles:

Nurse practitioner

To work as a nurse practitioner, graduates must first obtain board certification in a specific focus, such as family practice or women’s health. Once board certification has been obtained, aspiring NPs need to apply for state and federal level credentials, such as with the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. NPs must maintain certification by earning continuing education credits.

Nurse anesthetist

In addition to completing a higher degree, nurse anesthetists must complete certification through the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. The standing must be renewed every two years through the completion of continuing education courses.


After completing their education, nurse-midwives must be certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB). The AMCB is the same organization that certifies graduate-level nurse-midwife programs.

The History of Professional Nursing

Nurses have long been part of the process of caring for and healing the sick and injured. The field of modern nursing is widely attributed to the work of Florence Nightingale, an English social reformer who dedicated her life to training and organizing nurses during the 19th century. After caring for soldiers during the Crimean War, she founded her own secular nursing school and helped to establish the profession as a career acceptable for women, who had few opportunities outside the home at the time. Clara Barton, a contemporary of Nightingale, helped to develop modern nursing in the U.S. during the Civil War and eventually founded the American Red Cross.

Once a predominantly male field, nursing became a profession primarily filled by women throughout the 19th and 20th century in the Western world. However, in recent years, an increasing number of men have returned to the profession. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of men working in nursing has nearly tripled since 1970, when only 2.7% of nurses were male. As of 2011, that number was at nearly 10%. [12]

Over the past several decades, the U.S. has experienced a growing demand for qualified nursing professionals. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of registered nursing positions across the country is expected to increase by 16% between 2014 and 2014, adding an additional 439,300 jobs to the workforce. [13]

At one time, a nurse’s sole requirement was nursing certification. Some may have had an associate degree as well, but the AACN reported that a high school diploma was the highest level of education of 55% of nurses in 1980. [14] To stand out from the competition and earn a leadership role, a nurse would usually choose to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

The BSN went above and beyond the content included in basic certification and equipped professionals with knowledge of the latest in nursing theory and practice. However, only 22% of professionals held a bachelor’s degree in 1980.

Today, the BSN is becoming the industry standard, due in large part to a push by the Institute of Medicine to ensure that 80% of nurses hold a bachelor’s degree by 2020. [15] As of 2013, a study by the Health Resources and Services Administration found that 55% of RNs had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher. [16]

In recent years, nursing, like the rest of the health care industry, has become increasingly involved in preventive care. While medicine formerly focused on treating those who are already sick or injured, this new effort looks at ways to prevent people from becoming ill in the first place.

In addition to increasing the comfort, quality of life, and overall health of the population, a focus on preventive care saves money for both patients and health care organizations by avoiding expensive problems down the road. This is particularly true of chronic conditions such as diabetes and arthritis, which involve lifelong care and treatment.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of the adult population in the U.S. was living with one or more chronic conditions as of 2012. [17] The financial and physical cost of preventing these illnesses from developing is much less than that of treating them.

Registered Nurse to Doctor of Nursing Practice 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.
Scholarships and grants

While many schools offer financial assistance to students, there are also a number of scholarships and grants available to nurses who want to earn their DNP. You should look into those offered by the institution you wish to enroll in, the government, and private organizations.

Loan forgiveness

For many students, taking out loans is the best way to pay for their DNP degree. Understandably, some find that repaying those debts can become difficult. Often, nurses can earn a certain degree of loan forgiveness by working in a designated setting that needs qualified professionals.

Some programs are offered at the national level, while others vary by state. Examples of loan forgiveness opportunities include:

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 in pre-approved health professions and 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.

Nurses can also complete their degree through the Army Nurse Corps, which will exchange loan forgiveness for time served in the military.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Yes. You must be a registered nurse with an active license in the United States with no encumbrances at the time of application.

Experience is usually recommended but might not be required.

n today’s evolving health care environment, there’s an increased complexity of patient care and concern about quality of care and safety. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for nurse practitioners will increase by 31% from 2014 to 2024 (much faster than average). [31]

A doctorate degree can help you stay ahead and be competitive in the field. There’s an increasing educational expectation, especially for those seeking top roles. A doctorate degree can help you build the advanced skills sought by employers and help expand career opportunities, such as roles in leadership and education. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, in 2014, there were a total of 1,236 faculty vacancies, of which 89% require or prefer candidates with doctoral degrees. [32]

Currently, DNP is not a common credential, but it might be prefered in the near future. There’s a movement to support more practice-based doctoral nurses. According to The Future of Nursing, a study done by the Institute of Medicine committee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, there is a need to double the number of RNs with doctorates to ensure registered nurses are fully engaged and well-prepared to assume leadership roles in redesigning care. [33] In response, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has created task forces on expanding doctoral nursing programs. [34]

While one can directly complete a BSN or MSN program before enrolling in a DNP program, the RN to DNP programs can be more time- and cost-effective. RN to DNP programs are generally designed for those with a bachelor’s, associate, or diploma looking to become an advanced practice nurse. As such, these programs usually offer various entry points with bridge courses to allow students to seamlessly transition and earn a BSN or MSN along the way to completing a DNP.

It varies and depends on the program you choose. While many programs do require a bachelor’s in nursing, some programs accept applications from experienced registered nurses who hold an associate degree or diploma in nursing. Registered nurses with a diploma or ADN should anticipate more coursework than those with a BSN, as many programs require additional bridge coursework.

Key attributes to look for include:

  • Accreditation: Is the program or the school accredited?
  • Delivery method: Is it 100 % online? Otherwise, how much is required on-campus?
  • Clinical sites and preceptor process: What support is there in helping students find clinical sites and preceptors?
  • Student support: What support systems are in place for your success?
  • Program length: What is the recommended time to completion? What is the average time to completion?
  • Tuition and fees: Is there a difference in tuition for in/out of state? Are there additional fees outside of tuition?
  • Available concentrations: What kind of courses are included in each concentration?
  • Graduation rate: This can be good to know to get a feel for the level of curriculum rigor and academic support.

It should also be considered whether the program awards a BSN or MSN along the way to the DNP. Many online programs require on-campus visits, which should be considered to ensure it works with your commitments.

General RN-DNP programs provide students a comprehensive learning experience. You may touch on different specializations in small doses, rounding off your education. General RN-DNP programs usually focus on family nurse practitioner topics. On the other hand, picking a specialization will help give you an advantage in that specific career path, but you likely won’t have as much knowledge in other areas.

Usually there are. It varies based on the program’s required admission entry point: diploma, associate, or bachelor’s degree. Some required prerequisite courses can include college algebra, statistics, psychology, anatomy, physiology, foundations of nursing practice, research, and microbiology.

It varies. A sampling of online RN-DNP programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) indicates credit hours ranging from 60 to 115, which translates to programs taking about three to five years to complete. Registered nurses with a diploma or ADN should anticipate more coursework than those with BSN, because many programs require additional bridge coursework.

More often than not, online RN-to-DNP programs require some on-campus or clinical hours. Typically, programs require at least 1,000 clinical hours plus potentially two to three on-campus sessions during the program.

ook for a program with a curriculum that fits your interest or needs. Based on your career or academic goals, choose a specialization that interests you. As most online programs require clinical hours, understand in advance the necessary time commitment.

The general learning goal for an RN-DNP program is to help students improve care for patients, health care teams, and communities through building advanced nursing practice, informatics, and leadership skills. Courses may include health systems leadership, applied statistics analysis, and health care ethics. If you choose to pursue a concentration, specialized courses should complement and further build on the core courses. With clinical hours required, students will also gain hands-on experience.

Some programs also prepare you to take the Family Nurse Practitioner certification exam through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

Because the end goal of an RN-DNP program is to obtain a DNP, all programs, online or on campus, must adhere to a consistent set of standards titled the Essentials of Doctoral Education of Advanced Nursing Practice (DNP Essentials). [36]

Asynchronous coursework can be completed on your own time — a big plus for many online graduate students who may be working around a busy work schedule or home life. Synchronous coursework has to be completed within a set timeframe. This is typically done for group projects, seminars, presentations, and other learning initiatives that require multiple attendees.

The elements of asynchronous and synchronous learning in your online program depend on the professor and the course. Once you enroll, reach out to teachers for specifics, but remember that the curriculum may be divided into these two subsets.

A sampling of online RN-DNP programs accredited by Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) shows some nurse practitioner specializations include Adult-Gerontology Primary Care, Clinical, Family Primary Care, Health Care Systems, Nurse Midwife, Pediatric Primary Care, and Psychiatry Mental health.

The general education and nursing core courses are usually the same. Specializations allow students to find and tailor a curriculum based on his or her interests. Picking a specialization will help give you an advantage in that specific career path, but you likely won’t develop as much knowledge of other specific areas.

Clinical experiences can complement your professional experience and help you apply what you learn from your online program. They can help you integrate the skills and knowledge from classroom settings into practice settings. If you are pursuing a specialization that might be new to you, clinical experiences will be a great opportunity for you to demonstrate your understanding and readiness for a career in this track.

DNP preceptors are mentors during the program’s required clinical experience. They guide and work with you as you complete your clinical hours. They also evaluate and sign off on your hours.

It varies. While some programs ask you to secure your own preceptors, there are programs that offer arrangement assistance. Whichever the case, be sure to inquire in advance how the school’s student advising/support or program’s faculty can help. Many schools provide online students the same access to on-campus resources.

Most schools ask that you document your hours. The documentation method varies by school. There might be a form for you, your student advisor or advising faculty, and the preceptor to sign and confirm hours completed. As you work toward your required clinical hours, be sure to follow your school’s verification method.

As a RN with a DNP, career options are many and varied, depending on your interest and experience. Aside from hands-on nursing roles, a doctorate degree can help expand career opportunities related to leadership and teaching roles. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, in 2014, there were 1,236 faculty vacancies, of which 89% require or prefer candidates with a doctoral degrees. [37] Some settings include:

  • Nurse-managed clinics
  • Private medical offices
  • Public health departments
  • Military and veterans facilities
  • Schools and universities
  • International health organizations
  • Hospice centers
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Health research
  • Pharmaceutical companies

Most RN-DNP programs require at least 1,000 clinical hours.

A sampling of online RN-DNP programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) indicates credit hours ranging from 60 to 100, which translates to three to five years of completion time.

Although the programs are delivered online, they usually have a maximum period to complete the degree. Within each course, while you may be able to choose when to complete readings or lecture videos, assignments typically must be completed within a specified timeframe.

Tuition can vary significantly based on a number of factors including state of residency and the total required credit hours. Based on a sampling of accredited online RN-DNP programs, the tuition cost can range from $59,000 to $80,900.

Generally there are supplementary costs apart from tuition. The tuition does not usually include the cost of books or additional fees. These additional costs will vary from program to program.

The largest provider of student financial aid in the nation is the Federal Student Aid office in the U.S. Department of Education. It supplies college-level or career school students with loans, grants, and work-study funds. 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. Be sure to do your research and apply for any scholarships you’re qualified to be awarded. [35]

There are two types of accreditation to be considered: programmatic and institutional. Programmatic accreditations are administered by professionally oriented speciality bodies. The accrediting bodies judge a program’s educational quality based on a set standard. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) are the two most recognized program accrediting agencies in the nursing field. Institutional accreditations are administered by regional agencies. They evaluate colleges and universities as a whole to ensure they meet certain standards of quality.

The CCNE accredits only bachelor’s, master’s, and residency programs in nursing, while the ACEN accredits all types of nursing education programs, from associate-level programs through doctorates, as well as a number of more specialized program types.

While ACEN and/or CCNE accreditations are important for reassurance of education quality, regional institutional accreditation should also be considered. There are a number of regional accrediting bodies that oversee higher education institutions in their areas:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE)
  • The Higher Learning Commission
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

Yes, pursuing a non-accredited RN-DNP can pose some risks. Pursuing a program that isn’t accredited can mean the curriculum doesn’t meet industry standards. While accreditation doesn’t guarantee quality, it does provide assurance that there is some oversight on its instruction and authority to issue degrees. Lacking accreditation can restrict your ability to transfer credits to another school.

Also, it may affect your federal financial aid eligibility. The U.S. Department of Education requires schools participating in student aid programs to be accredited. [38] This may also impact how employers evaluate your credentials when compared to others with an accredited degree.

As a graduate from an accredited program, your degree will remain accredited because the curriculum at the time of your graduation was accredited.

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. [14]

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.

No, SARA is separate from any professional licensing board approval for programs leading to state licensing. You should inquire and follow your state licensing requirements through the appropriate state board of nursing.

The best source to determine licensure requirements is your state’s board of nursing. As stated by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the general components of nursing licensure include: [39]

  • Verification of graduation or eligibility for graduation from an approved pre-licensure RN or LVN/PN nursing education program
  • Verification of successful completion of the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN examination
  • In some states, a criminal background check

To understand your state’s requirements, contact its Board of Nursing. [40]