DNP Programs

A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a professional degree and it is the highest level of clinical nursing education that you can receive as a family nurse practitioner (FNP). Similar to FNPs earning a master’s degree, a DNP prepares nurses to practice independently as primary care providers and become leaders in the field. Over the years there have been many changes in healthcare and healthcare delivery. In response, nurses are needed in more advanced positions in order to provide the type of leadership and care that is demanded. Currently the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is working to transition advanced practice registered nursing programs from the graduate level (MSN) to the doctoral level (DNP).

While nurses with their DNP and primary care physicians practice in similar roles, the certification and licensing of the two professions is vastly different. In the healthcare field, there are fewer and fewer physicians going into general practice and opting to specialize instead. This is leaving the field with a shortage of primary care providers. By offering DNP programs, nurse practitioners are able to practice independently and fill that void.


Nurses who wish to advance their education have two options to choose from at the doctoral level, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a Phd in Nursing/ Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS). The degree that is right for you depends on your career goals, since a DNP will prepare for a vastly different nursing career than a PhD. Both degrees are the highest levels of education that a nurse can receive.

Simply put, a DNP program focuses more on the clinical aspects of being a nurse practitioner whereas a PhD will prepare you to advance the science of the nursing field through research. With a PhD, your nursing career will be less involved with patients. You will also be qualified to teach at the university level, conduct/direct research, write books, or manage a nursing staff. A DNP allows you to work more with patients and become a nurse administrator, manager, director, or chief officer.

The graph below is from the AACN’s DNP Fact Sheet and it illustrates the growth in practice (DNP)- and research (PhD)-focused doctoral programs from 2006 – 2015. As you can see, DNP programs have grown significantly over that time period, and PhD programs have stayed relatively the same with minimal growth.


There is no wrong choice between a PhD and a DNP program. As we haven mentioned, the healthcare field is changing, which is why DNP programs were created and are now more popular than PhD nursing programs.

Which DNP program is right for me?

For nurses who choose to advance their clinical education, there are two ways to earn your DNP degree. Each program leads to a DNP degree program, and is offered both online and in a traditional setting by most colleges and universities. However one method may be more efficient for you over the other, and depend on your prior education.

  • Accelerated BSN to DNP Program – Once you have your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and have passed the NCLEX, you can enroll in an accelerated (also referred to as “bridge” or “entry level”) program. Accelerated programs can take around five years to complete, since it is covering what you would learn in both a master’s and doctoral program. This may also be a suitable option for those who received a non-nursing bachelor’s degree.
  • DNP Program – After you have graduated from a Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) program and have the proper licensure/certification for a nurse practitioner in your state, you can enroll in a DNP program. Unlike the previous option, this only covers doctoral-level studies and therefore typically takes about two – three years to complete.

The length of time it takes for you to complete any degree program depends on the structure of the individual program and how much time you are able to dedicate to your studies.

What to Expect in a DNP Degree Program

As with your BSN and MSN programs, you should make sure that the DNP program that you are interested in is accredited by a nationally-recognized accreditation board. Accreditation ensures that you will receive a standardized and well-rounded clinical nursing education, and signals that same information to your future employers.

Most DNP programs will have students focus on a specialized area of nursing. Where you choose to focus your DNP studies can affect which courses you take and the type of clinical hours you earn. The major specialties of nursing practice are:

Regardless of which specialty you choose, you will be prepared to apply the evidence-based knowledge you learned in your DNP program to a clinical setting. Upon graduation (and meeting all other state-mandated licensure), you will be able to lead healthcare teams from various professions, perform health assessments, order and interpret diagnostic procedures, prescribe and monitor therapies, and reduce and resolve healthcare dilemmas.

Online Doctor of Nursing Practice Degrees

A Doctor of Nursing Practice degree is the highest clinical nursing degree that you can receive. With a DNP, you can act as a leader in the field while still having the option to work with patients as a nurse practitioner. Be sure to check out the rest of our website to find out more about what it takes to become a family nurse practitioner.