DNP Degree – Doctor of Nursing Practice Programs

The doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree is a terminal degree for nurses seeking to advance their practice and improve patient outcomes. DNP programs prepare nurses for advanced clinical practice and research roles, and many online DNP programs offer specializations in family nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. 

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (ANCC) confers certifications to nurse practitioners and recommends that all aspiring advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) should pursue a DNP degree. A study published by the ANCC in September 2022 showed that 66 percent of the 384 nursing colleges surveyed offered programs that resulted in a DNP degree, including BSN-to-DNP and MSN-to-DNP programs. 

For RNs with bachelor’s degrees and those with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees aspiring to become RNs, there are numerous accredited online DNP programs available. Most DNP programs include coursework in advanced health assessment, pathophysiology, pharmacology, and clinical hours.  

Known as a clinical or practical doctoral degree, DNP curriculums emphasize evidence-based practice, informatics, quality improvement, and leadership skills. As a result, DNP-prepared nurses have the knowledge, experience, and credentials to assume clinical or administrative roles in acute care, primary care, community health, and nurse leadership settings. In addition, the DNP prepares nurses for advanced practice roles such as nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, and nurse anesthetist.

Depending on the program, earning a DNP can take anywhere from two to six years. However, the investment of time and money can pay off in the form of increased job opportunities and higher earnings. For example, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022) shows that advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), including nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, will be in demand in the coming decade, growing at a rate of 40 percent. This equates to 118,600 new positions from 2021 to 2031, with median salaries of $123,780 per year. 

How can a DNP degree advance one’s nursing career? DNP programs prepare RNs for more advanced roles as nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse executives, improving patient outcomes in today’s complex healthcare systems. While there are many nursing titles and credentials, the DNP degree has become the standard for those wanting to be prepared to maximize their career advancement opportunities.

There are many excellent DNP programs available, so how does one choose? The first step is to consider the desired career outcome. For example, do you want to focus on clinical practice or a specialty population? The second factor to consider is whether or not a program is accredited. Finally, aspiring students should consider whether they want to attend classes in an on-campus, hybrid, or online format. 

Read on to learn more about online DNP programs, including types of programs, accreditation, admission requirements, clinical supervision hours, 15 online accredited DNP programs, careers for DNP graduates, and the difference between DNP and PhD programs.

What is a DNP?

DNPs are advanced practice nurses who have completed extensive coursework and clinical training beyond the traditional nursing program. They are prepared to provide the highest level of patient care and often specialize in primary care, women’s health, or neonatal intensive care. In addition to direct patient care, DNPs play an essential role in research and education. For example, they may develop and implement new protocols or train other nurses on best practices.

DNP and PhD: What’s the Difference?

The short answer is that DNPs focus on clinical and practical applications while PhDs are research-focused. 

There are two types of nursing doctoral programs: the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and the PhD in Nursing. Both programs prepare nurses for advanced practice roles, but there are some critical differences between the two degrees. 

The DNP is a clinical degree that prepares nurses for leadership roles in direct patient care. All 15 DNP programs mentioned above focus on applying patient-care theories in practical healthcare settings.

By comparison, the PhD is a research-focused degree that prepares nurses for careers in academia or policy. For example, the University of Central Florida offers a PhD in nursing which prepares graduates to conduct research, integrate research, teaching, and leadership, and make interdisciplinary contributions in academia that advance healthcare on a global level.  

There are also differences in the length and curriculum of the two programs. DNP programs typically take 2-6 years to complete, while PhD programs can take up to seven years. And while both degrees require coursework in research methods and statistics, the PhD curriculum also includes nursing theory and history coursework.

So which type of degree is the right choice? The DNP is ideal for pursuing leadership roles in direct patient care. However, for careers that focus more on nursing research or academia, the PhD is the better degree option.

(Please note: CCNE only accredits DNP programs. Other research doctorates, such as PhD and DNSc programs, are not eligible for CCNE accreditation.) 

Types of DNP Degree Programs

Registered and aspiring nurses can choose from several DNP programs, including entry points for various degrees. Here are some of the different kinds of DNP programs. 

RN-to-BSN Programs

The RN-to-BSN program is designed for registered nurses who hold an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) and want to earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) to be eligible to apply for BSN-to-DNP nursing degrees.  

BSN-to-DNP Programs

Another option is the BSN-to-DNP program, designed for those who already have a bachelor of science in nursing and want to earn two degrees in one program: an MSN and a DNP.  

MSN-to-DNP Programs

The MSN-to-DNP program is designed for job seekers with a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree who want to earn a DNP.

Accelerated BSN-to-DNP Programs

Accelerated BSN-to-DNP programs are for bachelor’s degree holders in non-nursing fields who want to complete a BSN, MSN, and DNP quickly. 

Special Populations: BSN-to-DNP or MSN-to-DNP Programs

BSN-to-DNP programs are available to those with BSN degrees and focus on nursing concentrations in special populations. These programs prepare graduates to become family nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, and pediatric nurse practitioners. 

Aspiring DNP students should carefully research each type of program to determine which type best meets their educational backgrounds and professional goals.

DNP Program & School Accreditation

There are two types of accreditation: programmatic and institutional. Programmatic accreditation is specific to a certain type of degree or training program, while institutional accreditation applies to the entire school.

Programmatic accreditation is a process through which a specific educational program is evaluated by an external body to ensure that it meets specific standards. For example, the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accredits baccalaureate and master’s-level nursing programs, and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) accredits all types of nursing programs ranging from diploma to doctorate and certificate programs. 

This type of accreditation is contrasted with institutional accreditation, which assesses an entire school or college as a whole. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) has approved six regional institutional accrediting organizations: 

  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)

There are many reasons why students should attend an accredited program. Sometimes, it may require licensure or certification in a specific field. In other cases, it may be seen as a way to give students and employers confidence that the program meets high standards. In the case of nurses, to be eligible to sit for the NCLEX exam, which is needed for nurse licensure in all 50 states, one must graduate from a programmatically accredited nursing program.

Another critical factor to consider when researching online programs is state authorization status. Students pursuing online degrees that require licensing from state governing boards, such as nursing, must explore a program’s NC-SARA status. For example, a student who lives and plans to work as a nurse in a specific state must check to see if an educational program offered by a school outside their state of residence is compatible with the state board of nursing licensing requirements.

Typical Admissions Requirements for DNP Degrees

DNP admissions requirements vary by program, but here is a checklist of common documents: 

  • Bachelor’s degree (in nursing or a non-nursing field)
  • Clinical hours or work experience 
  • Essay responses
  • Interview
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Official transcripts with prerequisite coursework (human anatomy & physiology, biology, chemistry, etc.)
  • Scholarly work samples
  • TOEFL or IELTS scores above a minimum (for applicants whose native language is not English)
  • Undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher

Supervised Hour Requirements for DNP Degrees

Most DNP programs require a minimum of 1,000 clinical hours. Students must complete clinical hours under the supervision of a licensed nurse practitioner or physician. The CCNE requires a minimum of 1,000 post-baccalaureate hours for accredited DNP programs.

In some cases, programs may require up to 2,000 clinical hours of previous experience for admission. For example, the BSN-to-DNP program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMA) requires verification of 2,000 clinical hours before enrolling in specific coursework. 

Featured Online DNP Degrees

Many online DNP programs are available, making it possible to pursue a doctoral degree while continuing to work full-time. Here is a list of some of the best online DNP programs available, including RN-to-BSN (which positions nurses for DNP admissions), BSN-to-DNP, MSN-to-DNP, accelerated BSN-to-DNP, and concentrations for special populations: BSN-to-DNP.

RN-to-BSN Programs

Eastern Kentucky University 

The online RN-to-BSN program at Eastern Kentucky University allows registered nurses to earn their bachelor of science in nursing in just 25 to 28 credits. The accelerated path will enable students to graduate in 12 months, and the traditional path gives students more time to focus on their job and family. 

The program is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the best universities offering online degrees. In addition, its convenient eight-week terms and personalized advising make it easy for busy nurses to complete the program. 

  • Location: Richmond, KY
  • Duration: 12 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) 
  • Tuition: $465 per credit 

Western Governors University 

The Western Governors University RN-to-BSN program is designed for working registered nurses who have an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or nursing diploma and need a flexible RN-to-BSN degree program that fits their schedule. This online nursing degree can help graduates improve patient outcomes and community health and enhance their job security. 

The RN-to-BSN program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and can help students prepare for magnet designation at hospitals. With affordable, competency-based courses, this degree program can be completed in as few as 12 months. 

  • Location: Campuses across the US
  • Duration: 12 to 24 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) 
  • Tuition: $3,998 per six months

Drexel University 

The online ADN-to-BSN concurrent enrollment program at Drexel University is an excellent way to pursue a career in nursing. By completing the ADN-to-BSN program at a local community college, students can earn an associate’s degree and complete their remaining BSN coursework at Drexel. This program is ideal for students who want to complete their BSN quickly and efficiently. Upon passing the NCLEX-RN, students will be eligible to earn their BSN within two terms. 

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Duration: Two to three years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)  
  • Tuition: $518 per credit

BSN-to-DNP Programs

George Mason University

The 72-credit George Mason University BSN-to-DNP online program allows nurses to become experts as nurse practitioners and administrators. Graduates are eligible for certification from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). 

In addition, the program offers two concentration options: adult gerontology nurse practitioner and family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. The BSN-to-DNP program is designed for busy professionals who want to earn their degrees while working. Students can complete the program in as little as three years, and courses are offered online and on-campus. 

  • Location: Fairfax, VA
  • Duration: Three to five years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)  
  • Tuition: $766.45 per credit (residents); $1,681 per credit (non-residents)

University of Central Florida

The University of Central Florida’s bachelor of science in nursing to a doctor of nursing practice program is a hybrid-online program that prepares nurses for advanced practice in acute care. The 76-credit program focuses on providing a solid scientific foundation for practice. The schedule is flexible, emphasizes evidence-based practice, leadership, and organizational analysis, and requires 1,080 clinical hours. 

The program also includes a research component. The DNP project is an integral part of the program and allows students to apply their knowledge and skills to real-world problems. The hybrid-online format of the program allows students to complete the program at their own pace while still being able to interact with faculty and classmates in a highly engaging learning environment.

  • Location: Orlando, FL
  • Duration: Nine to 12 semesters
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)   
  • Tuition: $288.16 per credit 

University of St. Augustine

The DNP program at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences is designed to give working nurses additional education and training in key competencies such as systems leadership, healthcare policy, interprofessional collaboration, nursing research and evidence-based practice, and health information systems. The DNP degree is among the highest level of nursing programs available and prepares individuals for advanced nursing practice.

USAHS offers two doctoral nursing leadership paths: BSN-entry and MSN-entry. BSN-entry DNP students pursuing the family nurse practitioner (FNP) role must complete one on-campus clinical intensive. 

  • Location: St. Augustine, FL
  • Duration: 2.5 to four years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) 
  • Tuition: $955 per credit

MSN-to-DNP Programs

Duke University

Duke University’s School of Nursing offers an online MSN-to-DNP program to prepare nurses for advanced nursing practice. The program outcomes reflect the integration and application of the knowledge and skills obtained in the program. The program prepares nurses to use translational science and analytic methods to develop, identify, implement and evaluate best practices to improve healthcare and healthcare systems. 

Nurses in the program will act as practice scholars to design, direct and evaluate system changes to promote safe, timely, effective, efficient, equitable, and patient-centered care. The program also prepares nurses to partner with others to develop interprofessional teams that communicate effectively.

  • Location: Durham, NC
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)  
  • Tuition: $14,880 per semester

Liberty University 

Liberty University’s MSN-to-DNP program is widely recognized for its academic quality, affordability, and accessibility. Students can complete this online DNP program 2.5 years while accessing state-of-the-art digital resources to complete coursework from anywhere in the world. Classes meet in eight-week terms, and students can transfer up to 50 percent of credits earned from other institutions. Courses include advanced nursing research, applications of evidence-based care, and clinical prevention and biostatistics. 

  • Location: Lynchburg, VA
  • Duration: 2.5 years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)  
  • Tuition: $595 per credit 

Bradley University

Located in Peoria, Illinois, Bradley University offers an online MSN-to-DNP program with a concentration in leadership. This program does not require campus residencies and can be completed in nine semesters or three years. Applicants to this program must have an MSN degree from an NLNAC-, ACEN-, or CCNE-accredited program. 

Faculty in this program are highly experienced professionals with several years of nursing leadership. Graduates from this program go on to work in home healthcare agencies, academic institutions, and advocacy groups. 

  • Location: Peoria, IL
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)   
  • Tuition: $990 per semester-hour

Accelerated BSN-to-DNP Programs

Concordia University Wisconsin

Concordia University Wisconsin’s rigorous online BSN-to-DNP program consists of 70 credits, and students can complete 1,008 practicum hours in three or five years. The program’s primary emphasis is on clinical practice, with coursework covering a broad range of topics such as evidence-based practice, healthcare policy, and advanced nursing research. All coursework is completed online, with some on-campus visits required. Most courses in the program are offered in an accelerated eight-week format, with a few classes taking 16 weeks. 

  • Location: Mequon, WI
  • Duration: Three to five years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) 
  • Tuition: $815 per credit

Simmons University

The online DNP program at Simmons University prepares nurse leaders for today’s changing healthcare landscape challenges. The post-master’s curriculum is tailored for those who wish to enter or advance in a career in nursing leadership and combines theory with evidence-based research and practical experience. Through live, online classes, students will have the opportunity to learn from and collaborate with professionals from a variety of disciplines. The program culminates in a research- or practice-based final project, providing students with the skills and knowledge they need to impact the nursing field. 

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Duration: Two years 
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)  
  • Tuition: $1,440 per credit

Georgetown University 

Georgetown University’s online BSN-to-DNP and post-master-to-DNP programs are accredited by the CCNE and integrate advanced nursing science with organizational leadership and ethics. The programs prepare students to improve patient care delivery in an increasingly complex healthcare system. 

Georgetown is a nationally-recognized nursing school committed to advancing health equity and improving population health worldwide. The DNP programs focus on ethical leadership and prepare students to improve accessibility and quality of care for underserved populations. In addition, online students have opportunities to visit the vibrant Washington, D.C., campus to explore world-class resources. 

  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Duration: 33 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)   
  • Tuition: $2,358 per credit 

Special Populations: DNP

Xavier University

The online DNP program at Xavier University is a post-master’s degree program focusing on population health. The eight-semester program is entirely online; students take three to seven credits per semester. A total of 1,000 clinical immersion hours are required as students progress through the program. 

Students may accept up to 500 clinical immersion hours from a master’s program or advanced certification toward the 1,000 immersion hours. The program is designed for nurses from various practice settings who want to become leaders in addressing the complexity of healthcare outcomes in the 21st century.

  • Location: Cincinnati, OH
  • Duration: 2.5 three years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)   
  • Tuition: $730 per credit

Maryville University 

Maryville University offers an online BSN-to-DNP degree with five concentrations in adult-gerontology acute care and primary care NP, family, pediatric, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Maryville University’s online BSN-to-DNP program is designed for experienced nurses pursuing the highest nursing practice and education credentials. 

The program can be completed in as few as 40 months and focuses intensely on the scientific underpinnings of nursing, healthcare policy, and organizational management. Students in this program can graduate with a well-rounded view of nursing leadership that can help them make a difference in any area of interest. The accelerated online format allows working nurses to continue their education without disrupting their careers, and the Maryville faculty are committed to providing accessible, high-quality education to all students.

  • Location: St. Louis, MO
  • Duration: 3.5 years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)  
  • Tuition: $813-$897 per credit

University of North Dakota 

The online post-master’s doctor of nursing practice program from the University of North Dakota prepares graduates for leadership in the nursing field. The DNP courses are designed for nurses who strive to achieve better outcomes for individuals, families, and underserved or vulnerable populations. DNP faculty members at UND leverage their professional experience to ensure students are getting a degree relevant to their real challenges as nursing leaders.

  • Location: Grand Forks, ND
  • Duration: 2.5 years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)  
  • Tuition: $815.50 per credit

Jobs for DNP Graduates

Upon graduation, DNP graduates can pursue unique and specialized nursing positions in clinical roles, leadership, policy, and education. Here are three of the most popular DNP careers:

  • Nurse Practitioner – DNP graduates can work as nurse practitioners, providing primary and specialty care to patients as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). 
  • Nurse Executive – DNP graduates can find work as nurse executives (similar to healthcare administrators), overseeing the operations of healthcare facilities and representing the nursing profession at the c-suite level. 
  • Nursing Professor – DNP-prepared nurses are qualified to teach at the collegiate level and conduct research. 
Rachel Drummond

Rachel Drummond


Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).