What Is an Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree?
The DNP is a post-master's graduate degree designed for experienced registered nurses (RNs) who wish to develop more specialized skills. DNP graduates can work in direct patient care as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), manage healthcare delivery settings, improve health policy, and contribute to clinical scholarship. DNPs often work in hospitals, health clinics, or their own practices.
Online DNP programs typically require 30-90 credits. The total number of credits for this degree depends on your previous education credentials and work experience. Additionally, each prospective DNP must complete 1,000 clinical hours for graduation.
Clinical hours take place in-person at approved clinical sites, even if your program offers all other DNP requirements remotely. Required classes may include evidenced-based practice, advanced pathophysiology, and advanced health assessment.
Online colleges and universities with doctor of nurse practice programs may offer several concentrations to help you tailor your degree. Popular specialization areas for learners in doctorate in nursing practice programs include:
- Nurse anesthesia
- Pediatric acute care nurse practitioner
- Family nurse practitioner
DNP vs. DNS
A doctor of nursing science (DNS) focuses more heavily on medical research in nursing practice than a DNP. DNPs work with the scientific data and research that DNSs produce to help improve nursing practice and decision-making in the field. Unlike DNPs, DNS graduates usually do not work directly with patients. Instead, they often find careers with research institutions and universities. DNS degree-seekers typically need to complete dissertations for graduation, while DNPs do not.
DNP vs. Ph.D. in Nursing
Both a DNP and Ph.D. in nursing prepare degree-holders for high-level positions, but their intended career path and training differ substantially. DNP students prepare for direct patient care and leadership or administrative roles in healthcare delivery settings. Ph.D. programs in nursing, on the other hand, prepare learners for research positions and teaching at institutions of higher education.
Unlike DNPs, students enrolled in Ph.D. in nursing studies programs do not need to complete clinicals. Additionally, Ph.D. nursing students write traditional dissertations for graduation rather than evidence-based final projects.
Why Get a DNP Degree?
The DNP allows enrollees to develop valuable skills and stand out from other nursing professionals. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the DNP may soon replace the MSN as the standard for preparing students for APRN roles such as NP, clinical nurse specialist, certified nurse anesthetist (CNA), and certified nurse midwife (CNM).
DNP degree-holders who pursue APRN careers also earn healthy salaries. According to a Wolters Kluwer study from 2018, professionals with DNPs make an average of $7,000 more per year than nurses with only master's degrees.
DNP Degree Program Admission Requirements
Applicants for doctorate of nursing practice programs must hold MSNs to apply. Individuals with BSNs and master's degrees from outside fields may also qualify. Schools require incoming students to possess RN licenses and some work experience in the field. Additional requirements often include GRE scores, a 3.0 or higher GPA, and official transcripts.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Nurse Practitioner Doctorate?
On average, students can expect their online NP doctorate programs to last 3-6 years. The amount of time required to earn an online nurse practitioner doctorate depends on several factors, including part-time or full-time enrollment, course availability, whether courses are individually paced or cohort-based. Enrolling in BSN-to-DNP programs or MSN-to-DNP programs will also affect the time of study.
Some DNP programs require students to go through the program in a cohort of fellow students who all take the same courses together. With this type of program, students have their entire program planned out with a set graduation date. However, sometimes the cohort learning approach takes longer since students can't set their own pace.
Choosing an Online DNP Degree Program
Students searching for DNP degrees should consider both the academic and financial components of their education. DNP learners who qualify for in-state tuition rates can usually save money in the long run.
A self-paced, asynchronous program can also help you finish your program more quickly and reduce expenses. Additionally, online DNP programs require in-person clinicals, so location can also influence the overall cost of your degree.
Degree-seekers should also look into programs that offer online DNP concentrations in their areas of interest. Since DNP students work closely with faculty members, they can benefit from attending programs where their research interests align with the teachers in their department.
Accreditation for Online Doctor of Nursing Practice Programs
Aspiring DNP enrollees should only attend schools that possess regional accreditation. Accreditation ensures that your college or university undergoes a rigorous evaluation by a third-party organization.
Nursing programs should also possess programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing in addition to approval by their state's board of nursing.
Paying for Your Online DNP Degree
One of the most overwhelming aspects of pursuing your online nurse practitioner doctorate can be the cost. Doctoral students can pursue several methods to pay for their education, including student loans, scholarships, grants, and loan forgiveness programs.
Every NP student should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA determines student eligibility for financial aid. Students who do not fill out the FAFSA cannot apply for federal student loans, grants, and many scholarships.
NPs work to improve the public good, which opens up additional scholarships, grants, and other financial aid opportunities. NP doctoral students may be particularly interested in student loan forgiveness programs that benefit individuals in public service careers.
NPs may qualify for the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, and the Perkins Loan Cancellation Program. Additionally, some workplaces offer tuition reimbursement or will pay down student loan debts for employees.
Nurse Practitioner Careers
Graduates of NP doctoral programs typically work as APRNs in hospitals, clinics, and physicians' offices. They coordinate patient care and provide primary and specialty care to patients.
The scope of practice available to NPs varies among states, but many enjoy independence in their day-to-day duties. Working as an NP can be both stressful and rewarding for individuals who want to make a career out of helping others.
Certified Nurse Anesthetist
Median Annual Salary (2020): $183,580
CNAs administer anesthesia and other medications to patients before, during, and after medical procedures. They may focus on a broad range of patients or specialize in subfields such as neurosurgery, pediatrics, or obstetrics. CNAs work in medical settings such as surgical centers, physicians' offices, and outpatient care centers.
Certified Nurse Practitioner
Median Annual Salary (2020): $111,680
CNPs are nurse practitioners with additional training in a specialty area such as family practice, gerontology, or pediatrics. They diagnose patients, order diagnostic tests, treat chronic and acute illnesses, and educate patients. CNPs commonly work in hospitals, college campus health centers, and urban community health centers.
Certified Nurse Midwife
Median Annual Salary (2020): $111,130
CNMs play an essential role in women's health services, especially for pregnant patients. These healthcare professionals work closely with physicians and other healthcare providers to provide counseling and care for expecting mothers, from pre-conception through postpartum. CNMs often work in hospitals, birth centers, private practices, and military hospitals.