How to Become a Doctor of Nursing Practice

If you want to earn an advanced degree to work at the highest levels of nursing practice, you may want to learn about a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. The DNP is a practice doctoral degree that is different from a Ph.D., which prepares you for a career in research and academia. Many fields … Continue reading “How to Become a Doctor of Nursing Practice”

If you want to earn an advanced degree to work at the highest levels of nursing practice, you may want to learn about a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. The DNP is a practice doctoral degree that is different from a Ph.D., which prepares you for a career in research and academia. Many fields in healthcare have advanced practice doctoral degrees and the DNP offers this opportunity in nursing.

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Many nurses in advanced nursing practice (APRNs) have a Master of Science in Nursing, but the DNP is a good choice for those who want to have a higher level of clinical skills in nursing, as well as advanced leadership and management skills.

SEE ALSO: MSN vs DNP Programs

Also, earning your DNP could be critical to furthering your nursing career. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing voted in 2004 to recommend that the base degree to work in advanced practice nursing be the DNP instead of the MSN degree. Eventually, it will be mandatory to hold your DNP degree to work at the highest levels of nursing practice. (

Below are more benefits of a DNP degree:

  • Career advancement: Earning a DNP will give you a full array of employment options in nursing. The healthcare industry places a strong importance on earning the coveted DNP degree. Holding this degree usually shows that you have high-level clinical and nursing administration skills to offer outstanding healthcare and enhanced patient outcomes.
  • More career options: The DNP is a terminal degree and allows the student to view the healthcare field from a clinical perspective from the top down. Graduates have many more career options. Some of the positions available can be found in higher level administration or the executive level, where you could provide oversight of an entire healthcare facility.
  • Higher salary options: Professionals with a DNP tend to get the highest salaries in the nursing industry. For example, reports the average salary of a DNP is $102,000. (com)
  • Preparing the new generation of nurses: You can earn many top-level nursing positions, such as administration, management, and academia. Being able to affect new nursing professionals in a positive way can make a huge difference in the future of healthcare, and also offer a high level of job satisfaction.
  • Sharpen skills in a specialty: Most DNP programs offer the ability to specialize in a clinical area (see more information below). You will hone the skills you need to excel in your nursing career.

How to Get Your Doctor of Nursing Practice

Become an RN

If you have never worked as a nurse before, your first step is to become a registered nurse or RN. There are several ways you can get your
RN – either by taking an associate’s or bachelor’s program in nursing. But getting your bachelor’s is the most common way today.

Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree

Earning your bachelor’s degree in nursing is the requirement to pursue graduate studies at the graduate or postgraduate level. Most bachelor’s programs have a major clinical aspect as well as courses in research, community health, supervision, communication, and quantitative skills.

Getting your bachelor’s degree in nursing after high school is the fasted way to move into your post-secondary career in nursing. But some nurses may get their BSN after they work in the field for a few years after getting their LPN diploma or associate’s in nursing.

Gain Work Experience

Many experts recommend getting a few years of work experience in nursing with your BSN before continuing your education with a DNP degree. You will learn many important skills on the job, such as how to work with many different patients and their healthcare problems, how to work in various medical and health environments, and working effectively as part of a healthcare team.

Earn Your DNP Degree

If you have your BSN, you can apply to a DNP program that accepts nurses with a bachelor’s degree. Some programs may require you to have your master’s in nursing.

Obtain State Licensure and Certification

All advanced nursing practice professionals must be licensed. Each state has its specific licensing requirements. After you earn your license, you must be national certified, depending on your specialization area. Some national organizations that provide nurse practitioner certification are the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

What Can You Do With a DNP Degree?

Getting your Doctor of Nursing Practice prepares you to work in advanced nursing practice, or leadership and administration.

Leadership and Administration

Earning your DNP will provide you the skills to work in leadership and administration. These areas play a critical role in improving leadership in nursing, and affect healthcare outcomes related to scientific findings. They also play an important role in creating new healthcare programs that are sustainable and economical.

When you earn your Doctor of Nursing Practice, you may find employment in these areas:

  • Nursing management
  • Organizational leadership
  • State and national health policy
  • Health informatics systems
  • Public health

Some courses you may take in a leadership and administration DNP program include:

  • Contemporary Nursing Administration
  • Ethics in Executive Leadership
  • Human Resource Management in Health Organizations
  • Organizational Theory
  • Strategic Planning and Systems Management
  • Introduction to Project Management
  • Strategic Fiscal Management

In health policy, DNP students learn how to influence legislation, work in politics, and develop healthcare policies. Graduates from these DNP programs tend to work in local and national government, think tanks, non-profits, etc:

  • Reflective Leadership and Values in Political Advocacy
  • Healthcare Ethics and the Law
  • Organizational Theory and Political Behavior
  • Communication and Collaboration in Health Policy Making
  • Introduction to Health Policy
  • American Government
  • Analysis of Political Data
  • Healthcare Quality and Performance Measurement

In healthcare informatics, you will study health information management and the implementation of new healthcare technologies. Graduates from these DNP programs work at high technology companies such as IBM, Microsoft, and others. Some common classes include:

  • Health Innovation and Leadership
  • Applied Healthcare Databases
  • Interdisciplinary Healthcare Informatics
  • Clinical Decision Support
  • User Interface Design and Usability in Healthcare
  • Population Health Informatics

In public health, Doctor of Nursing Practice holders focus on enhancing healthcare systems to boost the health of a population. These DNP programs may be referred to as public, population, or community focused. Core study areas in the public health disciplines include epidemiology, health promotion, and the analysis of community health programs. DNP graduates in public health often work in public health departments, hospitals, or universities.

Some common courses in these programs:

  • Culture, Populations and Family Healthcare
  • Epidemiology and Biostatistics
  • Advanced Population Health
  • Data Collection and Program Design
  • Community Analysis and Program Planning
  • Mixed Methods Program Planning, Implementation and Evaluation

Advanced Nursing Practice

When you earn a DNP and choose the advanced nursing practice path, you will develop advanced skills to provide direct care to patients in managing, evaluating, and assessment care. After you graduate, you must  who chooses the advanced practice nursing path will offer direct care to patients in assessing, managing, and evaluating care. After graduation, you are required to sit for the APRN certification examination.. (

Occupations that you can qualify for in advanced nursing practice with a DNP degree are: (

  • Certified nurse midwife (CNM): CNMs offer advanced reproductive health services for women before, during, and after childbirth. CNMs also provide primary care and counseling to infants and their mothers.
  • Certified nurse anesthetist (CRNA): Nursing professionals who offer who provide anesthesia services during operations and related medical procedures.
  • Nurse practitioner: Advanced nursing professional who provides patient care and manages some of the most common patient illnesses. Nurse practitioners can perform many of the same duties as physicians but at a lower price. NPs usually focus on patient populations, such as family practice, adult-gerontology, pediatrics, mental health, and women’s health.
  • Clinical nurse specialist: This specialty is similar to nurse practitioner, but certified nurse specialists often work with clinical staff to educate and support by using evidence-based research.

Required courses for the certified nurse midwife track may include: (

  • Advanced Human Physiology
  • Assessment and Support of Women in Labor
  • Reproductive Healthcare for Women at Risk
  • Advanced Concepts in Women’s Health
  • Midwifery Care of the Childbearing Family

Required courses for the certified nurse anesthetist track may include:

  • Clinical Pharmacology
  • Human Anatomy
  • Advanced Health Assessment and Measurement
  • Nurse Anesthesiology Principles
  • Nursing Inquiry for Evidence-Based Practice
  • Project Implementation for Nurse Anesthesiology

Required courses for the nurse practitioner track may include:

  • Context of Healthcare For Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Biostatistics for Evidence-Based Practice
  • Health Finance
  • Research Process and Its Application to Evidence-Based Practice
  • Advanced Nursing Health Policy
  • Clinical Pharmacology
  • Health Promotion and Risk Reduction Across the Lifespan

Required courses for the clinical nurse specialist track may include:

  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Health Assessment and Measurement
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Clinical Judgement
  • Organization and Systems Leadership
  • Advanced Nursing Health Policy
  • Health Information Systems and Patient Care Technology

How Long Is a DNP Program?

How long it takes to get your Doctor of Nursing Practice depends on your starting point. Below are the common types of DNP programs:

  • BSN to DNP: This type of DNP program is suitable for the experienced nursing professional who has their bachelor’s degree and several years of clinical nursing experience. Because you do not have a master’s degree in nursing, you will be required to take MSM-level courses before moving on to the DNP coursework. You should expect the BSN to DNP degree to take approximately four years to complete.
  • MSN to DNP: This type of DNP program is for the experienced nurse with a Master of Science in Nursing. It should take approximately three years to earn this degree.


Now that you understand what a DNP is and how to earn one, you should have the information to decide if you wish to pursue this exciting and rewarding career option.