A Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, DNP for short, is one of the two highest possible academic achievements in the study and practice of nursing. This advanced degree is designed for nursing professionals who want to further their clinical skills and/or leadership potential so they can expand their scope of work or get their dream job.
Licensing and certification rules vary by state, and some employers may require certain specialized education for specific jobs, but the good news for those considering DNP education is that there are hundreds of programs across the country for them to pick from.
But that also means making your decision is a complex one that will require weighing tons of factors. The investment of time is worth it, though, as earning a doctoral degree is an excellent way not only to increase your earning potential but expand your knowledge of the healthcare field, which is one of the most exciting and rapidly growing.
To explore what’s available in your state (or a nearby one), click on an entry in the list below, and stick around to learn more about the various factors you’ll need to consider before making your final decision.
DNP Programs by State
Not every state is home to an accredited DNP program, but only three states are without any accredited programs (Alaska, Arkansas and Delaware). There are many online options, but for most students, searching out a program in their state is the ideal way to ensure they’ll be able to earn licensure and certification after they complete their DNP.
- DNP Programs in Alabama
- DNP Programs in Arizona
- DNP Programs in California
- DNP Programs in Colorado
- DNP Programs in Connecticut
- DNP Programs in Columbia
- DNP Programs in Florida
- DNP Programs in Georgia
- DNP Programs in Hawaii
- DNP Programs in Idaho
- DNP Programs in Illinois
- DNP Programs in Indiana
- DNP Programs in Iowa
- DNP Programs in Kentucky
- DNP Programs in Louisiana
- DNP Programs in Maine
- DNP Programs in Maryland
- DNP Programs in Massachusetts
- DNP Programs in Michigan
- DNP Programs in Minnesota
- DNP Programs in Mississippi
- DNP Programs in Missouri
- DNP Programs in Montana
- DNP Programs in Nebraska
- DNP Programs in Nevada
- DNP Programs in New Hampshire
- DNP Programs in New Jersey
- DNP Programs in New Mexico
- DNP Programs in New York
- DNP Programs in North Carolina
- DNP Programs in North Dakota
- DNP Programs in Ohio
- DNP Programs in Oklahoma
- DNP Programs in Oregon
- DNP Programs in Pennsylvania
- DNP Programs in Rhode Island
- DNP Programs in South Dakota
- DNP Programs in Tennessee
- DNP Programs in Texas
- DNP Programs in Utah
- DNP Programs in Vermont
- DNP Programs in Virginia
- DNP Programs in Washington
- DNP Programs in West Virgin
- DNP Programs in Wisconsin
- DNP Programs in Wyoming
A Guide to Choosing the Best DNP Program for You
For some students, price will be the deciding factor, while others may be drawn to programs that have specialization fields in which they’re particularly interested. In almost all cases, the decision will come down to a variety of factors, each given their own weight by the student’s needs and goals. Here are the factors most likely to play into your decision and what to look for in each case.
In every state, the body that licenses advanced practice nurses, such as nurse practitioners, sets out educational requirements that applicants must meet. One of those is that all educational programs have been accredited by an organized institution.
The primary accrediting organizations in nursing are the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Both award accreditation to bachelor’s and master’s programs, while ACEN is the primary way doctoral nursing programs are accredited.
A potential DNP program not having ACEN accreditation isn’t the end of the world, provided that rules in the state where you intend to practice don’t specify that licensure applicants must have an education from an ACEN-accredited institution. Still, this is the best single signifier of academic rigors that states look for in certifying such education.
These requirements vary depending on the nature of the program and the degree path a student is pursuing. But most require applicants to have at least a bachelor’s in nursing, while some require a master’s degree in the field, and most only admit those with valid nursing licenses.
If you’re not currently in the field of nursing, earning a DNP may still be possible, and there are some programs that accept people with bachelor’s or master’s degrees in other fields, and they earn the experience and education necessary to become a licensed nurse. However, this is not typical.
Other requirements, such as personal statements, essays and letters of recommendation apply and will vary by program.
DNP education tends to be expensive, which shouldn’t be too surprising, considering that it represents the highest level of academic achievement in nursing. Public institutions tend to be more affordable, and your total investment will depend on your current degree level. Those starting with only a bachelor’s degree will need to spend more, as their education will take longer to complete. Expect to spend at least $15,000 to $20,000 on tuition if you already have a master’s degree and $50,000 to $60,000 if you currently have only a bachelor’s degree.
We’ve touched on this, but your existing educational level is one of the most important factors in choosing a DNP program. That’s because some of them are designed for those who already have a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), while others are built for those with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
Their names may vary by college or university, but the most common degree paths for those pursuing DNP education are:
RN-to-DNP programs, which are designed for those who have an associate degree as their highest educational level, are difficult to find, as they require a great deal of foundational education on the way to a DNP.
Most programs today are MSN-to-DNP, but of the programs currently in the works, the majority are BSN-to-DNP.
Online education is quite common for DNP programs, particularly those designed for nursing professionals who already have an MSN degree. Of course, not every program is set up this way, but applicants in most states should have access to at least one program that can be completed entirely or mostly online.
Internship & Clinical Hours
Requirements for hands-on clinical experience vary depending on the program and specialty focus. Also, students who haven’t yet earned their MSN will need to complete more clinical hours than those on an MSN-to-DNP path. But it’s reasonable to expect to be required to complete at least 1,000 hours of clinical experience between your MSN and DNP before you can earn your degree and seek licensure. Individual colleges and universities may require further internships and field work depending on the specialty area.
Licensure & Certifications
In addition to requirements that vary by state, certain employers and jobs may require specific licenses and certifications. In some cases, these requirements may not be fulfilled entirely by your DNP program, so it’s important to find out what’s spelled out in your state and/or in the type of job you want before you invest a great deal of time and money into any DNP program.
For students who are pursuing a career path that ends in an advanced practice job, such as nurse practitioner, they must pass certification exams that vary by field, and this applies regardless of their current educational status.
The most common types of DNP students are people like these: A professional nurse with a Master of Science in Nursing who wants to specialize in a particular field, who wants to expand their scope of practice or who wants to earn expertise in healthcare leadership and management. Even for those who have only a bachelor’s degree, these are the biggest motivating factors in pursuing a DNP.
Specializations in DNP programs are often named for the jobs that become available once you complete the program, such as family nurse practitioner. Here’s a look at the most common DNP specializations students may consider:
- Advanced clinical practice
- Family nurse practitioner
- Gerontology (acute and primary care)
- Nurse administrator
- Nurse anesthetist
- Nurse educator
- Nurse practitioner
- Pediatric (acute and primary care)
- Psychiatric-mental health
- Women’s health nurse practitioner
Not every specialty is offered at every school, and these are generally not areas you can declare after you’ve taken some classes. That’s because each degree track has specific coursework that must be earned in a particular sequence.
Time to Completion
How long it will take to earn your DNP depends on a few factors. The single most influential is your prior educational experience. Those on BSN-to-DNP tracks will need at least four years in most cases, while those who already have an MSN can complete their DNP in as little as 18 months. Another factor is whether the student can attend on a full-time basis, or if they will need to be part-time students. Finally, certain specialties require additional coursework and may necessitate more clinical hours, which can add time to completion.
Getting a degree of any sort is a major investment of energy, passion, time and money, and getting a DNP is no different. In fact, as a terminal degree in the field of nursing, you could argue it’s one of the most impressive academic achievements. So, making a smart decision is important, but it’s also important to remember that the best program is simply the one that’s best for you. Weigh all these factors and others that are important to you and be prepared for some serious hard work even after you make this tough decision.