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RN to DNP Programs Online

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Some schools have created DNP programs specifically for those registered nurses (RN) who already have a diploma or associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) who want to become a nurse practitioner. This article provides an overview of these RN to DNP programs, sometimes called online RN to DNP bridge programs or online ADN to DNP programs, and summarizes three exemplar programs: Delta State University, University of Illinois Chicago, and Frontier Nursing University.

Prerequisites for RN to DNP Online Programs

If you want to be accepted into an online RN to DNP bridge program, you’ll need to be a registered nurse (RN) with either an associate degree or diploma in nursing. Other requirements for admission could include:

  • A telephone or in-person interview
  • Letters of reference
  • A resume or curriculum vitae
  • A statement of professional goals
  • A grade point average of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale
  • A specific minimum score on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE)

Since most online nurse practitioner programs require a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) degree, registered nurses with a diploma or ADN may need to take additional coursework to account for differences in credits and learning. For example, the MGH Institute of Health Professions, founded by Massachusetts General Hospital, describes admission requirements for its RN to DNP programs as follows: “RNs with other bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees in nursing, or nursing diplomas, as well as nurse educators who are not advanced practice nurses, are welcome to apply to this program as well. Your curriculum may include additional coursework.” Similarly, students applying to online RN to DNP programs with less than a bachelor’s degree may anticipating having more coursework than those who start with a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Additional requirements for diploma and ADN holders applying to online RN to DNP programs might include:

  • A minimum of at least one year of continual nursing experience
  • Completion of a statistics course, and perhaps other courses, prior to admission

Courses and Curriculum for Online RN to DNP Programs

Coursework for an online RN to DNP programs varies by school and chosen medical specialty. Be sure to look for a program that aligns with your goals and objectives. For example, if you wish to become a family nurse practitioner (FNP) and focus on caring for patients across their lifespans, then make sure the school includes a program focused on this specialization, with a path to this certification.

Classes that students in an RN to DNP program could take include:

  • Comprehensive Health Assessment
  • Differential Diagnosis
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Informatics
  • Advanced Statistics
  • Health Policy and Economics
  • Leadership
  • Business Management

Students will need to meet technological requirements to do their coursework online. At a minimum, students should have a smartphone, a laptop no more than two years old, a microphone, and a webcam. Students should be able to play MP4 and Windows Media Video files as well as content that uses Flash. Most importantly, students should have a high-speed Internet connection.

Students should also realize that their online program will require the completion of in-person clinical hours at an approved facility, and may also require campus visits. Since schools do not uniformly report campus visitation requirements, it’s important to understand how often and when you’ll need to visit a physical campus location, and factor this into your decision-making, ensuring that you have the means and time to travel, particularly if the nearest campus associated with your online program is located some distance away. Also, it is important to ensure that your program of choice has approved, or will approve, you fulfilling your clinical requirements at a convenient local facility.

Duration of RN to DNP Programs

Most RN to DNP programs take four to six years to complete, and range from 80 to 100 credit hours. These programs typically require students to complete over 1,000 hours of supervised clinical practice. These clinical hours must be completed in person at an approved clinical site or through the school if it features a medical center.

Since online RN to DNP students enter with less than a bachelor’s degree, they can expect to complete classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Online RN to DNP programs are typically structured sequentially, such that the student first completes the undergraduate portion of the program before moving on to graduate-level classes. Often, students are awarded their bachelor’s degree upon completion of their first year in the program, or soon thereafter.

The Delta State University DNP program prepares NPs to assess published research to inform their practice and improve systems of care to influence patient outcomes. This online program is designed for students who have already achieved an associate’s degree or diploma in nursing and wish to become a family nurse practitioner.

The mission of the Delta State University Robert E. Smith School of Nursing is to transform healthcare in the Mississippi Delta by preparing graduates to be nurse leaders at the doctoral level through excellence in education, evidence-based research, interprofessional practice, and multidimensional partnerships in a diverse society.

Delta State University designed their online DNP program to prepare students to become family nurse practitioners. It encompases nine semesters, 95 credit hours, submission of a research manuscript, and 1,140 precepted clinical hours. The Delta State University faculty are regionally and nationally acclaimed for their research, scholarship, and teaching. They possess diverse experiences in practice, leadership, and patient safety.

Curriculum

The Delta State DNP curriculum consists of 36 courses and 95 credit hours completed over nine semesters. Course topics range from health sciences to information technology to clinical practice. The curriculum prepares nurses to provide primary care to patients across the lifespan while also serving as leaders, policy makers, and advocates. Examples of courses include:

  • Comprehensive Health Assessment
  • Differential Diagnosis
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Informatics
  • Advanced Statistics
  • Health Policy and Economics
  • Leadership
  • Business Management

All students are required to complete a DNP project during their time at Delta State. This research study must address a practice issue affecting groups of patients, health care organizations, or health care systems. Successful completion of this project include written manuscript and oral presentation.

Admission Requirements

Generally, admission into DNP programs is highly competitive. The admission requirements for the Delta State University DNP program include:

  • A grade point average of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale.
  • Resume or curriculum vitae.
  • Current, unencumbered registered nurse license.
  • Three letters of recommendation pertaining to the student’s academic ability, professional competence and personal character. At least one reference must be academic in nature.
  • A combined verbal and quantitative score = 800 (= 280 on new test) and analytic score of = 3.5 on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).
  • At least one year of continuous clinical nursing experience with patient contact as a registered nurse within the past three years.
  • Statement of professional and career goals.
  • Telephone or in-person interview. A writing sample may be required during the interview.

Online Experience

Delta State University uses innovative technology to promote distance education. Their online program requires one to three on-campus visits per semester. Delta State offers both full and part-time options with seamless entry to the program.

Professors

Monica
Dr. Monica Jones DNP, FNP-BC

Dr. Monica Jones is a family nurse practitioner and assistant professor of nursing at Delta State University. Her areas of expertise include advanced health assessment, cardiology, and HIV/AIDS. Her scholarly interests encompass chronic disease management, minority health, health disparities, and nursing educations. She earned her DNP from the University of Alabama Birmingham in 2011.

Polk
Dr. Shelby Polk DNP, FNP-BC

Dr. Shelby Polk is a family nurse practitioner, associate professor of nursing, and the director of nurse practitioner programs at Delta State University. Her areas of expertise include chronic disease management, health promotion, disease prevention, primary care, and rural health. Her scholarly interests encompass national practice guidelines in primary care, value-based healthcare, and building community partnerships to meet nutrition and physical activity needs. In addition to being a family nurse practitioner, she is also a certified diabetes educator and certified patient educator.

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The University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) College of Nursing offers a DNP program for RNs without a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) who have a bachelor’s degree in another field. They call this program the DNP Transition. This program aims to develop advanced practitioners of nursing into evidenced-based, intra-disciplinary providers who meet the needs of a rapidly expanding healthcare field. The DNP transition program can be completed via distance education and online courses.

The mission of the UIC College of Nursing is to transform health, healthcare, and policy through knowledge generation and translation, and education of future leaders from diverse backgrounds. Their vision is to be a preeminent leader in advancing global health and nursing

The UIC College of Nursing accepts RNs without a BSN interested in becoming a nurse practitioner. This school offers many nurse practitioner tracts, setting it apart from other school. Students also have the opportunity to take advanced courses in the subspecialty areas of population health, health systems leadership, and informatics.

The DNP Transition program offers the following nurse practitioner specialities:

  • Adult-gerontology acute care
  • Adult-gerontology primary care
  • Family
  • Neonatal
  • Women’s health
  • Pediatric acute care
  • Pediatric primary care
  • Psychiatry

Curriculum

Admission to DNP programs is highly competitive. The courses are challenging, requiring student to pass difficult exams and high-tech patient case simulations. At UIC, the DNP curriculum varies by chosen medical specialty. Throughout the program, students must complete a minimum of 1000 supervised clinical hours. The duration of the program varies by full or part-time status but most students complete it without three to six years.

Courses common to all specialities include:

  • Health Assessment
  • Concepts & Processes for Contemporary Nursing Practice
  • Clinical Concepts & Processes for Population-Focused Nursing
  • Introduction to Nursing Research & Statistics for Evidence-Based Practice

Beginning in late 2014, the UIC College of Nursing revised their curriculum for the DNP. On their website, they explain that this change is do to their responsiveness to the changing dynamic in health care, and their commitment to preparing the most sophisticated and skilled nurse practitioners.

Admission Requirements

Admission to this DNP program is highly competitive. Applicants with a grade point average below 3.25 on a 4.0 scale are required to take the Graduate Record Exam. Admission requirements for the DNP Transition program at the University of Illinois Chicago include:

  • A non-nursing bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.
  • A current, unencumbered RN license.
  • Minimum grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale from all previous education.
  • Official transcript from all previously attended colleges or universities.
  • A personal goal statement that reflects DNP program outcomes.
  • Resume or curriculum vitae.
  • Proof of completion of both a statistics and research course.
  • Proof of CPR certification.
  • Background check and urine drug screen.

Professors

Angel
Dr. Angel Aztlan-James PhD, CNM, WHNP

Dr. Angel Aztlan-James is both a midwife and a women’s health nurse practitioner. She is a faculty member of the UIC College of Nursing and postdoctoral research associate. Her scholarly interests include social determinants of sexual and reproductive health outcomes and the role of nurse practitioner sin abortion care. Dr. Aztlan-James has a particular interest in how exposure to violence and life stressors affect the sexual and reproductive health, including pregnancy intention, of women of color.

Lauren

Dr. Lauren Diegel-Vacek is a family nurse practitioner and clinical assistant professor at the UIC College of Nursing. She is the director of the adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner program.She teaches coursework in the DNP program and coordinates the department’s advanced health assessment courses. Her scholarly interests include implementation of evidence-based practice and sensitivity training for nurses caring for morbidly obese patients.

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Frontier Nursing University (FNU) offers a special program for RNs with an associate’s degree who want to earn a DNP and become a family nurse practitioner. They call this program the ADN Bridge Entry Option. These students are automatically enrolled in FNU’s MSN + Companion DNP Program, which allows them graduate with both a master of science in nursing (MSN) and DNP.

Frontier Nursing University seeks to deliver high-quality education to prospective nurse practitioners who do not want to leave their home communities to obtain a graduate education. Their didactic coursework is delivered using top-of-the-line distance education technology. They collaborate with clinics, hospitals, and preceptors in communities across the United States to help students complete their coursework. Frontier Nursing University requires two or three on-campus sessions for program orientation and intensive skill workshops.

Curriculum

ADN Bridge students first complete 12 months of bridge courses. This year “bridges” the gap between ADN and MSN educational requirements. The bridge curriculum includes seven courses and 21 credit hours including:

  • Physical Assessment
  • Communication
  • Statistics
  • Nursing Theory
  • Community Health
  • Leadership
  • Nursing Research

Next, students progress into the MSN curriculum, which encompasses the classes required to become a family nurse practitioner. The MSN curriculum includes 16 courses and 49 credit hours. These courses include:

  • Primary care of Children
  • Primary care for Geriatrics
  • Primary care of Complex Issues
  • Women’s Health and Childbearing
  • Principles of Independent Practice

After students complete the MSN curriculum, they progress seamlessly into the DNP curriculum. This includes and addition five courses, 17 credit hours, and the completion of a final DNP Project. Courses include:

  • Translating Evidence to Advanced practice
  • Leadership and Health Policy
  • Nurse Practitioner as Educator
  • DNP Clinical Residency

Admission Requirements

Applicants who have an associates degree in nursing and who do not a bachelor’s degree are eligible to apply for the ADN Bridge Entry Option. Applicants for this program must:

  • Hold an associate’s degree in nursing from an accredited school.
  • Be a registered nurse with a current, active license in the United States with no encumbrances.
  • Have at least one year of prior nursing experience. For registered nurses with less than one year of clinical experience, the admissions committee may consider other experiences such as working as a doula, childbirth educator, or lactation consultant.
  • Have a cumulative grade point average at least a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
  • Submit three professional references using the Professional Reference Evaluation Document.

Online Experience

Frontier Nursing University is renowned for their learning at a distance education programs, which they call Community-Based Education. At FNU, students visit campus two or three times for in-person intensives. During these intensives, students stay on the historic campus in Hayden, Kentucky, and they are pampered with home-cooked meals.

The remainder of the program is completed within the student’s home community. The courses are taught in 11-week terms and designed for the flexible adult learner. Faculty teach the course content through video lectures, chats, and interactive sessions using the learning management system Blackboard. Students communicate with their FNU professors through online forums, phone, and email. Frontier Nursing University helps students locate a clinical preceptor in their home community.

Professors

Kim
Dr. Kim Couch DNP, FNP-BC, CNM

Dr. Kim Couch is a family nurse practitioner and faculty at Frontier Nursing University. She is the director of the Women and Infant Service Line at Phoenix Indian Medical Center and Chief Medical Officer for the Rapid Deployment Team -5 for the United States Public Health Service. Dr. Couch was the 2014 recipient of the American College of Nurse-Midwives Distinguished Service Award, given for her dedication and service to Indian Health Service.

Esden
Dr. Jana Esden DNP, FNP-BC

Dr. Jana Esden is a family nurse practitioner and assistant professor at Frontier Nursing University. She teaches courses on the topics of complex chronic conditions. Dr. Esden’s focus in teaching is to assist in graduating students who give evidence-based, empathetic, and sensitive care. Her research interests include chronic care, group medical appointments/group care, underserved populations, and DNP success.

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Dr. Melissa DeCapua, DNP, PMHNP

Dr. Melissa DeCapua, DNP, PMHNP

Author

Melissa DeCapua is a board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner who graduated from Vanderbilt University. She has a background in child and adolescent psychiatry as well as psychosomatic medicine. Uniquely, she also possesses a bachelor’s degree in studio arts, which she uses to enhance patient care, promote the nursing profession, and solve complex problems. Melissa currently works as the Healthcare Strategist at a Seattle-based health information technology company where she guides product development by combining her clinical background and creative thinking. She is a strong advocate for empowering nurses, and she fiercely believes that nurses should play a pivotal role in shaping modern health care. For more about Melissa, check out her blog www.melissadecapua.com and follow her on Twitter @melissadecapua.

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*Also requires a non-nursing bachelor's degree; please see the "Online Accelerated MSN - NP" programs page for more details.