Online DNP Nurse Practitioner Programs

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recommends that all advanced practice nurses, including nurse practitioners (NPs), earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. The DNP provides an alternative to the research-based PhD and arms NPs with advanced skills in clinical practice and leadership.

Across the country, DNP programs are growing rapidly. In 2006, a mere 20 DNP programs graduatedList of Online DNP-NP Programs 1,874 students. By 2015, 264 programs graduated 22,563 students. Doctor of Nursing Practice programs are currently available in 49 states and Washington, D.C. The number of DNP programs offered online has grown quickly too, providing more choice and flexibility to students focused on advancing their degree.

Top 10 Online DNP Nurse Practitioner Programs

Rank School Location
1 Bradley University Peoria, IL
2 Brandman University Irvine, CA
3 Clemson University Clemson, SC
4 DeSales University Center Valley, PA
5 Duquesne University Pittsburgh, PA
6 George Washington University Washington, DC
7 Gonzaga University Spokane, WA
8 Gwynedd Mercy University Gwynedd Valley, PA
9 Lewis University Romeoville, IL
10 Loyola University New Orleans New Orleans, LA

Top Online Programs

Explore programs of your interests with the high-quality standards and flexibility you need to take your career to the next level.

Nursing schools across the country have listened to the AACN and developed DNP programs to suit the needs of the diverse nursing discipline. Which DNP program you choose depends on your current level of nursing education: either Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

Many DNP programs include the option to specialize as a nurse practitioner, and are effectively an alternative to MSN nurse practitioner programs, with a more advanced terminal degree. Examples include Duke University’s Hybrid Online MSN to DNP – Neonatal Nurse Practitioner program and Bradley University’s Online BSN to DNP – Family Nurse Practitioner program. Such programs are the focus here.

This article opens with an overview of the admission requirements, clinical specialty options, courses and curriculum, duration, and accreditation for online DNP programs. Because the requirements vary based on your current level of nursing education (i.e. ADN, BSN, or MSN), each will be discussed separately. The article concludes with a discussion of three example programs for each type of online DNP program.

  1. Bradley University
    Location

    Peoria, IL

    This private university offers more than 130 undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education programs online and at its campus in Peoria, Illinois. Bradley's fully online DNP programs, accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, provide students with flexible plans of study and 24/7 access to course materials.

    The DNP family nurse practitioner track for bachelor's-level registered nurses (RNs) requires approximately 12 semesters of coursework. The curriculum emphasizes health promotion, disease prevention, anticipatory guidance, counseling, and end-of-life care to clients across the lifespan.

    The DNP in leadership track, designed for master's-level RNs, prepares nurse practitioners for supervisory roles in healthcare administration, policy, and education. The nine-semester degree addresses the growing need for doctoral-level nurses to fill top administrative posts, advocate on behalf of the nursing profession, and educate and mentor the next generation.

  2. Brandman University
    Location

    Irvine, CA

    Irvine, California-based Brandman serves a diverse student population with a focus on working professionals. This private institution has championed online education for more than two decades.

    Brandman's online BSN-to-DNP psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner degree, accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, combines instructor-guided and self-directed online courses with a small number of immersion sessions at its Irvine campus. Students may fulfill clinical practicum requirements in their home communities.

    The curriculum comprises six sessions annually, spread evenly across the fall, spring, and summer semesters. Each trimester runs for eight weeks, enabling degree-seekers to focus on a small number of courses while completing the degree within three years. The BSN-to-DNP program trains students to deliver emergency psychiatric services, psychosocial and physical assessments, and managed patient care. The program prepares graduates to sit for the American Nurse Credentialing Center certification examination.

  3. Clemson University
    Location

    Clemson, SC

    This public institution in North Carolina boasts an enrollment of over 21,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Among its over 130 graduate programs, Clemson offers an online DNP program for licensed RNs who hold a master's in nursing degree from an accredited program.

    The DNP program reflects the trend of practice-based doctoral training as the preferred educational credential for advancement into clinical leadership positions in advanced practice nursing.

    This 35-credit degree emphasizes evidence-based practice, leadership, healthcare policy and advocacy, interprofessional collaboration, and expert clinical, advanced nursing skills. The curriculum includes courses in healthcare economics and finance, outcomes management, and leadership in healthcare systems.

    Students complete the online coursework on a part-time basis across six semesters, along with three on-campus immersion experiences each July. The curriculum requires a total of 1,000 clinical hours. Each enrollee must complete a scholarly practice integration project integrating evidence-based research to advance nursing policy or resolve an issue that affects patient care.

  4. DeSales University
    Location

    Center Valley, PA

    DeSales, a private institution located in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, began operations in 1964. The university offers traditional, hybrid, and online degrees, including a fully online DNP program grounded in the Oblate mission of Christian humanism.

    This DNP features two concentrations designed especially for working registered nurses with a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree. The DNP-clinical leadership program admits practicing nurses in clinical nurse specialist, nurse midwife, and nurse anesthetist roles.

    The DNP-executive leadership track is a terminal practice degree for nurses with an MSN in health administration, health policy, clinical informatics, clinical leadership/clinical nurse leader, or public health. Both pathways take seven full-time semesters or 10 part-time semesters to complete. The curriculum requires an annual on-campus residency in the summer with optional on-campus residencies in the winter and spring.

    DeSales features continuing support for distance learners, providing mentors, advisors, and tutors, and opportunities for professional networking. Tuition includes the cost of accommodations, travel, and meals for the residency.

  5. Duquesne University
    Location

    Pittsburgh, PA

    This Catholic university, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has pioneered online nursing education for over two decades. Duquesne offers an innovative online DNP program with two distinctive tracks for licensed registered nurses who hold a master of science in nursing degree.

    Both tracks require 35 credits over two years. Each online learner completes 11 courses and a practice project that highlights an area of patient care and clinical practice. All students must complete one orientation at the beginning of their studies and another to present their required research project after completing their online coursework. The curriculum features concentrations in nursing education, forensic nursing, or transcultural nursing.

    The MSN-to-DNP in clinical leadership track trains nurses to deliver evidence-based practice to diverse populations and improve health outcomes. The executive nurse leadership and healthcare management option provides the knowledge and skills to connect nursing practice to finance, budgeting, human resources, and other aspects of business.

  6. George Washington University
    Location

    Washington, DC

    Housed in the center of the nation's capital, GW serves a student body of over 26,000 in 10 schools and colleges. GW Online offers programs in liberal arts, business, education, medicine, and nursing disciplines.

    Licensed nurses seeking career advancement by earning a doctor of nursing practice degree can find several post-bachelor's and post-master's opportunities. The adult-gerontology acute care, adult-gerontology primary care, and family practitioner DNP programs provide registered nurses with entry-level preparation for nurse practitioner roles without a master's exit point. In addition to 1,000 clinical hours, these 72-credit degrees operate in a hybrid format with on-campus attendance for testing and training sessions.

    GW Online also offers executive leadership, health policy, and family nurse practitioner DNP degrees as post-master's programs, each requiring 36-43 credits. These post-master's tracks prepare specialists in advanced nursing practice for leadership positions in clinical practice, administration, and policy fields.

  7. Gonzaga University
    Location

    Spokane, WA

    This Catholic institution, established in 1887 by the Jesuit religious order, offers undergraduate and graduate programs at its Spokane, Washington, campus and online. Gonzaga administers two post-baccalaureate online DNP programs: a DNP-family practitioner pathway and a DNP-psychiatric mental-health nurse practitioner track.

    Designed for registered nurses who hold a bachelor's degree and a valid license, Gonzaga's DNP programs feature evidence-based plans of study accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

    Both online NP programs, which require five years to complete, enable nurses to earn their master of science in nursing (MSN) degrees in three years while finishing all degree requirements for the doctorate. Students become eligible to sit for their nurse practitioner licensing exam at the end of the third year after receiving the MSN.

    The curriculum comprises 78 credits and 1,000 hours of clinical practice. Degree-seekers take online classes in eight-week and 16-week sessions, supplemented by 7-8 on-campus immersions beginning in the fifth semester.

  8. Gwynedd Mercy University
    Location

    Gwynedd Valley, PA

    This Catholic university, located north of Philadelphia in Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania, offers undergraduate and graduate degrees to over 28,000 students. GMercyU has developed several accelerated and online programs for working professionals.

    For over fifty years, the Frances M. Maguire School of Nursing and Health Professions has developed innovative programs in nursing and healthcare education. The 39-credit online DNP program, accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, trains advanced practice nurses to become advocates for evidence-based nursing practice, improving patient care, evaluating disparities in healthcare systems, and prioritizing culturally competent practice with diverse populations.

    The accelerated online program for master's-level nurses who hold current registered nurse licenses takes two years to complete, comprising 13 courses and 400 hours of precepted clinical experience. The curriculum requires only one on-campus executive session as part of the last class of the final semester.

  9. Lewis University
    Location

    Romeoville, IL

    Lewis, a Catholic, co-educational institution with a main campus in Romeoville, Illinois, offers 80 undergraduate majors and 35 graduate programs in on-campus and online formats. Its online DNP program, designed for master's-level registered nurses with two years of experience, delivers coursework entirely at a distance to accommodate the needs of working professionals.

    The 30-credit DNP builds on the advanced clinical nursing skills of admitted students by focusing on quality improvement, evidence-based performance, and systems approaches to healthcare. The curriculum explores research design and measurement for evidence-based practice, healthcare ethics, policy, and financial and strategic management for healthcare decision-makers.

    Each enrollee must complete a scholarly project and at least 1,000 clinical hours. Qualified students may transfer up to 496 master's-level hours toward the 1,000-hour clinical requirement. The DNP also requires on-campus attendance at a minimum of two full-day immersions. In one of the two immersions, students present their final scholarly research projects.

  10. Loyola University New Orleans
    Location

    New Orleans, LA

    This Catholic university, as one of 28 Jesuit-sponsored higher education institutions in the U.S., opened its doors in 1904. Loyno currently offers 110 undergraduate programs, along with 36 graduate and professional degrees. Its online DNP program, the first such degree in Louisiana, trains registered nurses (RNs) with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree for advanced clinical and leadership roles at the systems and population level.

    The Loyno DNP, accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, offers two degree paths. The online BSN-to-DNP admits bachelor's-level RNs. Students complete 78 credits, earning their MSN while moving through the doctoral program. Each distance learner must fulfill a minimum of 504 residency hours beyond their MSN practicum hours.

    The online MSN-to-DNP option, designed for master's-level nurses, features two specialized concentrations: nurse practitioner or executive leader. Both tracks prepare students for clinical and administrative leadership roles by working with interdisciplinary teams to develop and implement evidence-based solutions. The MSN-to-DNP requires 39 or more credits and at least 1,000 clinical hours, depending on the concentration.

Admission Requirements for Online DNP Programs

For Applicants Who Already Have Earned An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

Admission into these programs (sometimes called RN-to-DNP nurse practitioner programs) are highly competitive because there are few programs and many applicants. Requirements include a registered nurse (RN) license and an associate’s degree or diploma (ADN) in nursing. Most schools require an undergraduate grade point average of at least a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale and an above average Graduate Record Exam (GRE) score. Other admission requirements include letters of reference, a curriculum vitae, an interview, and a statement of professional goals.

For Applicants Who Already Have Earned A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

To be accepted into an online BSN-to-DNP nurse practitioner program, you need an RN license and a BSN. Some schools recommend that applicants have at least one year of previous nursing experience; however it is usually not a requirement. Most schools require an undergraduate grade point average of at least a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, three letters of reference, a curriculum vitae, an interview, and a statement of professional goals.

For Applicants Who Already Have Earned A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Most online MSN-to-DNP nurse practitioner programs are designed for currently practicing NPs who want to earn their DNP as recommended by the AACN. Requirements include an RN license, NP license, and certification in your medical speciality. Most schools require an undergraduate and graduate grade point average of at least a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, three letters of reference, a curriculum vitae, an interview, and a statement of professional goals.

Some online MSN-to-DNP nurse practitioner programs accept students with an MSN who are not licensed NPs. These applicants usually possess an MSN in administration, education, or informatics. This type of MSN-to-DNP program provides a path for these applicants to become an NP. Admission requirements for these programs are similar to those listed above; however, these applicants do not need to submit an NP license or specialty certification.

Clinical Specialties for Online DNP NP Programs

For Applicants Who Already Have Earned An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

Most schools, regardless of the applicant’s current level of nursing education, require the applicant to declare their clinical specialty prior to admission. In general, the clinical specialty options are limited for students in RN-to-DNP nurse practitioner programs. While the speciality options vary by school, usually the choices are limited to family and adult-gerontology. Those who are interested in focusing on a different medical specialty may want to first earn their BSN and then apply to BSN-to-DNP nurse practitioner programs.

For Applicants Who Already Have Earned A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Different schools offer different specialties; therefore, applicants should seek out schools that offer their desired clinical focus. Examples of clinical specialities for nurse practitioners include psychiatry, acute care, family, adult gerontology, neonatal, pediatrics, and women’s health. Some nurse practitioners also choose to subspecialize. If you are interested in a subspeciality such as dermatology or orthopedics, your options will likely be more limited, and may require additional research on your part.

For Applicants Who Already Have Earned A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Most MSN-to-DNP nurse practitioner programs accept NPs who are already certified in their clinical specialty; therefore, applicants do not need to declare a medical focus. Some MSN-to-DNP programs offer non-NP tracks in informatics, health policy, ethics, education, leadership, or business.

Other schools allow their MSN-to-DNP students to earn an additional NP certification while completing the traditional DNP courses, for example, a family nurse practitioner (FNP) in this DNP program might wish to simultaneously take the courses necessary to become board-certified in psychiatry (PMHNP). Those MSN-to-DNP nurse practitioner program applicants who are not yet NPs must declare a clinical specialty.

Courses and Curriculum for Online DNP NP Programs

For Applicants Who Already Have Earned An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

Coursework for online RN-to-DNP nurse practitioner programs varies by school and chosen medical specialty. Students will take a set of courses that bridge the gap between a tradition ADN and BSN. These courses might include Nursing Theory, Statistics, and Nursing Research. Next, students begin traditional NP courses such as Pathophysiology, Pharmacology, and Differential diagnosis. Students also complete their specialty courses, which vary depending on their area of focus. FInally, students complete traditional DNP courses such as Health Economics, Informatics, and Health Policy.

For Applicants Who Already Have Earned A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

BSN-to-DNP nurse practitioner programs encompass all courses that a student would normally take in an MSN program in addition to the new courses required by the DNP. Students complete core NP courses such as Comprehensive Health Assessment and Pharmacology along with their speciality courses, which vary depending on medical focus. Psychiatry students, for example, would complete courses in psychopharmacology, neuroscience, and psychotherapy. These programs also encompass the new DNP course requirements such as Informatics and Leadership.

For Applicants Who Already Have Earned A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

MSN-to-DNP programs usually only include the new DNP course requirements. These programs are much shorter than the RN-to-DNP and BSN-to-DNP because the students are already practicing NPs. Courses cover topics like health economics, leadership, informatics, and health policy. For those applicants who already have an MSN but are not yet an NP, your MSN-to-DNP nurse practitioner program will progress similar to the BSN-to-DNP programs.

Duration

For Applicants Who Already Have Earned An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

Most students complete RN-to-DNP nurse practitioner programs in four to six years, completing 80 to 100 credit hours, and over 1,000 hours of supervised clinical practice in the process. These clinical hours must be completed in person at a clinical site or through the school if it features a medical center.

For Applicants Who Already Have Earned A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

BSN-to-DNP nurse practitioner programs vary in length depending on the school and medical specialty. Most programs range from 70 to 100 credit hours and require over 1000 clinical hours. Most students complete these programs in 3 or 4 years of full-time study.

For Applicants Who Already Have Earned A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

For NPs who already have an MSN, the final step toward completing the DNP may just be 36 to 47 credit hours. These courses are usually completed in two years. MSN-to-DNP programs require up to 1,000 clinical hours, but some of these can be transferred from a previous MSN degree.

DNP Research Project

All DNP programs require the completion of a final research project that demonstrates clinical scholarship. Schools might refer to this project as a scholarly project, capstone project, thesis, dissertation, or final project.The DNP Project can take many forms, and students will work on it throughout their entire program. The project must focus on a change that impacts health care outcomes for a particular population.

Accreditation

Both traditional and online DNP programs, regardless of the applicant’s current level of nursing education, are accredited by either the the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN). Accreditation ensures that the program meets high standards of quality, rigor, and value. You can search for accredited programs through the CCNE and ACEN websites. Students can use these organizations’ search pages to specifically narrow their search to doctoral level programs.

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RN-to-DNP Nurse Practitioner Programs

Delta State University

The Delta State University RN-to-DNP program encompases nine semesters, 95 credit hours, submission of a research manuscript, and 1,140 precepted clinical hours. Students in this program usually graduate in four years and become family nurse practitioners (FNP). Delta State University uses innovative technology to promote distance education. Their online program requires one to three on-campus visits per semester.

University of Illinois Chicago (Hybrid Online-Campus)

The University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) College of Nursing offers a unique RN-to-DNP program with an exceptionally wide variety of medical specialities including adult-gerontology acute and primary care, family, neonatal, women’s health, pediatric acute and primary care and psychiatry. In addition to having an RN license and ADN, this program requires applicants to also have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. Furthermore, applicants with a grade point average less than a 3.25 must take the Graduate Record Exam. The program averages around 85 credit hours and 1,000 clinical hours. Students also have the opportunity to take advanced courses in the subspecialty areas of population health, health systems leadership, and informatics.

Frontier Nursing University

Frontier Nursing University‘s RN-to-DNP program is perfect for those who wish to become a family nurse practitioner. For RNs with less than one year of experience, the admissions committee considers other experiences such as working as a doula, childbirth educator, or lactation consultant. Uniquely, graduates of this program are awarded both an MSN and a DNP. The program stretches 87 credit hours and over 1,000 clinical hours. Their 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 clinicals.

BSN-to-DNP Nurse Practitioner Programs

University of Florida (Hybrid Online-Campus)

The University of Florida BSN-to-DNP program is 76 credit hours and 1008 clinical hours. Full-time students can expect to complete the program in 2.5 years, while part-time students usually complete the program in 4 years. THe University of Florida is consistently ranked in the top ten percent of all graduate nursing programs in the nation, and their graduates exceed the state and national pass rates for licensure and certification exams. They offer the following specialities: adult gerontology acute care, family, pediatric acute and primary care, and psychiatry.

University of Michigan-Flint

The University of Michigan-Flint BSN-to-DNP program encompasses up to 91 credit hours and over 1,000 precepted clinical hours. They offer specialty tracks in adult gerontology acute and primary care, family, and psychiatry. The program is challenging but prepares top-of-the-line NPs. Most students graduate in four years of full-time study. Students complete this program in a distance-learning, or online, format. They are required to visit campus about once per year to complete patient simulations and and other hands on education.

University of Pittsburgh (For Pennsylvania Students within 50 Miles)

The University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing offers a BSN-to-DNP program with specialty tracks in adult-gerontology acute and primary care, family, neonatal, psychiatry, and pediatric primary care. The U.S. News & World Report ranked this DNP Program 8th nationwide. Admission to this school is extremely competitive with strict grade point average and Graduate Record Exam requirements. The program encompasses an average of 95 credit hours and over 1,100 precepted clinical hours. Most students complete the program in four years.

MSN-to-DNP Nurse Practitioner Programs

Duke University (Hybrid Online-Campus)

The Duke University MSN-to-DNP program consists of 15 courses and 35 credit hours, and it is usually completed in 18 months. All students are required to complete a DNP project over four semesters. This research study must address a practice issue affecting groups of patients, health care organizations, or health care systems. Duke University is well-known for their innovative use of technology to promote distance education. In fact, the U.S. News and World Report ranked them as the fifth best online graduate school of nursing. All of Duke’s DNP courses are offered online.

University of South Carolina

Because the University of South Carolina is ranked number one by the U.S. News and World Report for online graduate nursing programs, admission to their MSN-to-DNP program is highly competitive. The program encompasses 33 credit hours and the completion of a DNP research project. The entire curriculum is completed online with the exception of one on-campus orientation for new students. Their DNP program is well-known across the country as the flagship program of the south.

Johns Hopkins (Hybrid Online-Campus)

The Johns Hopkins School of Nursing is an incredible, internationally recognized program. The U.S. News & World Report ranked them as the number 1 accredited graduate nursing program in the country. Additionally, the school’s DNP program was ranked No. 2 in the first-ever DNP rankings by U.S. News & World Report. The program includes 40 credit hours and 15 courses, usually completed in six semesters or two years of full-time study. Every course is completed online with a total of two weeks of on-campus meetings.

Dr. Melissa DeCapua, DNP, PMHNP-BC

Dr. Melissa DeCapua, DNP, PMHNP-BC

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.

Online NP Programs by Pathway

bsntodnp

For RNs with an ADN degree

Online RN to MSN – NP

Online RN to DNP – NP

Online Accelerated MSN – NP*

msntodnp

For RNs with a BSN degree

Online BSN to MSN – NP

Online BSN to DNP – NP

rntodnp

For RNs with an MSN degree

Online MSN to DNP – NP

Online Post-Master’s NP Certificate


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

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