A doctor of nursing practice (DNP) appeals to nurses interested in an evidence-based patient care degree instead of a research-focused doctorate. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has endorsed the DNP as the level of preparation needed to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). As more students pursue these clinically-focused doctoral degrees, DNP programs have grown to include schools in all 50 states.
Aspiring APRNs can expect a projected 45% job growth rate through 2029. This translates to 117,700 new positions, with 110,700 expected to open for nurse practitioners (NPs). DNP programs prepare graduates to become highly-skilled NPs who provide primary healthcare in a patient population area like pediatrics, oncology, gerontology, or psychiatry.
Online DNP programs can be completed in 2-4 years. Most consist of synchronously or asynchronously delivered online coursework and onsite clinical practice hours. Read on for our online DNP program rankings and the methodology we used to select them.
In addition to the distance-based DNP programs profiled in the following section, NursePractitionerSchools.com maintains a database of all online NP programs in the United States. This is updated every year. “Online” is defined as requiring nine or fewer visits throughout the program’s duration.
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.
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'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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
DNP educational prerequisites depend on whether candidates apply to an MSN-to-DNP or BSN-to-DNP program. Applicants must hold a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) from an accredited institution for admission to BSN-to-DNP programs. Other requirements include GRE scores of 500 or higher, a registered nurse (RN) license, a personal essay, and an interview.
Admission requirements for MSN-to-DNP programs include a master of science in nursing (MSN) from an accredited school, APRN specialty certification, an RN or APRN license, a 3.0 GPA, and completion of a statistics course. Applicants must submit transcripts, a resume, a statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation. They also participate in an interview.
All students complete 1,000 hours of clinical practice at a local healthcare facility.
MSN-to-DNP programs typically take two years. Many students continue to work as nurses and enroll in their online programs part time. Full-time study may allow completion in one year. BSN-to-DNP timelines vary, depending on the specialty area chosen. BSN-to-DNP online NP programs can take four years of part-time study and 2.5-3 years for full-time students.
Applicants should ensure that the DNP programs they're interested in hold accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Accreditation signifies that a program meets rigorous academic standards. In addition, state licensing boards and many employers require degrees from accredited schools and programs.
DNP program graduates become leaders of interdisciplinary healthcare teams focused on providing and improving patient care. They may focus on advanced practice as an NP or as a certified registered nurse anesthetist, certified nurse midwife, clinical nurse specialist, nurse educator, nurse executive, or executive nurse leader.
In general, the difference is based on the focus: practice- versus research-based. DNP programs train top-level advanced practice nurses who provide patient care directly, educate other APRNs, or work to improve the quality of patient care. Ph.D. in nursing programs focus on research and teaching, rather than clinical practice.