MSN-to-DNP Programs and Schools

MSN-to-DNP Programs and Schools

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As the nursing field’s terminal degree, a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) is the highest possible degree that a nursing professional can earn. Some individuals who already hold a master of science in nursing (MSN) enroll in MSN-to-DNP programs because a higher degree can lead to better earning potential and more employment opportunities. For example, nurses who want to work in leadership positions may pursue DNP programs that offer executive nursing leadership or nursing administration concentration areas.

There are many benefits to earning an MSN-to-DNP online, especially for nurses who wish to work while they attend school. Distance learning programs allow candidates to study when convenient, allowing them to save time and money on transportation and housing costs. While degree-seekers must complete mandatory clinical hours at a healthcare facility, they can often do so at their current workplace or other nearby settings.

Read on to explore some of the best online MSN-to-DNP programs for nurses who wish to further their career. You can also learn more about how to apply to these programs, what to expect once enrolled, and how to identify a quality program.

Top 3 Online MSN-to-DNP Programs

Rank School Location
1 Duke University Durham, NC
2 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD
3 University of South Carolina Columbia, SC
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Frequently Asked Questions


  • Can you get your DNP online?

    Yes. Many schools offer DNP programs exclusively online. Distance learners can stream lectures or participate in class discussions. However, online DNP candidates must still complete their clinical hours in person at a healthcare facility.


  • How long does it take to go from an MSN to a DNP?

    This depends on many factors, including student enrollment status and program format. Some universities offer accelerated online MSN-to-DNP programs. While MSN-holders can generally earn their DNP degree in 1-4 years, full-time students typically finish in 1-2 years, and part-time learners may take even longer to graduate.


  • Do nurses with a DNP make more than those with an MSN?

    Generally speaking, yes. According to a 2019 Medscape compensation survey, RNs with a DNP earn an average of $7,000 more annually than their peers with an MSN. Another 2019 Medscape survey found that APRNs earn an average of $6,000 more each year if they have a DNP instead of an MSN.


  • Will a DNP eventually replace the MSN?

    While it is impossible to predict the future, some influential organizations have spoken out in favor of this move. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has published several reasons in support of NPs earning doctoral degrees. In addition, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioners supports an initiative for all NPs to earn a DNP. You can read about this issue in greater depth here.


  • What's the difference between a DNP and a Ph.D.?

    Although both credentials are doctoral degrees, they serve different purposes. A practice-oriented DNP prepares students for a career as an APRN or nurse leader, while a Ph.D. typically emphasizes original academic research. Ph.D. graduates often become university professors or researchers.

    You can read more about each degree here and check out our list of affordable programs.


Prerequisites for MSN-to-DNP Online Programs

Candidates who wish to enroll in an online MSN-to-DNP program typically need to be a licensed RN with an MSN in an advanced practice specialty area. Some programs may accept an MSN from another health-related profession, such as nursing administration or nursing informatics. Other admission requirements for an online MSN-to-DNP program could include:

  • A 3.0 GPA
  • A graduate-level research methods and statistics course
  • An e-portfolio of professional practice
  • A telephone or in-person interview
  • Certification in your advanced practice specialty, when applicable
  • Letters of reference
  • RN licensure
  • Resume or curriculum vitae
  • Statement of professional goals

Students must also meet technological requirements to do their coursework online.

The DNP Research Project

All DNP programs require candidates to complete a final research project that demonstrates clinical scholarship. Schools might refer to this as a scholarly project, capstone project, thesis, dissertation, or final project. The AACN recommends that the final research project be termed “DNP project” to avoid confusion with MSN capstone papers and Ph.D. theses.

A DNP project can take many forms, and students typically work on it throughout their entire program. The project must focus on a change that impacts healthcare outcomes for a particular population. Specific guidelines for acceptable projects can be found in the AACN’s report The Doctor of Nursing Practice: Current Issues and Clarifying Recommendations, and examples can be found on the National DNP Organization website.

MSN-to-DNP Program Accreditation

Nurses should look for online MSN-to-DNP programs that are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN). Accreditation ensures that nursing programs have been thoroughly assessed for quality, allowing students to be confident in the instruction and learning they receive.

CCNE accredits bachelor’s, graduate, and residency programs, while ACEN accredits diplomas, certificates, and various degree programs, including associate, bachelor’s, master’s, post-master’s certificate, and clinical doctoral degrees. Students can find CCNE-accredited programs here, or explore the ACEN website. Learners can search for programs by state or by degree on each organization’s site.

MSN-to-DNP Programs

  • Duke University
    Location

    Durham, NC

    Durham, North Carolina's Duke offers a 35-credit doctor of nursing practice (DNP). The flexible, two-year MSN-to-DNP program allows nurses to continue working while pursuing a degree. The curriculum addresses quantitative methods, evidence-based practice, healthcare transformation, leadership, and finance and budgeting, and culminates in a scholarly project.

    Admission requires a master's in nursing with an advanced specialty from an accredited program, or a master's degree in a health-related field from a regionally accredited school. Other requirements include a 3.0 GPA, active registered nurse (RN) license, transcripts, three references, and a personal statement. Applicants should have previously taken courses in graduate research methods and inferential statistics.

    Duke's School of Nursing boasts three Centers of Excellence in Nursing Education designations from the National League for Nursing. Duke is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, and the DNP program holds accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

  • Johns Hopkins University
    Location

    Baltimore, MD

    Students at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins can earn a doctor of nursing practice through the (DNP) advanced practice track. The hybrid on site/online MSN-to-DNP program takes 3-4 years to complete and includes a final project.

    Johns Hopkins offers nine tracks:

    • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
    • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
    • Family Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
    • Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
    • Pediatric Dual Primary/Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
    • Adult Health Clinical Nurse Specialist
    • Adult Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialist
    • Pediatric Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialist
    • Nurse Anesthesiology

    Admission requires a bachelor's or master's degree in nursing from an accredited school, with a 3.0 GPA and an RN license. Johns Hopkins prefers one year of full-time RN experience. Other required submissions include three professional or academic recommendations, transcripts, a goal statement, and a resume.

    Johns Hopkins holds regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and DNP-program accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

  • University of South Carolina
    Location

    Columbia, SC

    The doctor of nursing practice MSN-to-DNP online program at UofSC combines distance learning with immersive sessions at the Columbia campus. Students can choose between a 33-hour advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) track or a 36- to 39-hour nurse executive leadership concentration. Graduation requirements include an 18-hour residency, a final project, and 1,000 clinical hours.

    Applicants must hold a master of science in nursing and a current RN license. UofSC requires certification/licensure as an advanced practice nurse with prescriptive authority for the APRN track. Prospective nurse executive leadership students must demonstrate 2,400 hours in a leadership role. Candidates for admission must submit transcripts showing a 3.0 GPA, three recommendation letters, a personal goal statement, answers to essay questions, and a resume.

    UofSC is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The DNP program holds accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

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