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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
In addition to the online RN-to-DNP programs profiled at length below, NursePractitionerSchools.com maintains a database of all distance-based NP programs in the U.S. This data is updated annually, and defines "online" as requiring nine or fewer campus visits throughout the duration of a program.
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.
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:
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.
Generally, admission into DNP programs is highly competitive. The admission requirements for the Delta State University DNP program include:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
For RNs with an ADN degree
For RNs with a BSN degree
For RNs with an MSN degree
*Also requires a non-nursing bachelor's degree; please see the "Online Accelerated MSN – NP" programs page for more details.