The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree: 7 Common FAQs Answered

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree: 7 Common FAQs Answered
The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree: 7 Common FAQs Answered

The number of nurses with doctoral degrees, like the Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) degree, has doubled since 2010. As more of your colleagues progress to a doctorate, you may be wondering whether the D.N.P. degree is right for you.

Earning a doctorate in clinical practice is a fantastic way for M.S.N.-prepared nurses to advance their careers. You'll gain the highest level of nursing practice competency, a competitive edge for leadership roles and more earning potential.

This blog will help you learn more about the Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) degree. Read on to get answers to the most commonly asked questions and the accelerated online D.N.P. program at Wilkes University.

1. What Is the D.N.P. degree?

What Is the D.N.P. degree?

The D.N.P. is the highest practice-focused nursing degree. This credential enables nurses with the knowledge and skills to become effective leaders in clinical nursing practice, quality improvement, policy development and more.

The curricula focus on nine topics. Defined by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), they’re called the Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice.

The D.N.P. Essentials are:

9 D.N.P. Essentials

  1. Scientific Underpinnings for Practice

  2. Organizational and Systems Leadership for Quality

  3. Improvement and Systems Thinking

  4. Clinical Scholarship and Analytical Methods for Evidence-Based Practice

  5. Information Systems/Technology and Patient Care Technology for the Improvement and Transformation of Healthcare

  6. Healthcare Policy for Advocacy in Healthcare

  7. Interprofessional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes

  8. Clinical Prevention and Population Health for Improving the Nation’s Health

  9. Advanced Nursing Practice

The Essentials provides standards for nursing programs to develop curriculum for educating candidates to improve nursing practice and patient outcomes while strengthening healthcare delivery.

In turn, graduates can undertake complex roles in practice, academia and leadership. The D.N.P. is not a role in itself.

Later in this blog, you’ll explore the various career options for D.N.P. graduates.

D.N.P. vs. M.S.N.

You may be wondering how the D.N.P. degree differs from the M.S.N. According to AACN, the D.N.P. builds on the generalist foundation that nurses acquire through bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.

M.S.N.-prepared nurses have advanced nursing and leadership knowledge to improve patient outcomes. But nurses who’ve earned a D.N.P. degree can make a broader impact.

D.N.P. prepared nursing professionals have an in-depth understanding of evidence-based practice, quality improvement and systems thinking. As a result, they're equipped to lead improvement, advocacy and innovation at the organization and systems levels.

D.N.P. vs. Ph.D.

How does the D.N.P. degree compare with the Ph.D.? As doctorates, both degrees are terminal. The difference stems from their objectives.

Ph.D. programs focus on research, with graduates becoming nurse scientists or educators and scholars.

D.N.P. programs emphasize research and quality improvement projects focused on clinical practice.

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2. Why Do Masters-Level Nurses Pursue the D.N.P.?

Why Do Masters-Level Nurses Pursue the D.N.P.?

Nurses who earn the D.N.P. are answering the call for doctorally-prepared nurses.

The demands of the country’s healthcare environment are dynamic and complex. As a result, nurses with the highest competency are best positioned to ensure quality patient outcomes.

Nursing leaders, including the AACN, have endorsed increased numbers of nurses holding doctoral degrees. AACN continues to endorse D.N.P. education as the most appropriate entry level for APRNs.

Other nursing leaders, such as the National Academies of Medicine and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, have advocated for doctorally-prepared nurses to help meet the rapidly shifting needs in healthcare.

The new emphasis on practice-focused doctoral education has led to an increase in graduates. Between 2010 and 2019, the annual number rose by more than 500%.

MSN-holders can also use the D.N.P. for career advancement in a variety of ways:

The D.N.P. degree can help you:

  • Establish yourself as a thought leader and advocate in nursing practice

  • Become a more desirable candidate for high-level nurse executive roles

  • Transition to a position in academia

On average, nurse practitioners earn $110,000 annually. Earning a D.N.P can lead to higher salary potential, as well as increased job satisfaction.

3. How Will the D.N.P. Establish Me as a Thought Leader?

How Will the D.N.P. Establish Me as a Thought Leader?

Many nurse practitioners are passionate about serving a certain patient population. If that describes you, then earning the D.N.P. degree can help you better advocate for your patients.

Healthcare policy and advocacy are among the Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice. AACN believes all nurses should engage in policy development.

That's because nurses have a vital role in creating a healthcare system that serves all constituents. Health policy impacts the delivery of care in multiple ways – access, quality and ethics are just a few.

The D.N.P. curricula prepare students to:

  • Analyze health policy proposals from the perspectives of key stakeholders

  • Lead the development and implementation of health policy that affects the financing, regulation and delivery of healthcare

  • Influence policymakers to improve healthcare delivery and outcomes

  • Educate key stakeholders on nursing, health policy and patient care outcomes

  • Advocate for the profession

  • Advocate for social justice, equity and ethical policies within healthcare

As a graduate, you’ll be able to design, influence and implement healthcare policies on behalf of the public and nursing profession. You’ll broaden your impact as a nurse practitioner, making a difference for patients, communities and populations.

Career Outlook for Nurse Practitioners

Many D.N.P. graduates apply their degree in their role as nurse practitioners. The knowledge and skills you gain from the curricula will widen your scope of influence.

You’ll become a more effective advocate in clinical practice and a leader in policy and advocacy activities. You can direct initiatives in your workplace, community and the policy and healthcare arenas.

Fortunately, the demand for nurse practitioners continues to grow. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that employment will rise by 28% between 2018 and 2028. That figure exceeds five times the average growth rate for all occupations.

Plus, having a terminal nursing degree can position you for the highest earnings. A 2020 survey of over 6,000 nurses revealed that those with a doctorate earned an average of $9,034 more than nurses prepared at the master’s degree level.

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4. Why Should Aspiring Nurse Executives Consider the D.N.P.?

Why Should Aspiring Nurse Executives Consider the D.N.P.?

The top nurse leaders must be experts in nursing practice. Earning the D.N.P. degree will expand your proficiency and give you a competitive edge in the market for nurse executives.

The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice emphasize organizational leadership, systems leadership and evidence-based practice. Nurse leaders with expertise in these areas are better equipped to improve healthcare outcomes at all levels.

The D.N.P. curricula will prepare you to:

  • Use scientific findings to develop and evaluate approaches to healthcare delivery that meet the needs of patient populations

  • Ensure accountability for the quality of healthcare and patient safety

  • Manage ethical dilemmas related to patient care, healthcare organization and research

  • Analyze evidence to determine and implement the best practices

  • Design and implement processes to evaluate the outcomes of practice and systems of care

  • Design, direct and evaluate quality improvement methodologies

  • Apply findings to develop practice guidelines

  • Use information technology and research methods to improve practice

  • Disseminate findings from evidence-based practice

Career Outlook for Nurse Executives

D.N.P. graduates enjoy a strong job market and a substantial salary as nurse executives. They’re highly sought-after for leadership roles in nursing and healthcare.

Here are just a few of the positions available:

  • Chief Nursing Officer

  • Patient Care Director

  • Nursing Home Administration

The overall demand for healthcare executives remains high. Between 2018 and 2028, BLS expects the employment of healthcare executives to grow by 18%, a figure over three times the average growth rate of all jobs.

5. How Will Earning a D.N.P. Prepare Me to Become a Nurse Educator?

How Will Earning a D.N.P. Prepare Me to Become a Nurse Educator?

Are you interested in educating the next generation of nurses? Obtaining a D.N.P. degree will expand your options for becoming a nurse educator.

Many four-year colleges and universities require full-time faculty to have a doctorate. Universities prefer doctorally-prepared faculty in nursing.

For the 2018-19 academic year, there were 1,715 faculty vacancies at over 870 nursing schools. Approximately 9 in 10 open positions required or preferred a doctoral degree.

Educators of nursing students need a solid clinical background, strong communication skills and a high level of cultural competence. The D.N.P. curricula will equip you with exactly that.

As a nurse educator with a D.N.P. degree,you will prepare your students to:

  • Develop the advanced competencies needed for increasingly complex practice

  • Cultivate more in-depth knowledge to improve nursing practice and patient outcomes

  • Advance their leadership skills to strengthen practice and healthcare delivery

To become a proficient nurse educator of clinical practice, you will also need knowledge on the methods and practice of teaching. Some D.N.P. curricula integrate teaching strategies and learning principles.

Career Outlook for Nurse Educators

The U.S. is facing a severe shortage of nursing faculty, which means the demand for nurse educators is high. AACN points to multiple causes, including:

  • Rising faculty age

  • Increasing faculty retirements

  • Stagnant nursing school enrollment

The shortfall has created extraordinary opportunities for aspiring nurse educators. BLS projects the employment of nursing instructors will grow by 20% between 2018 and 2028, resulting in 13,800 new jobs.

As a D.N.P. graduate, you’ll be ready to undertake these roles. With experience, you’ll also qualify for leadership roles within nursing education. Job opportunities for doctorally prepared nurses include the following:

  • Dean of Nursing

  • Associate Dean of Nursing

  • Nursing Program Director

  • Faculty of Practice

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6. What Are the Requirements of D.N.P. Programs?

According to AACN, there are over 280 colleges and universities that offer M.S.N. to D.N.P. programs in the U.S. Read on to learn about their admission requirements, program length and curricula.


Admission requirements vary by university.

M.S.N. to D.N.P. programs require candidates to have a master’s degree in nursing. They may also have a GPA requirement. A minimum of 3.0 is typical.

Your master’s degree must also be granted from an accredited nursing program. In the U.S., two organizations give accreditation: the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Another admission requirement is a current and unencumbered R.N. license.

Program Length

The time it takes to obtain the degree partly depends on your educational background.

According to AACN, B.S.N. to D.N.P. programs take approximately 36 months of full-time study. That’s four years on the academic calendar.

Programs for M.S.N.-prepared nurses average around 18-24 months of study.

D.N.P. Curriculum

All programs educate students on the Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice, outlined earlier in this blog.

D.N.P. students complete a final project which includes clinical experiences to synthesize their learning for achieving specific and academic professional outcomes.

Examples of final projects include a:

  • Practice portfolio outlining the student’s impact or practice outcomes

  • Manuscript submitted for publication

  • Quality improvement project

7. What Does the Wilkes D.N.P. Program Offer?

What Does the Wilkes D.N.P. Program Offer?

Wilkes University offers a top-ranked online D.N.P. degree program that empowers working nurses to reach the pinnacle of their nursing education. The online D.N.P. program is centered on instilling competencies in areas such as quality improvement, evidence-based problem solving and healthcare policy.

Graduates are equipped with executive knowledge and skills to improve healthcare outcomes. They evolve as nursing leaders who translate research into nursing practice, administration and education.

As a student, you’ll cultivate expertise in:

  • Innovation and Technology – Apply scientific inquiry and information technology to become a leader in advanced nursing practice.

  • Quality Improvement and Advocacy – Integrate and disseminate knowledge for improving patient and population health outcomes and engage in healthcare policy.

  • Implementing Solutions – Demonstrate the application of scholarship and research to solve complex health problems, translating evidence-based research into clinical practice.

You’ll also complete a final project about an issue you’re passionate about. As you reach your clinically supervised D.N.P. project hours, you’ll receive faculty guidance and expert mentoring.

How Can I Get Started?

Earning your D.N.P will allow you to stand out as an influential leader and make a transformative impact in health care.

We’re here to talk about everything Wilkes, everything nursing and anything you need to make the right choice for your career.

Learn more about our D.N.P program and connect with an admissions advisor.