If you aspire to a role in nursing leadership, whether at the clinical or administrative level, consider earning your Doctor of Nursing Practice degree (DNP degree). It’s the highest level of education for advanced practice nursing.
When you weigh the pros and cons of earning a DNP degree, your return on investment is a top consideration—and according to Payscale.com, the average salary tends to be a healthy jump up from bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing.
If you’re considering earning your DNP, read on for a snapshot of the requirements, program types, cost, and overall value of this degree program.
If you are entering at the BSN level, when you apply to a Doctor of Nursing Practice program, you’ll select a specialty that’s aligned with your career goals. (MSN-entry DNP students have already earned their specialty during their master’s education.) You may also have the option to select a traditionally paced or accelerated program. Depending on the university, you may be able to choose:
#1 One of four advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) roles:1
- Certified nurse practitioner
- Clinical nurse specialist
- Certified nurse midwife
- Certified registered nurse anesthetist
#2 Clinical specialization in one or more patient populations:
- Family/individual across the lifespan
- Adult Gerontology
- Psychiatric mental health
- Women’s health
#3 Non-clinical areas of study such as executive and organizational leadership:
- Nurse Executive
- Nurse manager
- Nursing informatics
- Nursing Education
- Healthcare policy
Note that the phrase “Nursing Practice” in the degree name does not imply that the student becomes a nurse practitioner (NP), though this is typically one of multiple options. It’s also possible to become an NP with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.
What Do You Study?
- Evidence-based advanced nursing practices
- Nursing informatics (data and technology)
- Epidemiology and clinical infection prevention
- Quality improvement and interprofessional collaboration in nursing care
- Nursing curriculum development
However, all DNP programs must include eight course essentials, as set by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN):3
- Scientific Underpinnings for Practice
- Organizational and Systems Leadership for Quality Improvement and Systems Thinking
- Clinical Scholarship and Analytical Methods for Evidence-Based Practice
- Information Systems/Technology and Patient Care Technology for the Improvement and Transformation of Health Care
- Health Care Policy for Advocacy in Health Care
- Interprofessional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes
- Clinical Prevention and Population Health for Improving the Nation’s Health
- Advanced Nursing Practice
When Do You Get a DNP?
A DNP is the last step for degree-granting practical nursing education. It fits into the traditional nursing education hierarchy as follows:
- Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
- Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
- Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
Note that it’s not necessary (or customary) to obtain all four of these degrees. You typically need either an ADN or a BSN to become a registered nurse (RN), and either an MSN or a DNP to become a licensed nurse practitioner (NP) or a nurse executive.4 Many nursing graduate programs require a BSN for entry, rather than an ADN, but some offer an RN to MSN bridge program.
Earning a PhD is also an option for those who wish to focus on research or serve as academic faculty and administrators at the highest level.
So what are the main differences between an MSN vs. DNP? An NP who holds a DNP may have a career advantage over an NP with an MSN, since a DNP is the highest nursing practice degree program.
How Much Does a DNP Degree Cost?
Your cost will vary widely based on:
- Tuition rates at the school you choose
- Program specialization
- Whether you’re starting from an MSN, a BSN, or an RN
- Financial aid, tuition reimbursement, or scholarships granted
What Are the Admission Requirements for a DNP Degree?
Nursing practice program requirements vary significantly depending on your previous education. They can sometimes be quite flexible, allowing students to start from one of the following launching pads:
- MSN degree
- BSN degree
- ADN degree + RN license (this option will include catch-up BSN prerequisite coursework)
In addition to official transcripts of the nursing degree(s) you currently hold, you will most likely need:5
- An active, unencumbered RN license
- A GPA of 3.0 or above in past degree(s)
- GRE test scores
- A personal statement
- A Resume
- Contacts for or letters of recommendation
Is a DNP Degree Worth It?
Holding a DNP can open up new possibilities for both professional and financial growth.6 Beyond that, a DNP graduate may influence organizational policy, train and lead teams, connect research with practice, and even play a role in leading the future of the nursing profession.
Although the investment of time and the return of expertise and opportunity can’t be exactly calculated, let’s compare a Doctor of Nursing Practice salary with other nursing incomes.
If you’re a nurse practitioner, your average salary will likely increase with a DNP degree.6
Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses make a median salary of $77,600 a year,7 while nursing jobs that require higher education, such as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, make a median annual wage of $123,780.8
A DNP boosts your credentials, opens more career doors, and offers the potential for a higher salary. Countless graduates have found the DNP to be worth it!
USAHS Nursing Programs
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program and Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates designed for working nurses. Our nursing degrees are offered online, with hands-on elements depending on the program and role specialty. The MSN has several options to accelerate your time to degree completion. Earn your advanced nursing degree while keeping your work and life in balance.
Visit us online to see program details, request information, or get started on an application.
- Anna Giorgi, “Explore a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree,” All Nursing Schools, https://www.allnursingschools.com/dnp/
- NurseJournal Staff, “Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree Overview,” NurseJournal, last modified September 2022, https://nursejournal.org/degrees/dnp/
- “The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice,” American Association of Colleges of Nursing, last modified October 2006, https://www.aacnnursing.org/Portals/42/Publications/DNPEssentials.pdf
- “What’s a Nurse Practitioner (NP)?,” American Association of Nurse Practitioners, https://www.aanp.org/about/all-about-nps/whats-a-nurse-practitioner
- “DNP Degree Overview,” NurseJournal, last modified November 2022, https://nursejournal.org/degrees/dnp/
- “Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Salary for 2022,” Nursingprocess.org, https://www.nursingprocess.org/dnp-salary/
- ”Registered Nurses,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
- “Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm