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Nursing & Health

What to expect from a DNP nursing program

Now that you’ve spent some time working as a nurse, you know there are a number of ways to enter the field. Some providers begin as certified nursing assistants (CNAs) or licensed practical nurses (LPNs) before earning a degree to become a registered nurse (RN).

Others may earn their RN credential right away and practice a few types of nursing specialties before choosing to focus on one. Many nurses eventually choose to advance further by earning a master’s degree or even a doctoral degree in the field.

No matter how you got to where you are in your own nursing journey, you’re starting to consider climbing the ladder. Perhaps you’ve been wondering about the true value of a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. This terminal degree can open doors to the leadership positions you may be interested in pursuing.

But because there are a few nursing doctoral degrees to choose from, it can be difficult to pinpoint which path is right for your career aspirations. Join us as we explore the origin of the DNP, discuss the job prospects that could await nurses with this credential and dig into the details of a typical DNP nursing program. You may discover the advanced career path you’ve been seeking.

Why was the DNP degree created?

The DNP was created in response to an influential report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that was released in 2001. It’s credited with identifying a notable gap between actual U.S. health care quality and what it could be. The report suggests closing the gap would require a transformation in the way America educates health care providers. A new advanced practice nursing degree path was created soon after.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) took IOM recommendations into account when creating The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice. This guide discusses the curricular elements that all accredited DNP programs must include. It aims to ensure graduates develop all the necessary competencies.

Prior to the DNP, most doctoral nursing paths were research-focused degrees — the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or the Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS). These types of programs teach students to develop evidence-based knowledge for the nursing profession. Graduates are qualified to lead research teams as well as design and implement medical studies.

Practice-focused doctoral nursing programs like the DNP were designed to fill the “quality chasm” by preparing graduates for the highest level of clinical nursing practice. Graduates are taught both clinical and leadership skills, which empowers them to lead interdisciplinary care teams, improve care systems and more.

What is a DNP nursing program like?

DNP degree programs build upon the nursing practice and skills that existing RNs and APRNs have already developed. Programs like the ones at University of Massachusetts Global use a technology-enriched educational approach to create advanced practice clinical nursing experts who are highly skilled in providing patient-centered, culturally appropriate care.

High-quality DNP programs focus on improving outcomes, innovating leadership and using evidence as a foundation of practice. DNP program curriculum should promote the eight learning outcomes identified by the AACN:

  • Scientific underpinnings for practice
  • Organizational and systems leadership
  • Clinical scholarship
  • Information systems and patient care technology
  • Health care policy
  • Interprofessional collaboration
  • Clinical prevention and population health
  • Advanced practice registered nursing

While the desired learning outcomes are always the same, not all nurses considering a DNP are coming from the same starting point. This is why programs like UMass Global’s offer a few different paths. Depending on where you are in your nursing career, there’s a different DNP program entry option that’s tailored for you.

How can registered nurses obtain a DNP?

Two of the four DNP entry options at University of Massachusetts Global are designed for RNs. BSN-qualified RNs who are looking to earn a doctoral degree and pursue the APRN credential can find what they’re seeking in the BSN to DNP program entry option.

RNs who have already earned a Master of Science Degree in Nursing (MSN) should seek out the MSN to DNP entry option. Both RN entry options can qualify graduates to transition into advanced practice as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner or a family/across the lifespan nurse practitioner.

How can nurse practitioners obtain a DNP?

MSN-qualified APRNs also have a few entry options for UMass Global’s DNP program. Nurses who are looking for a general DNP can apply directly through the Post Master’s DNP entry option.

The final entry option is for APRNs who, in the process of earning their DNP, are looking to add one of the two specialties mentioned above. Upon admittance into a specialty program, an individualized education plan will be developed for each student.

Is a DNP degree worth it?

In general, DNP programs prepare nurses to fulfill leadership positions in clinical settings. Roles can be in executive leadership, education, research, information systems or even public health advocacy. A DNP degree, while not always listed as required education, indicates to employers that you’re highly qualified for some of the more competitive nursing leadership positions. Also consider that an analysis of nursing job postings from the last year reveals that :


Nurses with a doctoral degree were eligible for about 50,000 more positions than those with a bachelor’s degree in the field.*

In addition to opening doors to leadership roles within nursing, a DNP may pave the way for a bump in salary. The annual APRN compensation reports from Medscape shows that the annual salary for nurse practitioners with a doctoral degree was four percent higher than those with a master’s degree in 2018.

A DNP could propel your career forward

If you’re eager to drive your career toward a leadership role, a DNP nursing program could take you there. And with a growing primary care provider shortage across the United States, qualified nurse practitioners will become increasingly in-demand.

If you’re interested in learning about the various ways a doctoral degree can take your nursing career to the next level, take the next step. To learn more about your DNP program options, visit University of Massachusetts Global’s School of Nursing & Health Professions page.


*Source: Burning-glass.com (analysis of 683,968 nursing jobs from Nov. 01 2018 – Oct. 31, 2019)

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