The 2022 Guide to Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree is a doctoral program focusing on medical practice rather than medical research. Unlike traditional, research-based PhD degrees, DNP degree programs provide training specifically designed for application to the clinical environment. The highest level of education attainable in practice-focused nursing, the DNP degree may be a good fit for nurses who want to stay involved in patient care. And with it, you may pursue leadership opportunities and contribute to positive healthcare outcomes.

Doctor of Nursing Practice recipients are prepared to assume leadership roles in a wide range of healthcare settings. Their experience empowers them to apply reputable research findings in specialized and innovative ways. At the same time, doctorate in nursing practice training equips degree holders to perform logistical functions and assessments to optimize various facets of the healthcare process—from policy to practice to management.

Jumpstart Your Career in Nursing, Explore Online DNP Programs:

Simmons’ Leadership-Focused DNP Program for APRNs

APRNs, earn your Doctor of Nursing Practice online from Simmons School of Nursing. Become a leader in your field and improve health care through evidence-based research. Master of Science in Nursing and RN license required.

  • Renowned faculty members who are recognized experts and continue to work as clinical practitioners.
  • Engaging online classes with intimate class sizes.
  • Learning experiences that provide opportunities for real-world application through case studies and clinical placements.


Georgetown University’s Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Georgetown University School of Nursing (GUSON) online Post-Master’s DNP program prepares APRNs to improve outcomes in clinical settings and implement systems-level change. The 30-credit curriculum can be completed part time in 20 mos.

  • 30 credits
  • Complete in 20 months
  • CCNE Accredited


Depending on your personal goals and previous experience, a DNP degree may be a step toward career advancement. Registered nurses (RNs) with either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and a desire to become a specialized nurse practitioner (NP) or an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) might consider the DNP degree.

Can You Earn a DNP Online?

If you’re wondering if you can earn a DNP degree from the comfort of your home, the answer is yes! Completing a DNP program online may be a good option for full-time nurses who already possess an MSN degree, as well as those with a bachelor’s degree who want to jump right into a DNP program but prefer to not be tied to a physical campus for coursework.

There are two common pathways to earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice. Here is some information about each track:

BSN to DNP: This is a suitable option for individuals interested in entering a doctoral program once they have earned a bachelor’s degree. This track, typically, is lengthier and more intensive than the one for students with a master’s degree. Still, it may be a viable option for students who know the career they want to pursue early on.

MSN to DNP: These programs are designed for students who already have a Master of Science in Nursing. Most post-master’s DNP programs will take one to two years of full-time study to complete. For students who choose to pursue the degree on a part-time basis, it will typically take two to three years to complete. MSN to DNP credit requirements and clinical placement options differ from program to program, so be sure to look out for those details as you pick a program.

Regardless of the amount of coursework required to earn a DNP online, these types of distance-learning programs offer portability and versatility that allow students to engage with coursework on-the-go whenever the opportunity arises to do so. The combination of a stable internet connection and a compatible device puts learning at students’ fingertips.

 Students can expect online DNP programs to include:

  • A cloud-based digital hub for accessing and submitting course content
  • Multimedia-infused learning materials
  • Embedded communication and collaboration opportunities for student-professor and student-student interaction
  • Tech support services to prevent and solve any software and hardware issues that may arise

Online DNP Program Admissions Requirements 

DNP candidates typically enter these post-baccalaureate programs already possessing a wide range of professional and educational credentials. Schools typically set admissions requirements at a level that makes the program completion both practical and feasible.

You may be wondering: “Can you get a DNP without a master’s degree?” Fortunately, there are program options that do not require a master’s for admission—students with a bachelor’s in nursing or bachelor’s in another field may qualify. And just like the MSN or DNP degree, some bachelor’s programs can be completed online. Some students, however, do complete an MSN program prior to pursuing the doctoral degree.

When researching online DNP programs, be aware that schools often require certain prerequisite coursework and/or work experience for entrance, in addition to minimum degree requirements. These requirements can vary from school to school or even from program to program within the same school.

Similarly, some schools may be more willing to accept existing post-baccalaureate credit and clinical experiences than others are. This is something to keep in mind if you are looking for a DNP program online and already hold an MSN. Choosing a program that accepts your prior efforts may save you both time and money.

And speaking of money, you may be wondering: “How much does a DNP program cost?” or where to find the most affordable DNP programs online. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), there are currently 357 DNP programs available across the country, with another 106 in the planning stages. Like other nursing degrees, the cost of DNP programs varies widely—costing thousands of dollars. This makes it hard to determine the average cost of online DNP programs. Carefully consider your budget and available scholarship and grants as you make a decision.

Despite the differences in price and admissions requirements, some of the specifics surrounding entrance into a DNP program generally include:

  • A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and/or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree from an accredited university or college
  • Active registered nurse’s license in good standing
  • Minimum amount of work experience as a registered nurse (amount varies by institution)

Keep in mind that online DNP programs, like MSN programs, often require in-person clinical hours or training focused on a specialization. According to the AACN, all DNP students (including those in post-master’s programs), are expected to complete a minimum of 1,000 post-baccalaureate practice hours. When it comes to post-master’s DNP programs, each school is responsible for setting the number of graduate clinical hours a candidate should have upon entering the program and how many additional hours are needed to achieve the 1,000 clinical hour minimum. 

This ensures that when the degree is complete, graduates have the experience necessary to obtain licensure and work in their chosen fields. The hands-on experiences cannot be replaced by online distance learning.

Online DNP Curriculum and Specializations

Online DNP programs may feature a blend of content from across the nursing profession. Some may offer DNP concentrations, such as health policy or pediatric care. 

There are opportunities for nurses to advance their clinical practices in areas including diagnostics, treatment and techniques. Additionally, DNP students receive training in non-clinical areas like organization, financial management and other various logistical components of the healthcare business. DNP degrees may be paired with one or more APRN and/or NP specialties like the ones we’ve listed below: 

  • Acute care (ACNP)
  • Adult care (ANP)
  • Cardiology
  • Dermatology
  • Gerontology (A-GNP)
  • Family care (FNP)
  • Nephrology
  • Oncology
  • Orthopedics
  • Pediatric care (PNP)
  • Psychiatric and mental healthcare (PMHNP)
  • Pulmonology

DNP requirements vary from program to program, and candidates come from different backgrounds. Some DNP applicants may decide to complete short courses online that align with their interests prior to entering a DNP program. Others find that the NP field experience they’ve accumulated through the years may help as they apply to their desired DNP program. 

These specialties each require their own additional coursework and/or DNP clinical hours to be eligible for certification in the given discipline. 

Although the majority of the coursework is online in an online DNP program, there are some skills that require in-person experience, such as learning how to safely deliver patient care and the hands-on skills you’ll end up using every day.  To develop those skills, students in the online DNP program will need to obtain a DNP clinical placement. You may collaborate with a clinical placement coordinator in your program to find a clinical site and preceptor for clinical rotations.  

So, exactly how long is an online DNP program? Online DNP programs can typically range from 18 months to about four years, depending on whether students are entering with a bachelor’s or master’s degree, how much professional experience they possess, whether they are attending full or part time, what type of concentrations they are pursuing and whether the school offers summer sessions.

It is worth reiterating that a DNP program leads to a doctoral degree in nursing sciences, not any particular nursing certificate. Upon completing an online DNP program, nurses must still complete testing and application requirements through the appropriate credentialing organization. As such, many schools include preparation for these tests as part of their DNP curricula. DNP programs may help nurses prepare for licensure as an APRN; in fact, the DNP can be considered as a pathway to APRN licensure for those with a BSN or otherwise.

DNP vs. FNP Programs

The major difference between a Doctor of Nursing Practice and a Family Nurse Practitioner program is the end result. DNP programs result in a doctoral degree, the highest degree in the field, while FNP programs result in a graduate-level degree focused on just family nurse practitioner care. Still, it’s important to note that there are DNP-FNP programs available to those who are interested in that option.

An FNP specializes in family care and is a type of advanced practice registered nurse. They may act as a primary care provider, often working alongside or in place of a doctor. They help diagnose, treat and manage a range of illnesses and often work with patients over an extended period of time.

In contrast, someone with a DNP may specialize in one of several types of patient populations, including gerontology, oncology, psychiatric health and pediatrics. Others work in areas such as informatics, healthcare policy and specialties that focus on aggregates, like populations, systems, organizations, and state and national policies. DNP-prepared nurses are well-equipped to fully implement the science developed by nurse researchers prepared in PhD, Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS) and other research-focused nursing doctorates. 

Others assume leadership roles in emergency departments, hospitals and clinics, as well as in medical research and academia. However, some DNPs choose to leverage their expertise as an FNP because they’ve completed a DNP-FNP degree program. The curriculum for both the DNP and FNP programs prepares candidates to take on the aforementioned responsibilities. Both programs are also common pathways to career advancement in the nursing field. In fact, they are often obtained in sequence. In most states, the MSN is the minimum education requirement for APRN licensure. But that may change in a few years. In a 2018 statement from the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (PDF, 410 KB), the organization announced its commitment to moving entry-level NP programs to the DNP degree level by 2025. Still, BSN to DNP applicants may seek to become an FNP by completing a DNP-FNP program. 

Degree ComponentsDNP DegreeFNP Degree
Doctor of Nursing Practice: a post-BSN medical practice degree. The terminal degree in the field of nursing.
Family Nurse Practitioner: a nursing certificate that can be pursued in conjunction with a MSN degree. Candidates for FNP programs must possess a minimum of an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN).
Typical Clinical Hour Requirements
1,000 hours of supervised, clinical, post-baccalaureate experience (500 of which can typically be applied from prior post-baccalaureate studies)
A minimum of 500 hours of faculty-supervised clinical experience (PDF, 896 KB) (varies by school – many require 650 or more hours)
Typical Time to Complete
MSN to DNP path:
1-2 years full-time
2-3+ years part-time

BSN to DNP path:
3-4 years full-time
4-7+ years part-time

Note: certain DNP specializations may require additional coursework to complete.
BSN to FNP/MSN path:
2 years full-time
3-4+ years part-time

RN/ADN to FNP path:
3-5 years full-time
5+ years part-time
Required Coursework
MSN to DNP path:
About 33-43 credits of doctoral-level coursework

BSN to DNP path:
About 65-95 credits of combined MSN and DNP coursework
BSN to FNP/MSN path:
About 20-25 credits of core FNP coursework
20-35 credits in specialization area

RN/ADN to FNP path:
About 70-90 credits of BSN and FNP coursework

What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Nursing Practice?

With a doctoral degree in nursing practice, nurses may find a number of DNP jobs open to them. These DNP career options may include hands-on, patient-centered roles in specialties ranging from acute care to psychiatric medicine. 

Can a DNP write prescriptions? In some states, nurse practitioners (including those who hold a DNP) can write prescriptions like their MD counterparts (PDF, 297 KB)

Career opportunities for DNP graduates may also be available in the areas of research and policy. Alternatively, you may choose to pursue leadership positions within hospitals, managed care organizations and government entities. Following are the main career areas for nurses who hold a DNP.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Jobs

APRNs are on the front lines of patient care. An MSN is the minimum requirement for APRNs, but DNP candidates can still pursue this path if they’re interested. There are four types of APRNs:

  • Nurse practitioners: NPs provide primary, acute and specialty healthcare across the life span through assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of illnesses and injuries. They provide initial, ongoing and comprehensive care to patients in family practice, pediatrics, internal medicine, geriatrics and women’s health.
  • Certified nurse-midwives: CNMs provide primary, gynecological and reproductive healthcare. They may attend to births and provide prenatal and postpartum care to mothers in settings like birth centers, private homes and specialty hospitals.
  • Clinical nurse specialists: These nursing professionals diagnose and treat diseases and oversee ongoing management of patient care, usually within one patient population. 
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetists: Certified nurse anesthetists administer general, regional and local anesthesia, working alongside healthcare teams in surgery, trauma stabilization and more.

With DNP preparation, these APRNs are prepared to address complex issues among patients and healthcare systems. DNP-prepared nurses may assume roles focusing on leadership, nursing informatics, public health, knowledge translation, application of implementation science, application of improvement science and quality improvement. 

Healthcare Executive Jobs

For nurses who wish to land executive-level positions, a DNP may help them qualify for leadership roles within hospitals, integrated healthcare organizations and governmental agencies. Positions might include chief executive officer, chief operating officer and vice president for patient care.

DNP nurses in administration and executive leadership positions have the ability to promote innovative approaches to problems, explore efficient and groundbreaking technologies, oversee patient safety and satisfaction, and control medical costs. Serving in executive jobs may allow nurses with a DNP to make decisions that affect not only the current operations of the organization but also its delivery of healthcare in the future.

Clinical Researcher Jobs

Individuals interested in exploring the clinical and research side of medicine may gain valuable expertise in a DNP program that includes courses such as Evidence-Based Practice and Statistics in Health Science.

Nurse researchers accumulate data and use it to understand different health-related issues. Then, they work to develop specific programs, initiatives and activities that promote better public or private health. They can work in hospitals, universities and medical schools, public health organizations and private biomedical companies.

Non-Clinical DNP Jobs

DNP-trained professionals interested in using their expertise and education in non-clinical settings may pursue positions like educators, health policy specialists and public health program directors.

DNP programs offer specialty tracks in which students can focus on areas such as clinical nursing education, nursing/health informatics, health policy, and organizational and professional leadership.

Overall, the professional positions available to DNP graduates may offer responsibility and variety.

DNP Salary and Career Outlook

Before committing to a DNP program, you may want to take some time to research earning potential for DNP positions and ask yourself: “Is it worth it to get a DNP?” 

The median annual wage for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners was $123,780 in May 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS also reported that nurse anesthetists were among the highest-paid U.S. occupations in 2021, with a median annual salary of $195,610. 

Overall employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners is projected to grow 45% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations. Growth will occur primarily because of an increased emphasis on preventive care and demand for healthcare services for an aging population. Employment growth will vary by location and as a result of other factors.

Find the Best Online Doctor of Nursing Practice Program for You

In searching for the best online DNP program for you, it’s important to consider the specific type of degree being offered, the clinical hours the program requires of its students and the credit requirements necessary to complete the program.

Perhaps you’re wondering about transition programs. Just as there is an RN to MSN transition program, there are transitional programs into the DNP, such as an MSN to DNP program and a BSN to DNP program. BSN to DNP programs feature a curriculum that combines bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral courses. There is also the accelerated Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

Some schools offer accelerated DNP programs online. They often are composed of fewer credits than a regular DNP program and are designed to allow students to complete the program quickly. However, the accelerated program still provides rigorous courses that may help to prepare graduates for leadership roles in health systems, healthcare policy and translational research. 

Discover the Best Accredited DNP Online Programs for You

To help you in your search, we’ve compiled a list of online CCNE Accredited DNP programs across the United States, along with degree and program requirement information. An important component to online degree programs is access to top-tier clinical placements. Comprehensive DNP online programs will include placements at clinical facilities in order to best prepare you for your career. Explore each program thoroughly to find out which will be the best-suited online DNP program for you.

Last Updated May 2022.