The 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 degrees provide training specifically designed for application to the clinical environment.

Doctor of nursing practice recipients can use their degrees to take on leadership roles in a wide range of health care settings. Their experience empowers them to apply reputable research findings in specialized and innovative ways. At the same time, DNP training equips degree-holders to perform crucial logistical functions and assessments to optimize nearly every facet of the health care 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 & Health Studies’ (NHS) 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 months. Students will grow as leaders under the guidance of NHS faculty, who are active nursing practitioners. 

  • 30 credits
  • Complete in 20 months
  • CCNE Accredited


A DNP degree is a natural career advancement step for a Registered Nurse (RN) with either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree or a Master of Science Nursing (MSN) degree and a desire to become a specialized Nurse Practitioner (NP) or an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN).

The DNP Online Program Experience

Completing a DNP program experience online may be a good option for many practicing nurses that already possess an MSN degree. The flexibility of the online doctoral coursework is a good fit for those who do not wish to or cannot afford to leave their positions to attend school full-time.

Multiple options exist for students interested in pursuing their doctor of nursing practice: a BSN to DNP track for those looking to enter into a doctoral program directly following their bachelors degree and an MSN to DNP track for masters of nursing students. The BSN to DNP track is, naturally, lengthier and more intensive but can be a great option for those with their minds set on becoming a practicing DNP. Ever wondered what the differences between Nurse Practitioner and Doctor of Nursing Practice are? Learn more about NP vs DNP!

Regardless of the amount of coursework required to earn a DNP online, these types of distance-learning programs offer a portability and versatility that allow students to engage with coursework on the go whenever the opportunity arises to do so. The combination of an internet connection and 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 software and hardware issues

Online DNP Program Admissions Requirements

DNP candidates typically enter these post-baccalaureate programs already possessing a wide range of prior professional and educational credentials. Schools may account for this by typically setting admission requirements at a level that makes the program completion both practical and feasible.

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

Similarly, some schools are more willing to accept existing post-baccalaureate credit and clinical experiences than others are. If you are looking for an DNP program online and already hold an MSN, this is a crucial consideration. Choosing a program that accepts your prior efforts can save you both time and money!

Despite these discrepancies, many of the specifics surrounding entrance into a DNP program ultimately stem from the base-level expectations set by the national nursing licensing boards:

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

Online DNP Program Curriculum

Online DNP programs feature a blend of content from across the nursing profession. 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 matters like organization, financial management, and the other various logistical components of the health care business.

DNP degrees are commonly paired with one or more Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) and/or Nurse Practitioner (NP) specialties such as:

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

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

It is worth reiterating that a DNP program leads to a doctorate 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 vs FNP Programs

The major difference between DNP and FNP programs is the end result. DNP programs result in a doctoral degree while FNP programs result in a master’s degree. Both programs are popular pathways to career advancement in the nursing field; in fact, they are often obtained in sequence. Many RNs will start with a FNP program as a pathway to a MSN degree and then work towards a doctoral degree through a DNP 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 (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

Doctor of Nursing Practice Career Outlook

From 2018 to 2028, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a strong 26% growth-rate for Nurse Practitioners and similar careers requiring a minimum of an MSN degree. This is more than double the projected growth rate for RNs over the same span.

Also according to the BLS, as of May 2019, NPs with MSN degrees earned median annual wages averaging $115,800. Specialists like nurse anesthetists (which requires a DNP degree) earned median annual salaries of $174,790.

Finding the Best Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Program For You

In searching for the best online DNP programs across the United States, it’s important to take into account 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. An MSN to DNP program offers a track that includes masters coursework completed prior to doctorate coursework, while a BSN to DNP program features a curriculum that combines bachelors, masters, and doctoral courses.

Online DNP Programs to Consider

We’ve compiled a list of the online DNP programs across the United States along with degree and program requirement information. An important component to any online degree program is their ability to provide top tier clinical placements as well as great online coursework. Comprehensive DNP online programs will include placements on high-level clinical facilities in order to best prepare you for your career. Explore each program thoroughly to find out which will be the best suited DNP program online for you!

Last Updated May 2020