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Ask a Nurse: MSN Nurse Practitioner Programs Are Changing to DNP Programs by 2025. What Does This Mean for Me?

NurseJournal Staff
Updated March 22, 2023
    Many NP programs are changing to the DNP degree by 2025. Discover how this move will impact nurses.
    Credit: sturti / E+ / Getty Images

    In our Ask a Nurse series, experienced nurses provide an insider look at the nursing profession by answering your questions about nursing careers, degrees, and resources.

    Question: Hello! I have heard a lot about MSN programs possibly phasing out and becoming DNP programs by 2025. As someone who graduates in 2024 and is looking to pursue a career as an NP, what does this mean for me?

    Nursing is one of the few professions where doctoral-level education is not required. In other words, a terminal nursing degree is not required to become a nurse practitioner (NP).

    In 2018, The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) released a position statement in which they committed to moving entry-level NP education to the doctor of nursing practice (DNP) by 2025.

    This is the second time this position was reached by a nursing organization. In 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing committed to moving entry-level education for an NP to the doctoral level by 2018. However, at the time, there was not enough support.

    In 2006 there were fewer than 50 DNP programs in the U.S. Since then, this number has grown to 407 that are enrolling students, with another 106 in the planning stages. Many universities have already transitioned to a DNP program, having eliminated the MSN nurse practitioner programs.

    How Does the Move Affect MSN Students and Graduates?

    The move to a DNP as the entry-level degree for an NP will impact nurses differently and depend on many factors. So far, no state has announced that the licensure requirement will change. It should be anticipated, however, that individual states will likely require a DNP for all new NPs at some point. Some states may act sooner than others.

    Nurses who want to become an NP and are just entering school in 2022 could strongly consider a DNP program. Even if you graduate before 2025, and could get your state licensure, it is unknown how individual states will address the issue after 2025.

    For example, your state may require a DNP for your NP license the first time but may be willing to renew the license of all MSN-prepared NPs until they retire. Or they may require all MSN-prepared NPs to earn a DNP within 10 years, in much the same way New York passed the “BSN in 10” law.

    Each state determines the entry-level education needed for an NP license. This will have a significant impact on a nurse practitioner’s practice if they decide to move states. So, while your home state may not require you to earn a DNP, it could limit your ability to move and practice.

    Nurses with an MSN can pursue a DNP in an online or in-person nursing program through an NP-to-DNP program that addresses the needs of working students. The programs typically take 12-24 months and require up to 43 credit hours and 500 clinical hours, as long as the student has 500 clinical hours from their MSN.

    A DNP program can take 3-4 years of full-time study if the student enters with a BSN. The program can require up to 95 credit hours and 1,000 clinical hours. At completion, the program may award an MSN and a DNP or just the DNP. Schools may no longer offer a dual MSN-DNP degree if the state requires a DNP for an NP license.

    It may be more cost-effective and time-efficient for an MSN student to complete their degree and then enroll in an NP-to-DNP program. This offers the student more time to complete the program and to work while attending part time.

    It’s highly unlikely, given the current nursing shortage, that a state will require all MSN-prepared practicing NPs to hold a DNP within a very short period of time. But it can be anticipated that all states will move toward all NPs holding a DNP.

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    Support for the Move to DNP-Prepared NPs

    Before releasing the 2018 position statement, the NONPF convened a summit in December 2017 of nearly 20 national organizations to critically discuss changing the entry-level education for an NP to DNP by 2025.

    Not all organizations agreed the move was wise, but they did agree to stay actively engaged in conversation. The NONPF has committed to working with all the DNP summit participants as they resolve their differences.

    For example, the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN) released a position statement in October 2018. While they agree the DNP should be the terminal degree in nursing, and not a doctor of philosophy in nursing, they do not agree it should be the entry-level education for practicing NPs.

    In the position statement, NANN points to several studies demonstrating that MSN-prepared NPs have the ability and skill to provide care that is at least equal to, and sometimes exceeds, that of physicians.

    The doctoral program builds on the clinical and didactic skill set of an MSN nurse practitioner program, adding organizational leadership, quality improvement, and a focus on global healthcare integration. This may attract nurses whose interests lie away from the bedside.

    Their strongest argument is the lack of evidence that a move to DNP-prepared NPs will make a difference in patient care. However, the additional education will extend the time to become an NP, lower the number of applicants, increase the cost, and potentially contribute to the growing shortage of nurses and advanced practice registered nurses.

    Where You Practice and Where You Get Your Degree

    Until every state requires a DNP for NP licensure, there are certain factors you must consider if you are an MSN-prepared NP. The first consideration is how quickly you want to complete your DNP.

    Most states will likely give about 10 years to complete a DNP for MSN-prepared NPs. This allows practicing NPs to complete their programs part time while continuing to work.

    If you want to practice in a certain state, what matters is not where you graduate but where you become licensed and certified. For example, an MSN-prepared NP living in Indiana can enroll in an online NP-to-DNP program based in California, as long as it meets the necessary accreditation requirements. The DNP graduate can then become licensed and certified in Indiana.

    States that do not have full-practice authority may be more willing to reconsider restricted- and reduced-practice positions as more NPs are DNP-prepared. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners monitors the limits on advanced practice authority in each state.

    To date, over 50% of states have full-practice authority, which allows an NP to practice under their license without a collaborative agreement with a physician. Twelve states operate under a reduced-practice license, in which the law requires a collaborative agreement with a practicing physician.

    In the final 11 states, NPs operate under a restricted-practice license. There must be career-long supervision and team management by a physician. Practice authority must be one of the determining factors when NPs consider where they may live and practice.

    The recommended move toward a DNP by 2025 by the NONPF has not yet been taken up by the licensing boards at the state level. While this may be inevitable in the coming years, there are nursing organizations that are not convinced it is the best move for nurses and patients.

    In Summary:

    • The 2018 position statement from the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties calls for DNP preparation for all NPs by 2025.
    • A move to a DNP entry-level education will impact nurses differently, depending on a variety of factors, such as if they are students or graduates and the state where they live.
    • Each state determines the education level required for an NP license to practice; while a nurse’s home state may not require a DNP, it could limit the ability to move.
    • Nurses who want to become an NP could strongly consider entering a DNP program, which can take a full-time student up to four years to complete.
    • A second option is to complete an MSN program and enroll in an MSN-to-DNP program, which allows the student to work part time while finishing their DNP degree.