Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree Overview

Sherry Christiansen
Updated April 1, 2024
Edited by
Doctor of nursing practice programs confer the highest clinical degrees in nursing, leading to lucrative, high-level careers in the profession. Read on for details on careers, salaries, and education.
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Average Program Length

3-4 years

Average Credits Required

30-90 credits

Average Annual Salary


A doctor of nursing practice (DNP) offers the highest level of clinical nursing education and can create many new job opportunities for nurses. It takes 3-4 years to complete a DNP and an additional 30-90 credits (based on the program requirements and degree level you’ve achieved).

Nurses who pursue a DNP could earn an annual salary of $107,000 or more, according to Payscale data from July 2022. DNP specialties include nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse educator, nurse anesthetist, and nurse midwife.

Opportunities With an DNP

Earning a DNP offers many benefits for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), including:

  1. 1


    Those with a DNP can assume roles previously held by physicians, as our healthcare system changes.

  2. 2

    Higher Pay

    DNPs in clinical practice often come with higher pay rates and paths for advancement.

  3. 3


    A DNP is generally employed in a leadership role within large healthcare organizations or healthcare facilities.

  4. 4

    Advanced Skill Sets

    DNPs will learn skills for top leadership/organizational roles in nursing. The DNP curriculum emphasizes evidence-based practice, improvement of outcomes, and systems leadership.

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Featured DNP Specialties

As the highest level of clinical nursing education, DNP degrees prepare registered nurses (RNs) to pursue licensure and careers as APRNs. Students pursuing a DNP degree can choose from many lucrative career options.

The following section explores some of the top-paying APRN clinical practice and research paths.

information-circleCertified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists, also called certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), administer anesthesia and ensure patient safety before and during surgery. This includes local anesthesia and general anesthesia.


Job Outlook
13% increase from 2020-2030

information-circlePsychiatric Nurse Practitioner

These nurse practitioners work with psychiatrists in hospitals, mental health facilities, and in private practice to diagnose and treat patients suffering from mental illness and addiction.


Job Outlook
52% increase from 2020-2030

information-circleCertified Nurse Midwife

CNMs see patients and provide medical care through pregnancy, labor and delivery, and postpartum in hospitals and birthing centers. They also assist physicians with Cesarean births.


Job Outlook
11% increase from 2020-2030

information-circleClinical Nurse Specialist

These APRNs select a specialization in which to diagnose and treat patients, including geriatrics, critical care, oncology, and rehabilitation. They also help with preventing and managing conditions.


Job Outlook
45% increase from 2020-2030

information-circleNurse Educator

A nurse educator instructs and mentors students pursuing degrees at all levels of nursing education. They teach students the skills required to provide safe, effective nursing care both in the classroom and in clinical practice settings.


Job Outlook
22% increase from 2020-2030

How Much Will I Make With a DNP?

According to Payscale, the average annual salary for DNPs is $107,000, a monthly salary of $8,917 or an average hourly earning rate of $52.25 per hour. The average annual bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) salary is $89,000, and the average master of science in nursing (MSN) yearly salary is $98,000.

A DNP’s salary depends on factors, such as the area of practice, certification, experience level, and geographic location.

Annual Salary
Source:Payscale, July 2022

Monthly Salary
Source:Payscale, July 2022

Hourly Salary
Source:Payscale, July 2022

How to Earn a DNP

To earn a DNP, begin by deciding which type of program best fits your personal and financial needs. Review various schools and programs and identify those that meet your personal and professional goals. Look for accredited programs that offer your specialty focus and meet your other needs, such as length and cost.

After identifying potential programs, be sure you qualify by meeting prerequisites (e.g., school transcripts and minimum GPA, RN licensure, GRE test scores, letters of recommendation and other requirements). Most programs offer an online application process.

Once you are accepted into a program, secure financing by exploring options for grants, financial aid, scholarships, or loans. Finally, complete all course requirements. Note that coursework can be done online, but clinical practicum hours must be obtained in person.

Types of DNP Programs

There are several types of DNP programs. Selecting the best program for you depends on your personal circumstances, such as time restraints, financial budget, and current level of education.

  • RN-to-DNP Programs

    Allow nurses who do not yet have a master’s degree to earn a 65-95 credit-hour DNP in 4-6 years
  • BSN-to-DNP Programs

    Bridge programs that allow BSN graduates to receive their DNP in 3-4 years
  • MSN-to-DNP Programs

    33-43 credit hour programs with at least 500 clinical practice hours
  • Online DNP Programs

    Hybrid programs that allow nurses to complete coursework online and fulfill clinical practicum requirements in person

Admission Requirements for a DNP Program

DNP students should expect to spend 3-4 years of full-time study. Part-time learners may take longer, but most programs allow 6-7 years for completion.

While admission criteria vary by program, nursing schools typically require:

  1. 1

    Prerequisite Credits

    Each applicant must hold a bachelor of science in nursing with coursework in nursing research and statistics.

  2. 2


    Candidates submit official transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate work.

  3. 3

    Application Materials

    Most programs require personal statements, resumes, and three letters of recommendation.

  4. 4


    A DNP applicant must hold an active, unencumbered RN license.

  5. 5


    DNP programs commonly require a minimum 3.0 GPA.

  6. 6

    Test Scores

    Most nursing schools require GRE scores.

Core Concepts of a DNP Program

Core concepts of DNP programs include evidence-based advanced nursing practice, healthcare policy, ethics and advocacy, leadership/management, and quality improvement in nursing care.

The DNP curricula may vary by school, concentration, and state licensure requirements. Examples of common DNP courses include nursing curriculum development; epidemiology and clinical prevention; and healthcare politics, ethics, and advocacy for nurses.

Clinical and Lab Components in an DNP Program

Nurses gain opportunities to enhance professional role development in advanced nursing practice by participating in supervised clinical settings. DNP programs concentrate on the latest evidence-based best practices to improve outcomes and increase safety and quality of nursing care in the student’s particular area of nursing specialization. Clinical practicums can take place in a variety of settings, including community centers, health departments, clinics, and hospitals.

In clinical settings, students learn to provide leadership for multidisciplinary teams, apply theoretical knowledge to nursing practice that improves outcomes, and develop and test new evidenced-based models of nursing care.

What to Expect From an Online DNP Program

Online DNP degree programs often include asynchronous or synchronous coursework and on-site experiential learning. Asynchronous course delivery allows students to access their course materials and recorded lectures on their own schedules. Synchronous classes mimic the on-campus experience through live, interactive webcasts. Hybrid programs combine virtual class formats with on-campus instruction.

Online students can interact with their classmates and professors through discussion boards and synchronous sessions. On-campus orientations or immersions typically occur, particularly in cohort-based programs.

Distance learners can often complete their on-site clinical hours at their current workplaces or healthcare facilities in their home communities.

Should I Get a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree?

Deciding whether or not you should get a DNP requires much consideration. Can you make a full-time commitment to your educational pursuits? If not, is there a part-time or online program that meets your needs?

Earning a DNP is not the best choice for every nurse, as it takes considerable time and financial commitment. There are some career paths, such as certain nurse practitioner specialties, that may be equally suited to earning an MSN.

Keep in mind that the AACN proposes the minimum education level for APRNs to be elevated from an MSN to a DNP. This could result in requirements changing in the future so that nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists must hold a DNP.

Nurses should consider their specific career goals, time availability, and their personal and family obligations when considering pursuing a DNP.

What’s the Difference Between a DNP and a Nursing Ph.D.?

DNP and Nursing Ph.D. Comparisons
DNPNursing Ph.D.
The DNP emphasizes higher-level skills in the practice of nursing. DNPs strive to improve patient outcomes.The Ph.D. in nursing is focused on scholarly inquiry and research. A Ph.D. seeks to enlarge and further the body of nursing knowledge.
The curriculum in a DNP program centers on leadership in healthcare, evidence-based practice decisions, and advanced specialty practice nursing. Coursework covers statistics, clinical diagnosis and disease management, budget planning and admin, healthcare policy, and the transformation of our healthcare system.Nursing Ph.D. students study illness trajectories and the care systems we use to treat them. Ph.D. in nursing coursework includes advanced theory, research methodology, data analysis, chronic illness issues, and care systems.
Teaching is optional for DNP students. A DNP candidate, however, must complete up to 1,000 clinical hours of practical experience requirements.Teaching is required for a nursing Ph.D., but these students do not need to participate in clinical components.
The DNP requires students to complete capstone projects. Many schools offer DNP programs online, allowing working nurses to maintain their employment.Nursing Ph.D. candidates are expected to complete senior thesis projects. These programs generally take place in traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms and typically do not suit working students.
DNP degree-holders generally find employment in leadership in large healthcare organizations or healthcare facilities. Other roles include expert clinicians or academic positions that emphasize clinical practice and education.Ph.D. degree-holders most commonly move into academic, tenure-track positions or serve in management roles conducting research.

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