The Best California DNP Programs

June 3, 2020 | Staff Writers

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Nurses who graduate from DNP programs in California qualify to serve in the profession’s upper echelons. Whether working in a neonatal care unit, assisted living facility, or hospital wing focused on acute care, nurse practitioners with DNP credentials can take on well-paying leadership roles in a variety of settings.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse practitioners earned a median annual wage of $109,820 in 2018. Local, state, and private hospitals tend to offer the highest salaries, while educational services pay the lowest wages. BLS projections indicate a 26% job growth rate for nurse practitioners between 2018 and 2028, leading to the creation of 53,300 new jobs across the nation.

Top 5 California DNP Programs, in Alphabetical Order
School Location
Brandman University Irvine, CA
California Baptist University Riverside, CA
California State University-Fresno Fresno, CA
California State University-Fullerton Fullerton, CA
Loma Linda University Loma Linda, CA
Read about our ranking methodology here.

What to Expect From a DNP Program in California

DNP programs in California build on topics previously covered in ADN, BSN, and MSN programs. They introduce advanced concepts in areas like quality improvement and patient safety, epidemiology and population health, healthcare economics and finance, and management of organizations and systems. Program length varies according to the student’s educational background, with most requiring 3-6 years of study. In addition to required coursework, candidates must complete at least 1,000 clinical hours and a final project.

Learners who complete DNP programs in California can pursue jobs, such as nurse practitioner, nurse educator, clinical researcher, and healthcare executive, among others. Most graduates take on professional, academic, or research roles.

Licensing requirements vary by state and the candidate’s intended specialty area. Students should contact their state nursing board to learn more about obtaining licensure. Most require certification/licensure examinations and proof of an unencumbered RN license.

The Best California DNP Programs 2020

  • Brandman University
    Location

    Irvine, CA

    Based in Irvine, Brandman offers a doctor in nursing practice with an emphasis on psychiatric mental health. This BSN-to-DNP program in California produces graduates with the proficiency and experience to provide effective services to individuals, groups, and families. Although students complete most coursework primarily online, immersive sessions take place at the Irvine campus each semester.

    Training areas covered include emergency psychiatric services, treatment plans, and psychosocial and physical assessments. Core coursework includes biostatistics for clinical practice, healthcare policy, health communication, and genetics across the lifespan. The mental health specialization covers psychopharmacology and management in mental healthcare. Most students complete this DNP program in 36 months.

    Prospective students must hold an unrestricted RN license in the state where the practicum takes place. Applicants must also submit GRE scores to receive consideration for admission into this DNP program in California.

  • California Baptist University
    Location

    Riverside, CA

    Based in Riverside, CBU seeks to prepare its nursing graduates for leadership roles. The school's interdisciplinary MSN-to-DNP program focuses on clinical practice. Fully accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, this part-time DNP program in California takes approximately two years to complete. Degree-seekers complete the coursework mostly online, with some mandatory on-campus attendance.

    As a Baptist university, CBU integrates theology in courses like nursing science, translational research, and social justice in health policy. Other coursework includes population health and epidemiology, outcome evaluation and scholarship, and transformational healthcare technology. Along with extensive practicum experience, students complete a capstone project investigating a specific problem within an organization.

    Interested students must hold a master's degree in nursing from an accredited institution, though the school may consider applicants with a master's in another discipline on a conditional basis. Those applying must also hold active California RN licensure, with preference given to applicants certified as an advanced practice nurse.

  • California State University-Fresno
    Location

    Fresno, CA

    Currently seeking accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, CSU Fresno recently started offering a doctor of nursing practice program. CSU delivers this 21-month DNP program in California primarily online. On-campus intensive training takes place once per semester, while students complete the majority of their coursework through Blackboard and other audio/video conferencing platforms.

    With a focus on creating future leaders in healthcare, core coursework includes classes, such as diversity and social issues in healthcare, leadership and professional responsibility, and health policy economics. Along with 1,000 hours of supervised clinical practicum work, degree-seekers complete and defend a doctoral research project and submit it for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

    Applicants must hold a master's degree in nursing from an accredited institution or a health-related master's with post-graduate coursework in nursing theories, transcultural nursing, and informatics. Prospective students must also hold a current, unrestricted California RN license and demonstrate sufficient experience in advanced practice nursing.

  • California State University-Fullerton
    Location

    Fullerton, CA

    In partnership with the Kaiser Permanente School of Anesthesia, CSUF offers a three-year academic and clinical program for nurses with a bachelor's degree. Founded in 1972, this BSN-to-DNP California program boasts national recognition as a pioneer in postgraduate education for nurse anesthetists. Upon graduation, students receive a DNP degree with a concentration in nurse anesthesia.

    Coursework includes topics in theoretical perspectives for advanced nursing practice, data management, and informatics in healthcare. In the summer after the first two semesters, students begin their four-semester nurse anesthesia practicum. Along with extensive advanced clinical practice, learners complete a culminating doctoral research project.

    Prospective applicants must hold an active, unrestricted California RN license. Those currently licensed out of state must meet California RN requirements. Potential enrollees must hold a bachelor's or master's degree in nursing from an accredited college or university.

  • Loma Linda University
    Location

    Loma Linda, CA

    Integrating health, science, and Christian faith, LLU offers a doctor of nursing practice with a variety of concentrations. Areas of specialization include gerontology, family practice, anesthesia, and pediatrics. The school offers both BSN-to-DNP and MSN-to-DNP tracks. Students complete the majority of coursework online, with a few days of on-campus attendance required each semester.

    Core coursework for BSN-to-DNP degree-seekers covers topics in health systems finance, social determinants of health, and theology of human suffering. While areas of specialization determine concentration coursework and the setting of clinical experience, all learners must complete 1,000 clinical hours at a facility assigned by the university. This DNP program in California culminates with an evidence-based research project designed to take place in the workplace.

    Prospective students must hold a bachelor's degree in nursing from a regionally accredited program with a 3.0 cumulative GPA. Applicants must also prove current RN licensure and one year of RN experience in their desired area of clinical concentration.

  • Point Loma Nazarene University
    Location

    San Diego, CA

    Designed with the working nurse in mind, PLNU's doctor of nursing practice degree employs both online and face-to-face instruction. By strengthening leadership and practical skills, this DNP program in California seeks to train graduates to effectively navigate the complexities inherent in today's health systems.

    MSN-to-DNP students can complete this program in 24 months, while BSN-to-DNP students typically take 48 months. Required courses include healthcare policy leadership, project management, and evidence-based practice methods. Degree-seekers complete a culminating work of original research, and engage in 1,000 hours of supervised practicum work in a variety of clinical settings.

    Prospective students must provide documentation of current RN licensure and at least one year of full-time nursing practice experience. Along with transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a resume, applicants must submit an example of scholarly work from prior academic endeavors. The school waives application fees for PLNU alumni, employees, and current/former military.

  • Samuel Merritt University
    Location

    Oakland, CA

    Through a curriculum designed for students with a bachelor's in nursing, SMU offers a doctor of nursing practice with a family nurse practitioner concentration. This Sacramento-based hybrid degree blends on-campus residencies with intensive online study. The program blends clinical experience in diagnostics and treatment with studies in disease prevention and health management.

    Structured to span nine successive semesters, core coursework includes topics like population health and clinical prevention, policy and advocacy, and advanced pharmacology. As coursework transitions to practicum work, degree-seekers participate in 525 hours of family nurse practitioner practice and 475 hours of DNP clinical practice. Most students complete the program in three years.

    Those interested in this DNP program in California must hold a bachelor's degree in nursing from an accredited institution. The school may consider applicants with a degree in another field on a case-by-case basis. Prospective students must also hold an unencumbered RN license in their state of residence.

  • University of California-Irvine
    Location

    Irvine, CA

    The flexible doctor of nursing practice degree at UCI offers a path for nursing professionals to reach the highest level of educational proficiency in the field. This two-year hybrid DNP program in California delivers coursework through synchronous and asynchronous sessions.

    Participants must attend one intensive on-campus session each quarter. Core courses cover topics in leadership in healthcare, health politics and policy, foundations of health systems, and health economics. Each learner develops skills through over 500 hours of clinical practicum work and completes a capstone project involving original research.

    Applications for this DNP program must include a personal history statement, a statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, and a current resume. The school may also require an interview.

  • University of California-Los Angeles
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Graduating their inaugural class in 2020, UCLA offers one of the newest DNP programs in California. This seven-quarter program integrates advanced nursing practice through leadership, policy, and clinical practice while challenging the learner to expand their scholarly capacity. With classes delivered through an online/on-campus hybrid format, students may complete the degree in two years while continuing to work full time.

    The first three quarters focus on coursework covering topics in communication and ethics, clinical prevention and population health, and healthcare policy. By the fourth quarter, learners conceptualize and begin their DNP scholarly project and complete a written qualifying examination. The latter three quarters focus on scholarly research and a clinical residency.

    Prospective DNP students must hold a master's degree in nursing with a minimum GPA of 3.0 for graduate-level coursework. Applications must include three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, a criminal background check, and one year of experience in an advanced practice role.

  • University of California-San Francisco
    Location

    San Francisco, CA

    Operating as the first DNP program in California under the UC system, UCSF offers a flexible, seven-quarter hybrid degree integrating on-campus immersions with online learning. UCSF dedicates itself to educating clinical experts and leaders while navigating increasingly complex healthcare systems. Students complete the first year of this program completely online through both synchronous and asynchronous learning.

    The DNP core curriculum includes classes in critical appraisal of evidence-based practice, improving health outcomes, and advanced health policy and advocacy. By the fourth quarter, degree-seekers begin clinical residency experience while concurrently producing a substantial work of original research.

    Interested applicants must hold a master's degree in nursing from an accredited institution with a cumulative minimum GPA of 3.4. Prospective students must hold active, unrestricted RN licensure in California. Non-California applicants must review licensure reciprocity guidelines. UCSF prefers applicants with at least one year of advanced practice experience.

  • University of San Diego
    Location

    San Diego, CA

    The doctor of nursing practice program at USD prepares graduates for advanced practice as nurse practitioners, nursing informaticists, and health systems leaders. USD offers a variety of concentrations, including family nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, and pediatric/family nurse practitioner. Full-time students typically complete this DNP program in California in three years.

    Students complete the bulk of core coursework in three semesters. Classes include methods of translational science, pharmacology in health management, and philosophy of reflective practice. Degree-seekers dedicate time to DNP scholarly practice and research each semester. Beginning in the second year, learners also take on clinical work.

    Interested students must hold a BSN or MSN from an accredited institution to receive admission consideration. Applicants must submit official transcripts, letters of recommendation, a writing sample, and a goal-oriented statement of purpose.

  • University of San Francisco
    Location

    San Francisco, CA

    USF offers a doctor of nursing practice degree focused on preparing registered nurses to take on more substantial leadership roles. Combining nursing, business, and healthcare administration coursework with advanced clinical skills, the program provides a nuanced view of professional practice.

    This DNP program in California offers four distinct areas of concentration: family nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, executive leadership, and population health leadership. While each of these tracks is open to those with an MSN, only the family nurse practitioner and psychiatric mental health tracks allow for a BSN-to-DNP path.

    MSN-to-DNP students can complete this degree in three years; the BSN-to-DNP program takes four years. The DNP curriculum combines both in-person and online instruction. Degree-seekers must complete 1,000 supervised clinical practice hours.

    Prospective students must hold a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Applicants must submit a professional resume, statement of goals, and documentation of their RN licensure.

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