The Best California DNP Programs 2021

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Registered nurses (RNs) seeking the highest level of clinical nursing education pursue the doctor of nursing practice (DNP), a terminal degree focused on advancing skills in healthcare administration, advanced practice nursing, and nursing education. The DNP is practice based, setting it apart from other terminal nursing degrees like the Ph.D., nurse doctorate, and doctor of nursing science. All of these degrees focus on the scholarly aspects of nursing, including research and the development of advanced specialties.

The popularity of the DNP has increased since the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s 2015 declaration that nurses seeking advanced practice licensure should hold a doctorate rather than a master’s degree.

California boasts a wide array of options in terms of DNP programs, with more than ten schools offering the degree. Earning a DNP in California is a smart move, as the state ranks first for average annual salaries for nurse practitioners (NPs) ($138,660) and nurse midwives ($154,500), and fifth in annual salaries for nurse anesthetists ($227,290).

DNP programs build on existing nursing knowledge and experience through additional clinical experience and coursework in healthcare practice, policy, and management. Program length varies, depending on the number of required credits and a student’s prior education level.

An MSN-to-DNP program requires 30-40 credits and 500 hours of clinical experience and can be completed in as little as a year. RN-to-DPN and BSN-to-DNP programs in California typically take 3-6 years to complete, requiring between 65-90 credits and 1,000 hours of clinical experience.

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The Best California DNP Programs 2021

  • 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.

Applying to a DNP Program in California

Specific requirements vary, but applicants to DNP programs in California typically need an active California nursing license or eligibility for a one if applying from out of state. Most programs also require at least one year of advanced practice experience.

Some DNP programs require applicants to hold a master’s degree in nursing or a related field, with coursework in specific subject areas. GPA requirements vary from a minimum of 3.0-3.4. Some schools require applicants to submit GRE scores, personal statements, resumes, and letters of recommendation in addition to transcripts and proof of licensure.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do nurse practitioners need a DNP?

    Current standards require nurse practitioners to hold a master of science in nursing. In upcoming years, entry-level nurse practitioner programs will begin to award DNPs rather than a master’s degree to account for new industry standards. The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties is implementing this shift to ensure that NPs have adequate clinical experience in the treatment and prevention of healthcare issues.

  • What is accreditation and why is it important?

    Selecting an accredited program ensures that you receive a quality education that aligns with industry standards and expectations. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing accredit DNP programs.

  • Can you complete a DNP program online?

    DNP degrees can be earned online. Although accredited programs require students to complete in-person clinical hours, most allow this component to take place at a hospital or site local to the student.

  • Can you go from an RN to a DNP?

    RNs who do not hold a master’s degree can earn their DNP while staying employed through an RN-to-DNP program, also known as a bridge program. These programs typically require a minimum GPA of 3.0 and a strong work history. A full-time program takes 3-6 years to complete and may require volunteer hours in addition to 1,000 hours of clinical experience.