Everything You Need to Know About DNP Online Programs

nursing-education-dnpIf you’re currently working as a nurse, you are probably well aware of just how rewarding and fulfilling a job role it can be. You get to help patients from all walks of life every single day and make a real difference to not only people’s health but their lives more generally. It’s also a career in which there is a lot of scope for progression. There are so many different spheres within the field of nursing that you can choose to specialize in, whether it’s a particular age group (like pediatrics or gerontology) or a particular health condition (like oncology or emergency care).

Some of these paths involve training on the job, whereas others require you to return to college to study and obtain a postgraduate qualification. Among these, one of the highest possible qualifications you can aim for is the DNP, or Doctor of Nursing Practice. DNP online programs and campus courses prepare you for a wide range of advanced nursing roles, including both direct patient care and indirect patient care positions. As such, they are a fantastic choice for nurses who want to reach the top levels in their field.

This article will cover everything you need to know about the DNP qualification to help you decide whether it is a degree program that you would like to pursue. This includes more detail about the course itself, the advantages it can bring you, as well as information about eligibility and how to apply. What are DNP online programs?

DNP stands for Doctor of Nursing Practice, and it is a doctoral-level qualification in the field of nursing. It’s also a terminal degree, meaning that it is the highest level certification you can achieve in clinical nursing education. The idea of the program is to prepare registered nurses (RNs) for top career positions in areas such as advanced practice nursing, nursing education, healthcare administration, and healthcare policy.

DNP online programs and on-campus courses are becoming more popular, partly because the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has called for the qualification to become a requirement in order to work in advanced practice nursing. Although, in many cases, a Master’s qualification in nursing is sufficient, for those who wish to boost their clinical skills and knowledge to the highest level, a DNP is preferable. How does a DNP differ from a Ph.D.?

There are some similarities between a DNP and a Ph.D. in Nursing in that they are both terminal, doctoral-level degrees in the field of nursing. Where they differ, however, is in their focus. A Ph.D. is more academic and focuses on research, teaching you to develop your academic writing skills. It does not include any clinical hours with patients, involves writing a thesis related to your own original research, and takes longer to complete than a DNP. All of this means that the Ph.D. is best suited to those who wish to progress to a career in education or conducting research.

The DNP, on the other hand, is more practical based and focuses on the clinical side of nursing. It looks more at how to put your knowledge into practice in the real world and your professional role as a nurse and thus requires the completion of clinical hours in addition to academic study. As a result, DNP online programs and their campus equivalents are more appropriate for you if you are hoping to move into advanced direct patient care roles or leadership positions within healthcare administration, organization, management, or policy.

Both qualifications are equally respected and prestigious, so choosing the right one for you is simply a matter of considering which degree lines up best with your career aspirations and the type of work that you prefer to do. What does studying for DNP online programs involve?

nursing-education-dnp-nurse.jpgThere are three main aspects of studying for the Doctor of Nursing Practice, and these are the same for both DNP online programs and DNP campus programs. The three aspects are taught academic modules, clinical hours in a real-world setting, and a DNP capstone project. Thus the course involves a mixture of both traditional classroom study (either in person or virtually), practical work outside of the classroom, and independent study. Overall the course can take anywhere between one to six years, depending on your prior experience and mode of learning.

If you study DNP online programs, the clinical hours will, of course, still be in person rather than online. However, they will take place at a suitable location near where you live, and your college will help you arrange this. You generally have to complete 1,000 hours of placement, although you may be able to put some of your existing experience, such as the clinical hours you did on your Master’s course, towards this figure. You can choose to complete your placement(s) at any facility that is relevant to your own personal nursing interests and career goals.

Your DNP project can also be tailored to suit your career aspirations, as you can focus on any topic that you are passionate about as long as it is relevant. You will choose a problem to investigate, either administration-based or clinical, and then conduct a literature review before implementing and then finally evaluating the project. This may well be one of the most fulfilling and interesting parts of your course. This is because you not only get to delve deeply into a topic that fascinates you, but your results may also lead to real-life improvements in patient care or another aspect of nursing and healthcare. What modules can I expect to cover in DNP online programs?

The exact modules covered in your DNP will depend on the institution you study with, which is why you should be sure to check the specific curriculum of the colleges you are thinking of applying to. You should make sure they cover the topics you are most interested in; however, you can expect to find at least some of the following on offer:

  • Foundations and Essentials of Doctoral Study in Nursing
  • Theoretical and Scientific Foundations for Nursing
  • Healthcare Technology and Data Management
  • Healthcare Finance / Economics
  • Best Practices in Nursing Specialties
  • Organizational and Systems Leadership for Quality Improvement
  • Epidemiology and Population Health
  • Health Policy
  • Quantitative Methods in Clinical Nursing
  • Doctoral Nursing Global Perspectives
  • Biostatistics
  • Translating Evidence Into Clinical Practice

There will also be a difference in the modules you have available to you depending on what specialist track you choose. For instance, if you choose to follow a program that focuses on executive nurse leadership, you might study more administration, policy, and management modules. In contrast, if you choose to follow a program that focuses on a specific area of direct patient care, then you will study more modules that concentrate on that. The specialist tracks available in regards to direct patient care normally align with the different Advanced Practice Registered Nurse roles, such as midwifery and anesthetics, or population groups such as pediatrics or gerontology.  What benefits can DNP online programs have for my career?

Completing a DNP can have a huge range of benefits for your career. This is because it enables you to develop your nursing knowledge and clinical skills to an extremely advanced level, and hence opens up a wide variety of job opportunities in the highest positions. This is both in advanced direct patient roles, for instance, working as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, and in leadership positions that focus more on indirect patient care. Examples of this type of role include:

  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Healthcare Executive
  • Nurse Educator
  • Healthcare Lobbyist
  • Clinical Researcher
  • Executive Nurse Leader
  • Nurse Manager
  • Nurse Informaticist

Whichever path you choose, DNP online programs and campus courses give you a greater level of employability and job security. Plus, these top level job roles come with correspondingly higher salaries, meaning you can additionally benefit from improved financial security. Having a DNP to your name also demonstrates to potential employers that you are dedicated to your career and the field of nursing.

In addition to the clinical skills and knowledge, studying for a DNP will further improve a number of your transferable skills. These include written and verbal communication, problem-solving, leadership, decision making, presentation skills, research skills, time management, confidence, and organization. Online courses, in particular, help you to develop improved computer and technology skills, as these are a key part of the virtual learning experience. All of these talents will be advantageous to you regardless of your future job role. Am I too old to study on DNP online programs?

Definitely not! As long as you are genuinely passionate about nursing and progressing in your career, you can enroll in a DNP program at any age. In fact, because it’s such a high-level degree, you can expect many of your fellow students to be experienced professionals rather than fresh graduates. Life experience and clinical experience are both extremely valuable to have on this type of course, so being an older student in no way puts you at a disadvantage. Plus, if you choose DNP online programs rather than campus ones, you’ll be able to study even if you already have a family and therefore can’t move across the country to attend college in person. Can I fit DNP online programs around my current job?

Absolutely! Just as DNP online programs can fit around your family life, they can also fit around your working life. It’s very common for nurses to study for the DNP at the same time as working, so you almost certainly won’t be the only one in your cohort doing so. Choosing to study online means that you can learn at a time and place convenient for you. Whether you want to fit your study in before work, after work, or on your days off, you can create a schedule that works best for you and your lifestyle. Just be aware that some courses might have live lectures that you have to attend at specific times, so check the details of the programs you’re interested in before applying to make sure that they’re suitable.

Studying for a doctoral-level degree at the same time as holding down a full-time job might sound overwhelming, but lots of people manage to do it successfully. It just takes some discipline, self-motivation, and forward planning! You have to be strict with yourself about getting your reading and assignments done, but you’ll have the support of your fellow students and college faculty members along the way. Even with virtual learning, you will have the chance to make connections with the other people on your course, so you can share tips and encourage each other! It’s also important to leave time for self-care to ensure you don’t burn out, so eat well, exercise regularly, and try to get enough sleep!  Who can apply for DNP online programs, and how?

In order to be eligible for DNP online programs, you normally have to have a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN), a current and unencumbered Registered Nurse (RN) license and have completed a certain number of hours of clinical work. Having said that, there are some courses that combine the MSN and DNP, so all you will need for those programs is a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN).

Once you are sure that you meet the criteria of the programs you are interested in, you can start to put together your application materials. You will normally have to prove your qualifications and clinical hours, academic transcripts, plus two or three academic or professional references. Some colleges might ask for an essay about why you want to enroll in their program, whilst others may require you to have an interview.

If you are unsure about any part of the application process, the best thing to do is speak to an admissions counselor at the college in question. They can answer any queries that you may have and give you advice on how to proceed. For those looking to get a head start, you could try asking for some recommended reading too, or even signing up for a short online course in a relevant subject to get used to online study methods.



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Last Updated on February 15, 2021 by Marie Benz MD FAAD