What Is a DNP?

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Smiling nurse leaning over and readjusting a patient in a hospital bed.

The nursing profession is facing a significant staffing shortage. With a large population of baby boomers continuing to age in the U.S., and a large segment of nurses retiring in the next 10-15 years, the nursing shortage is projected to worsen in the coming years. Nurses are a vital part of the health care workforce, and it is important that students who are interested in the nursing field pursue advanced education, clinical experience, and board certification.

Nurses who pursue an advanced degree program, such as an online MSN to DNP program, can help combat the nursing shortage and make a difference in patient care. They can fill in where gaps in clinical care exist while also serving as nurse leaders and educators, preparing a new generation of health caregivers. But what is a DNP? And what are the career options available to holders of this degree?

What Is a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree?

The DNP is a terminal degree, indicating the highest level of nurse education. Nurses with DNPs use evidence-based practice and leadership to improve the quality of health care systems and patient outcomes. Their skills are especially crucial amid the nursing shortage to help advance nursing practice and prepare new nurses who are entering the profession.

Nurses with DNPs can provide many of the same services as physicians.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects a shortage of 37,800 to 124,000 physicians by 2034, including both specialty and primary care physicians. Since nurses with advanced degrees can perform many of the tasks that physicians do, such as prescribing medications and ordering tests, they can help address the looming shortage of physicians in the U.S.

Nurses with DNPs may qualify for high-level positions, including researcher, educator, and administrator roles, which could mean more autonomy and higher salaries. They can also focus on specialties such as gerontology, pediatrics, psychiatric health, or women’s health.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a DNP?

In addition to understanding what a DNP is, it helps to know the requirements for earning the degree. Nurses with either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree can qualify to earn a DNP.

For nurses with BSNs, an active registered nurse (RN) license and Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or Graduate Record Examination (GRE) results are generally required to enroll in a BSN-DNP program.

Typical requirements for enrolling in MSN-DNP programs include an MSN degree, an active RN license, and GRE or GMAT results. At Regis College, however, neither the online BSN to DNP program nor the online MSN to DNP program requires a GRE or GMAT score for admission.

And how long does it take to earn a DNP? Students may complete their Regis College BSN to DNP program in as few as 40 months. Those enrolled in the MSN to DNP program may graduate in as few as 24 to 36 months.

Nurses enrolled in the online BSN to DNP program at Regis College can choose from six different concentrations: Pediatrics (PNP), Family (FNP), Psychiatric Mental Health (PMHNP), Women’s Health (WHNP), Adult-Gerontology – Primary Care (AGPCNP), or Adult-Gerontology – Acute Care (AGACNP).

Nurses enrolled in the MSN to DNP program can choose from Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP), Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP), Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP), Adult Gerontology – Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP), Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), or Nurse Education.

The core curriculum at Regis College and the courses in various concentrations are designed to provide students with essential knowledge of patient care, policies and procedures, and research methods to help advance their careers in a specialized area.

What Can You Do with a DNP?

DNP nurses often work as nurse practitioners or nurse educators. Nurse practitioners can diagnose and manage medical conditions, perform physical examinations, prescribe medications, and make clinical decisions, sometimes autonomously or in collaboration with physicians. Specific licensing rules that define the scope of the nurse practitioner role vary from state to state.

The median annual wage for nurse practitioners was $111,680 as of 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Below are descriptions of several roles that nurses with DNP degrees can pursue. For those who now know what a DNP is and are wondering what can you do with a DNP, these are just a few of the available options.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) diagnose the mental health needs of individuals and groups, develop clinical plans, and prescribe and administer medication as allowed in the states where they practice. They possess psychopharmacology and psychotherapy competencies. They also use their communication, interpersonal, and consulting skills to interact with patients who are experiencing mental health challenges. The median annual salary for PMHNPs is $113,000, according to the compensation website PayScale.

Adult Gerontology – Primary Care Nurse Practitioner

Adult Gerontology – Primary Care Nurse Practitioners (AGPCNPs) help people cope with the effects of aging by assessing their physical health and psychological well-being. They perform checkups, conduct tests, prescribe medications as allowed in the states where they practice, and develop preventive care plans. They also guide their patients and caregivers in the management of chronic conditions, such as diabetes. AGPCNPs treat patients in various settings, including clinics and nursing homes. The median annual salary for AGPCNPs is $90,128, according to PayScale (2021).

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) treat young patients. They prescribe treatments and various therapies as allowed in the states where they practice. They are compassionate and patient, and they enjoy working with children. They use their communication and listening skills to interact with young patients and their parents or caretakers. The median annual salary for PNPs is $91,665, according to PayScale (2021).

Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) diagnose diseases, treat conditions, and prescribe medicines, independently or alongside physicians. They are often primary care providers, serving as the initial point of contact for patients of all ages. They are resourceful and compassionate, demonstrating strong interpersonal and communication skills to interact with people of varying ages. The median annual salary for FNPs is $97,011, according to PayScale (2021).

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

Women’s health nurse practitioners (WHNPs) screen for breast cancer, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and general health problems such as diabetes and hypertension; they also provide health and wellness counseling. They evaluate and treat issues related to reproductive health and use their consulting skills to answer questions and provide advice. The median annual salary for WHNPs is $94,834, according to PayScale (2021).

Nurse Educators

Nurse educators mentor and train new nurses, teaching clinical best practices and procedures. They help build productive nursing teams and motivate nurse performance, resulting in optimal patient care. Nurse educators are effective communicators, listeners, and relationship builders, and they use their analytical competencies to develop continuing education programs. The median annual salary for nurse educators is $77,403, according to PayScale (2021).

Pursue an Advanced Role in Health Care

Amid a growing need for top-level nursing professionals, more nurses may be interested in learning what a DNP is. At Regis College, DNP students develop their competencies in research, analysis, and communication within their choice of nursing specialization.

Discover more about how the Regis College BSN to DNP online and online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice programs can help prepare you for critical leadership roles in nursing practice.


Recommended Readings

What Can You Do with a DNP? Career Outcome and Skills

Top Reasons to Get Your DNP Degree

NP to DNP: In Less That 10 Years, All Nurse Practitioners May Need to Hold a DNP



American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Are You Considering a Career as a Family Nurse Practitioner?

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Are You Considering a Career as an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner?

American Psychiatric Nurses Association, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses

Association of American Medical Colleges, AAMC Report Reinforces Mounting Physician Shortages

Association of American Medical Colleges, Hospitals Innovate Amid Dire Nursing Shortages

Journal of Ambulatory Care Management, “Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Practice Characteristics”

National Council of State Boards of Nursing, National Nursing Workforce Study

National League for Nursing, Nurse Educator Core Competencies

Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health, Nurse Practitioner & Women’s Health Practitioner Practice Facts

PayScale, Average Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP) Salary

PayScale, Average Family Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary

PayScale, Average Nurse Educator Salary

PayScale, Average Pediatrics Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary

PayScale, Average Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary

PayScale, Salary for Certification: Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, The Primary Care Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP-PC)

StatPearls, “Nursing Shortage”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Census Bureau, An Aging Population: A Number of Children and Older Adults