What Is a Doctor of Nursing Practice? Examining an Advanced Degree

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A nurse practitioner works with a patient.

About one-third of the current nurse workforce will reach retirement age in the next 10 to 15 years, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article. These retirements, along with the growing demand for health care and a lack of qualified nursing faculty, are creating a shortage of nursing professionals. Nurses with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree can help address this shortage by stepping into crucial nurse practitioner and nurse educator roles. Online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice and online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice programs can help expand career opportunities for nurses.

What Is a Doctor of Nursing Practice?

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (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 the next generation of nurses.

Nurses with DNPs also can help address the looming shortage of physicians in the U.S. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortage of between 46,900 and 121,900 primary care and specialty physicians by 2032, according to a CNBC report. Expanding the nurse practitioner workforce in primary care can help fill this gap, according to a study published in the Journal of Ambulatory Care Management.

Earning a DNP creates the potential for nurses to qualify for high-level positions, including researcher, educator, and administrator roles, and to focus on specialties such as gerontology, pediatrics, psychiatric health, or women’s health. A DNP may also open opportunities for higher pay.

How to Earn a DNP

Nurses with professional experience and 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 a BSN, 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, advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) certification, 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.

Students may complete Regis College’s BSN to DNP program in as few as 40 months. Those enrolled in Regis’s MSN to DNP program may graduate in as few as 24 to 36 months.

Nurses enrolled in the BSN to DNP program at Regis can choose from five different concentrations: Pediatrics (PNP), Family (FNP), Psychiatric Mental Health (PMHNP), Women’s Health (WHNP), or Adult-Gerontology (AGNP). Nurses enrolled in the MSN to DNP program can choose from those same five concentrations, plus Nurse Education.

Regis College’s core curriculum and the courses in the various concentrations provide students with essential knowledge of patient care, policies and procedures, and research methods that they need to advance in their careers as nurses.

What Can You Do with a DNP?

DNP nurses typically 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 on their own and sometimes 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 $107,030 as of May 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Below are descriptions of several roles that nurses with DNP degrees can pursue.

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 medicine as allowed in the states where they practice. They possess psychopharmacology and psychotherapy competencies. They use their communication, interpersonal, and consulting skills to interact with patients experiencing mental health challenges. The median annual salary for PMHNPs was around $99,200 as of January 2020, according to PayScale.

Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

Adult-gerontology nurse practitioners (AGNPs) 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. AGNPs treat patients in various settings, including clinics and nursing homes. The median annual salary for AGNPs was around $89,600 as of December 2019, according to PayScale.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) treat young people who are ill. 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 was around $89,500 as of February 2020, according to PayScale.

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 was around $93,800 as of February 2020, according to PayScale.

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 was around $91,100 as of February 2020, according to PayScale.

Nurse Educators

Nurse educators mentor and train new nurses, teaching clinical best practices and procedures. They help to 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 was around $75,100 as of February 2020, according to PayScale.

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 Doctor of Nursing Practice is. At Regis College, DNP students develop their competencies in research, analysis, and communication, and they can select one of several concentrations that will allow them to pursue a career in a specialized area of nursing. Discover more about how Regis College’s online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice and online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice programs can help prepare students for critical leadership roles in nursing practice.

Recommended Readings
Nurse Safety and Prescribing Medications: A Delicate Balance
Careers in Care Leadership: What Is a Nurse Mentor?
Nursing Research in Action: A Look at Key Epidemiology Examples

American Psychiatric Nurses Association, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “What the Nursing Shortage Means for Healthcare”
CNBC, “America’s Aging Population Is Leading to a Doctor Shortage Crisis”
Johnson & Johnson, Gerontological Nurse Practitioner
Journal of Ambulatory Care Management, “Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Practice Characteristics”
National League for Nursing, Faculty Shortage
Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health, Nurse Practitioner & Women’s Health Practitioner Practice Facts
Nursing Forum, “Enhancing Post‐Baccalaureate Doctor of Nursing Practice Students’ Analytic Skills”
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 Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Salary
PayScale, Average Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary
Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, The Primary Care Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP-PC)
Regis College, 5 Benefits of Earning a DNP Degree
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners