How Long Is a DNP Program?

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For registered nurses (RNs) considering doctoral degrees in nursing, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree is on the rise. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reported that roughly 7,000 students enrolled in DNP programs in 2010, but that number had grown to more than 36,000 by 2019. The DNP prepares graduates to excel in the field of specialized advanced nursing — including employment in clinical leadership, administration, and faculty positions.

Nurses with Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees are fortunate because they can take advantage of BSN to DNP programs that are specifically geared toward them. In looking into those programs, one of the first questions a nurse might have is, how long is a DNP program? Learning about BSN to DNP programs and how long those programs take can enable nurses to explore the possibility of expanding their educational and career horizons.

What Is a BSN to DNP Program?

AACN explains that the DNP is a terminal degree geared toward nurses who are seeking an alternative to research-focused doctoral programs. One way to distinguish between the DNP and other doctoral degrees in nursing is that nurses who have earned DNPs have the opportunity to implement the science that nurses develop through a variety of nursing doctorate programs.

BSN to DNP programs give nurses who have earned BSNs the opportunity to build on their nursing skills and expertise. They also provide a direct path to a terminal degree, allowing nurses to bypass earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Through BSN to DNP programs, they can focus their expertise in a particular specialty, such as pediatrics, family, mental health, women’s health, or gerontology.

BSN-credentialed nurses have a variety of reasons to pursue their DNP degrees. For example, a 2020 study in the journal Nursing Outlook described students in BSN to DNP programs as:

  • Nurses who possess experience in health care and who want to become system leaders or advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs)
  • Nurses who’ve just graduated, have no nursing experience, but want to become APRNs

According to AACN, the DNP degree was originally developed to respond to changes in and the growing complexity of our health care system. Its focus was to advance nursing education in areas such as systems leadership, quality improvement, and evidence-based practice.

A DNP-prepared nurse standing in a hospital hallway holding a clipboard.

How Long Is a DNP Program?

According to AACN, the recommended length of DNP programs is generally about three years on a full-time basis including summers or four years without summer study. Exactly how long a DNP program takes depends on the school, the state where the school is located, and the credit-hour requirements of the school’s accreditation body. Of course, for any particular student, the length of the program will depend on that individual’s course load and schedule.

Students in BSN to DNP programs generally earn around 75 credits, but the exact number of credits depends on the specialty they choose. Most APRN programs require 500 to 1,000 clinical hours; again, the hours may also depend on the student’s chosen specialty.

Are DNPs in Demand?

The AACN has recommended that the DNP be required for advanced practice nursing, and the demand for advanced practice nursing is impressive. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners will grow by 45% from 2020 to 2030.

A 2021 report in PatientEngagementHIT noted that the growth in advanced practice practitioners (including nurse practitioners) could be instrumental in addressing a shortage of medical professionals that has created issues in access to care. The report also highlighted that nurse practitioners can build strong relationships with their patients that can enable them to address issues related to the social determinants of health.

Admission Requirements

The admission requirements for BSN to DNP programs generally include requirements such as:

  • A BSN degree from a regionally accredited institution and accredited nursing program
  • An active, unencumbered RN license
  • A minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA

Candidates may also be asked to provide letters of recommendation, a resume, and essays. Whether the GRE is required depends on the specific program.

BSN to DNP Curriculum

In determining how long it takes to complete a DNP program, it’s important to know about the program’s required courses, which may help determine an individual’s preferred course load. Below is a sample curriculum for the online BSN to DNP program at Regis College:

  • Nursing Theory
  • Concepts in Nursing Leadership
  • Health Promotion — Disease Prevention
  • Health Policy, Politics, and Perspectives
  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Clinical Pharmacology
  • Advanced Health Assessment
  • Roles and Issues in APN
  • Regulatory Issues: Nurse Leadership
  • Cultural Perspectives in Health Care
  • Epidemiology/Biostatistics
  • Advanced Research Methods for EBP I and II
  • Informatics in Health Care
  • Scholarly DNP Project I-IV
  • Clinical Concentration Seminar

A  BSN to DNP program also offers concentration areas such as:

  • Pediatric health, which focuses on the issues and health needs present among children of all ages up to 21.
  • Family health, which focuses on the knowledge and expertise required for working with all ages in a family practice
  • Psychiatric mental health, which focuses on aiding patients seeking mental health care using contemporary psychotherapy modalities and knowledge of psychopharmacology
  • Women’s health, which focuses on the care of women of all stages, including primary care, gynecology, and obstetrics
  • Adult gerontology, which focuses on aging and chronic illness, including polypharmacy management, palliative care, and end-of-life considerations

What to Expect with a DNP

DNP programs combine nursing science with psychosocial, biophysical, organizational, and analytical sciences. Equipped with this knowledge, DNP graduates can evaluate science-based evidence and theories to enhance the delivery of health care. DNPs can apply this advanced understanding in an academic environment or clinical practice, including in the following ways:

  • Assessing patient illnesses and providing evidence-based treatment
  • Translating and putting technical research into practice
  • Improving patient care and quality through the use of information systems
  • Participating in research and evaluating data
  • Participating in the design and implementation of health care policy

Individuals who invest the time it takes to complete a DNP program have a variety of career opportunities to explore, including clinical leadership positions and, outside of direct patient care, health care policy, research, and education. Some potential roles include:

  • Advanced practice nurses (APNs) may run facilities such as community clinics and urgent care facilities or provide in-home services. APNs may also be employed in hospitals overseeing nursing pools and internal operations.
  • Chief nursing officers (CNOs) are responsible for overseeing the daily coordination and management of a care facility’s operations. This may include communicating with patients, peers, and hospital executives.
  • Nurse researchers often work in a lab or an academic setting and are tasked with discovering empirical evidence that will advance health care.
  • Nurse educators instruct those pursuing nursing or health care degrees and certificates. Nurse trade schools, colleges, junior colleges, and universities employ nurse educators.

Furthering a Nursing Career by Earning a DNP

With advanced education, such as a DNP, nurses can transform the health care system and better position themselves to achieve their career goals. If building on your BSN by devoting the time it takes to earn a DNP interests you, then explore the online BSN to DNP program at Regis College. The program is available in a flexible online format to provide graduates with the skills and knowledge required to take their careers to the next level in as few as three years. A new direction for your nursing career could be within reach. Set your sights in that direction today.

 

Recommended Readings

Benefits of Earning a DNP Degree

Online Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree Curriculum

What Does DNP Stand For?

 

Sources:

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, DNP Fact Sheet

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, PhD Education

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 2020 Annual Report: Building on the Past, Envisioning the Future

American Nurse, “DNPs: Healthcare Change Agents”

National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree in the United States: Reflecting, Readjusting, and Getting Back on Track”

PatientEngagementHIT, “What Is the Role of Advanced Practice Practitioners in Patient Care?”

Regis College, Career Opportunities for Graduates with a DNP Degree

Regis College, FAQs About the Online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice Program

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