Pursuing Your Online DNP Program

If you’re seeking to reach the top of the nursing profession, obtaining the doctorate of nursing practice makes sense. Learn how DNP online programs enable nurses to enrich their careers with the added knowledge and training gained in a doctorate program. 

Written by

PhDs.me Staff

Last updated

Feb 15, 2021

Nurses continue to be in high demand across the country. That demand has soared in the wake of a pandemic that has affected millions of people across the world and shows no signs of ending soon. DNP graduates are needed more than ever to provide care for patients and leadership for other nurses and healthcare support staff. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 45% expected job growth for nurse practitioners, many of whom hold their DNP, from 2019 to 2029.

With licensed practical nurses and registered nurses pressed into continuous service and many physicians dealing with an unprecedented number of patients, it often falls to the nurse practitioners or advanced practice nurses to serve as both nurse and physician in some areas. This guide will answer some of your most pressing questions about online DNP programs, including:

How long does this program take? Is the online program as good as the one on campus? Where would I get the money to pay for this program? What kind of jobs can I get?

Let’s take a look at what it takes to get the DNP, as well as how choosing to pursue the degree online might be one of the smartest options for hard-working nursing professionals.

Best Online DNP Programs for 2021

When you’re pouring so much time, effort, and money into any educational program, you want to be sure you’re getting a good return on your investment. That’s why you need to narrow down the broad field of online DNP programs to find the one that works for you. Your “short list” will be a great starting point to find the program that suits your career goals and busy schedule. We’ll help you get started by reviewing some of the best online DNP programs out there right now.

Baylor Uni.

Online DNP Program Spotlight: Baylor University

Online students can earn a DNP through the Louise Herrington School of Nursing Online at Baylor University. Students in the doctor of nursing practice program can choose from five specializations: executive nurse leadership, family nurse practitioner, nurse midwifery, neonatal nurse practitioner, and pediatric nurse practitioner. The school boasts a 100% certification pass rate for neonatal, nurse midwifery, and family practitioner graduates and 100% clinical placement rate of graduates within a 125-mile radius of their home. Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME), the DNP program online requires no GRE or GMAT and can be completed within two or three years. Some tracks are entirely online, while others require two on-campus immersive experiences.

Duke University

Online DNP Program Spotlight: Duke University

The Duke University School of Nursing offers the doctor of nursing practice program, designed for those who already hold their bachelor’s or master’s degree. Though the vast majority of coursework can be completed online, students can expect a comprehensive two-day, on-campus orientation, as well as on-campus executive sessions four times per year, lasting for three or four days per session. In addition, students can complete their DNP project at their current place of employment. Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), this program prepares graduates not only for their new clinical roles, but also for research into nursing practice and leadership in healthcare programs.

Georgetown University

Online DNP Program Spotlight: Georgetown University

Students who enter the doctor of nursing practice programs at Georgetown University can choose one of two paths of entry; the BSN to DNP, which requires 69–74 credits, two on-campus intensives, 1,000 to 1,200 clinical hours, and about 33 months to complete, or the MSN to DNP, which requires 30 credits, two campus intensive sessions, 300 hours of clinical work, and about 20 months to complete. Those in the BSN to DNP track can opt for four specializations, including adult gerontology, family nurse practitioner, dual women’s health and nurse midwifery, and women’s health. The MSN to DNP focuses on leadership roles. The programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Benefits of the Online DNP Program

Nurses are busy, especially now that we’re all dealing with the coronavirus. With nurses working so many hours, they are left with little time for pursuing their dreams of higher education. Fortunately, online learning helps by providing nurses with the opportunity to fit their study around their very busy schedule. Here are some of the other benefits of pursuing a doctor of nursing practice online program.

1

No break in your paycheck cycle.
Going to school full-time on-campus might mean cutting back on hours or stopping work altogether while in school. Many people don’t have the funds to do this or they don’t want to break the momentum they’ve been building as a professional They might also worry that leaving their job for higher education means losing those valuable benefits. Online learning allows them to keep working.

2

Flexible scheduling makes it easy to juggle responsibilities.
Asynchronous learning is a must for those who work in healthcare. That’s because so many will see their schedules shift from week to week or have to deal with overtime hours during the pandemic. Add in family obligations, and it becomes quite easy to look at education and say, “maybe next year.” Online learning allows you to move into your program right now, at your own pace, and pursue your dream without worry about how the rest of your life might suffer for it.

Doctor of nursing practice online programs have their own scheduling quirks and requirements. It’s up to you to speak to the academic advisor or department heads to ensure that all your questions are answered. It’s also important to look at the needs of your healthcare facility or system and determine where you can make the most impact after graduation.

Types of Online Doctorates in Nursing

The online doctorates in nursing sounds like a dream come true for those who want to work at their own pace and not worry about going into a classroom. However, “online” doesn’t necessarily mean everything about the program is virtual learning.  

Like most nursing programs, the DNP requires completion of clinical hours. There might also be some on-campus requirements, usually known as immersive or intensive weekends, where students are expected to meet in a physical location. Let’s take a look at the types of online study you might encounter.

Fully online

Students in these DNP programs can expect to take a certain number of courses fully online without setting foot in a classroom. Most of the courses are asynchronous, so aside from the occasional real-time meeting, students work independently to finish their coursework. However, even fully online programs require clinical hours. The good news is that often, these hours can be completed at the clinical location where you already work, or at least one close to your location. While there is a hands-on element, it might not make much of a difference in your day-to-day life as you earn those hours.Keep in mind that sometimes a school will say they are “fully online” but still require students to attend on-campus intensives.  

Blended/hybrid

Students take some courses online and some courses in a classroom, often during nights or weekends. They might take these courses at a campus location or a satellite campus. However, blended or hybrid programs could also mean taking courses online, clinical hours at the place you already work, and then adding in several campus visits per year for intensive learning, seminars, or other requirements of the program. These visits could last for two or three days or a few weeks and often follow a semester schedule. Check with your academic advisor before enrollment to ensure what the requirements are for blended or hybrid programs.

Online BSN to DNP Programs

Students who have earned their bachelor’s degree in nursing and have been working in the field but want to open more career doors can turn to this option, which typically takes about three years to complete. These programs are perfect for nurses who want to specialize in clinical, leadership, or even research and move into a higher level of practice. In many cases, all coursework can be taken online, and any clinical hours required can be completed at an area convenient to your home — perhaps even the clinic or hospital at which you already work.

Online MSN to DNP Programs

Students who already hold their master’s degree in nursing have several career options open to them in their clinic or healthcare system, but the DNP can help them move into the highest levels of policy-making and leadership. The MSN to DNP programs often take a bit less time to complete and don’t require as many clinical hours, given that those with the MSN should already have many hours under their belt. Since this program focuses strongly on leadership, all courses might be online, with some intensives required to work with the cohort and spend time with professors.

Timeline: Online Nursing Doctorate Program

Earning the doctor of nursing practice can take between two and three years, depending on where you started out. Those who are on the BSN to DNP track will take longer to complete the work than those who have already earned their master’s in nursing; however, the MSN to DNP might be fast-tracked to even less than two years. Let’s take a look at the typical timeline.

Year
1

If you are coming into the program with a bachelor’s degree, this year will be filled with courses that help ensure you’re ready to move forward into the higher-level program courses, including the core courses for the DNP. Master’s-prepared students will immediately jump into the core courses and some of the higher-level courses for the DNP. You will likely jump right into a concentration and work closely with an academic advisor on what comes next. Throughout all this, you’ll be working to build up your clinical hours, probably at your current place of employment.

Year
2

If you came in with a master’s degree, this might be your final year. You’ll continue working to get those clinical hours, and now your focus will be on the advanced courses that prepare you to work in your new role. Depending on the program, you might take a year-end seminar, an examination, complete a project, or all of these things. If you came in with a bachelor’s degree, you’ll be taking more core courses as well as moving into the higher-level courses for your concentration.

Year
3

If you came in with a bachelor’s degree, this is your last year. You’ll handle the final project, examination, year-end seminar, or other requirements of your final year, as well as complete your concentration studies. Your clinical hours will be completed this year, right in time for graduation.

Each DNP program will have a curriculum with courses that reflect what you need to know; however, each might present those in a different order or add in additional elements. Check with your academic advisor to make sure the program you choose is the right one for your flexibility needs and career goals.

Online DNP Learning Outcomes

The doctor of nursing practice is the pinnacle of nursing degrees, offering graduates the opportunity to take their work in an entirely different direction. They can choose to remain with clinical work, opt to move into research-oriented practice, or look toward post-secondary teaching. Though each program will create its own curriculum, each will focus on the basic learning outcomes that allow each graduate to meet their full potential, no matter their choice of career path after that degree is in hand. Here’s what you can expect to learn during your time in the online DNP program.

1

Learn to lead other healthcare professionals
You’ll learn management, finance, business, human resources, and other similar skills that will serve you well as you move into an executive role.

2

Use critical thinking for the good of patients and staff
Knowing evidence-based practices is important, but knowing how to apply them to various situations, especially emergencies or critical choices in either leadership or clinical care, is crucial to be a leader in the field.

3

Gain a solid understanding of clinical practice
Your clinical practice should improve as you move through the DNP program and you’re exposed to higher-level practices that prepare you for a different kind of patient care.

4

Understand and implement emerging research
The medical field is rife with research papers and journals. Some of it is quite pertinent today, while some of it hints at what might come in the future. You’ll learn what you can and should implement and what you should reconsider, while continuing to learn about your field with a critical, engaged mindset.

5

Help form and implement policy and change in healthcare systems.
You might work directly with patients in a clinical setting, or you could end up working in administration, where you can discuss the issues pressing on the healthcare system today, create and implement policy, follow up on new ideas, and find ways to balance the needs of a healthcare system with the needs of the community it serves.

Specialization in Advanced Nursing: Where Do You Belong?

DNP specialization can mean the difference between working in a clinic or hospital or working in a research institution. It can allow you to choose work with certain populations, from pediatric patients to the elderly, or it can open doors to teaching fellow nurses. Here are a few of the common specializations you’ll encounter as you begin looking at potential programs.

Executive Nurse Leadership

This concentration prepares you to work in leadership, including administration of hospitals, clinics, healthcare systems, or even local, state, and federal government programs for healthcare.

Nurse Midwifery

This prepares you to move into women’s health and prenatal care issues and to care for the mother and child through pregnancy, birth, and beyond.A significant responsibility of this role is delivering babies and caring for newborn infants.

Family Practitioner

This job might mean you work closely with a doctor in practice or in rural or underserved areas. You might actually serve as the closest healthcare provider to a physician as the area can get. This gives you a lot of the responsibility in diagnosing, treating, and helping patients.

Neonatal Practitioner

This job is much like that of a family practitioner, only the work is focused strongly on those who are between the ages of birth and two years old.

Women’s Health

Sometimes overlapping with midwifery or even offered as a dual concentration, women’s health focuses on the unique needs of women, especially their reproductive needs, throughout their lifespan.

Accreditation & Online Doctorates in Nursing

Earning accreditation means a school or program must voluntarily provide a wealth of information to an independent accrediting body, which then researches and evaluates the school or program to ensure it meets the requirements of a rigorous education.

There are two types of accreditation: regional and programmatic. Regional accreditation goes to the school as a whole and serves to prove that the school can prepare graduates appropriately for their future career. Check out a school’s accreditation status at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Programmatic accreditation is the same process as regional accreditation, only this focuses on the program itself. Accredited online doctor of nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Depending upon the specialty, you might also see accreditation from other reputable places, such as the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME).

Applying to a Doctorate of Nursing Program Online

Doctoral programs are usually quite competitive, and the DNP is no exception. That means your application must stand out among all those others who are vying for a limited number of positions. Of course, there will be standard information required, such as an essay, a minimum GPA in previous college work, letters of recommendation, and the like. But what else can make your work stand out above the rest?

Bachelor’s or master’s degree

Having a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree might not be enough. The program might require that the master’s degree is in nursing or a closely related subject. Go over the requirements with an academic advisor to be certain of the requirements.

Current, active RN license

You will need to present proof an active RN license in good standing. If you are currently working as an RN, some committees might see that as a bonus.

A wealth of experience

The more experience you have, the more likely the committee will pay closer attention to your application. They will want to see that you have already dealt with leadership positions, which makes it more likely that you will be able to handle the advanced roles you’ll take on an as a DNP.

Tuition & Fees

Online learning has become popular for many reasons, and one of those is the possibility of saving money. Some of the ways to save are quite obvious, such as the lack of a commute. You save on parking, gas, wear and tear on your vehicle, and more. Plus, you might not have to pay the fees a student could expect to pay when going to campus, such as a fee to use the gym or other campus facilities.

Another point to consider is tuition itself. Some schools give online students a special tuition rate which might be lower than the typical rates; others might allow online students to attend at the in-state rate, which is much more affordable than the out-of-state rate.

Let’s take a look at a few of the schools offering the DNP and how much it might cost. Keep in mind that this is tuition only; it does not include any other expenses, such as travel for in-person intensives, assuming the school requires them.

SchoolCost per CreditTotal CreditsSubtotal
East Tennessee State University$1,42938$54,302
Baylor University$1,10036$39,600
Walden University$85047–53 (quarter credits)$39,950–$45,050
Chamberlain University$77532-42$24,800– $32,550

NOTE: This might be an eye-popping chart for those who want to pursue the DNP, but it’s important to remember that tuition is not necessarily the bottom line. Tuition assistance, grants, scholarships, and employer reimbursement programs, can drive down that cost. Tuition might also be lower if you have a certain background. For instance, those who are active or former military might get a special tuition rate. Always contact a financial aid advisor at the college of your choice to determine what the options might be and how you can make the financial bottom line more comfortable. In the meantime, read through our guide to scholarships and grants to see what’s available and how to apply.

Salaries for Online DNPs

There’s little doubt that the more education you have, the higher your potential pay could be and the greater job security you could have. This trend holds true with those who earn the DNP. According to Payscale.com, nurses with a master’s in nursing earn an average of around $94,000 per year, while nurses with a DNP earn an average of approximately $104, per year. We’ve listed some salary figures from Payscale for three job titles common to nursing doctorate holders. These figures don’t include additional income sources such as bonuses and profit-sharing plans.

Job TitleMedian Earnings90th Percentile Earnings
Family Nurse Practitioner$95,000$118,000
Acute Care Practitioner$103,000$127,000
Nurse Anesthetist$156,000$202,000