2021 Online RN to DNP Programs [Nursing Guide]

If you are looking to advance your career in nursing, RN to DNP programs online are tailored for licensed RNs who want to fast-track their way to the highest degree in nursing.

Online RN to DNP Programs

This bridge program allows you to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice. With a DNP, you can obtain certification to become an advanced practice registered nurse, depending on your specialization.

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A DNP online program can also help you qualify for leadership positions in the nursing field. This type of program focuses on evidence-based practice, administration, and research within the healthcare system.

RN to DNP Programs Online

RN to DNP Programs Online

RN to DNP programs prepare nurses for the rapidly changing and fast-paced healthcare industry by fast-tracking their learning and qualifications.

By building on your knowledge and experience as a registered nurse, you can amplify your collaboration skills and leadership qualities through this intensive bridge program. The following are a few potential benefits to earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice:

  • New job opportunities. A DNP can open opportunities to become an administrative or practice leader in your hospital.
  • Higher earning potential. Holding a doctorate can often increase your salary by a significant amount.
  • Broader field of interest. A DNP can allow you to broaden your field of interest as you become qualified to work in a wider range of work settings with more responsibilities.
  • Ability to impact the healthcare industry. A DNP may assist you in influencing policies, rules, and regulations in the industry.

Some of the topics you’ll study when pursuing a DNP degree will typically relate to theory, trend and data statistics and future research, leadership practices, and innovative clinical practice opportunities.

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Online DNP programs, whether online RN to DNP or online MSN to DNP programs, allow you to merge flexible online learning with impactful hands-on experiences. A DNP may offer you the chance to participate in creating cutting-edge changes and molding an industry that has a great demand for workers.

Nurse Practitioner Careers & Salaries

Nurse Practitioner Careers & Salaries

The avenues that open up to you as a DNP nurse can be immense. For starters, you can obtain certification to be an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

The most common type of APRN is nurse practitioner (NP). Other APRN roles include nurse midwife and nurse anesthetist. Your degree specialization will determine which APRN certification you can qualify for.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment of nurse practitioners is projected to grow 52% through 2029. Here are some of the career paths you might consider to help fill this demand.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Nurse Anesthetists $183,580
Nurse Practitioners, Outpatient Care Centers $118,020
Nurse Practitioners, General Medical and Surgical Hospitals $117,080
Nurse Practitioners, All $111,680
Nurse Midwives $111,130
Nurse Practitioners, Offices of Other Health Practitioners $109,200
Nurse Practitioners, Offices of Physicians $108,430
Medical and Health Services Managers $104,280
Postsecondary Nursing Instructors and Teachers $75,470
Registered Nurses $75,330

Nurse practitioners can work in various healthcare settings and leadership roles. In some states, NPs can even open their own practices. Some DNP graduates become administrative representatives in a hospital or lead clinical practices in their community.

This is just a small sample of the paths that may be available to you if you upgrade from registered nurse to APRN or nurse practitioner.

RN to DNP Curriculum & Courses

RN to DNP Curriculum

While the courses and curriculum can vary from school to school, here are some of the potential courses you may encounter in a RN to DNP online program.

  • Quality Management in Healthcare: This course allows you to better understand the theoretical foundations of quality in healthcare as well as the application of improvement methods in the industry.
  • Nursing Leadership: This course deals with leadership in the healthcare industry, including the need to respond to dynamic and complex situations.
  • Foundations of Evidence-Based Practice: The framework of this course is rooted in problem-solving and learning how to deliver healthcare solutions that are formulated from patient data, values, policies, and needs.
  • Healthcare Policy in Advanced Practice: A nurse practitioner cannot expect to be successful in the industry without a complex comprehension of rules, regulations, and policies.
  • Nursing Ethics in Advanced Practice: In advanced practice, the professional responsibilities of healthcare workers change. This course helps you better understand nursing ethics through historical reflection, knowledge of advocating for patient rights, and understanding future trends and issues.
  • Advanced Physical Assessment Across the Lifespan: You’ll learn how to work with a patient from birth into adulthood and develop a nurse-client relationship that has the patient’s goals in mind.
  • Clinical Decision Making: This course explores research evidence from clinical and academic disciplines and allows you the opportunity to gain the necessary skills to make meaningful decisions in high-stress circumstances.
  • Advanced Research Methods: This course prepares you for the research involved in the development of the healthcare industry.
  • Legal Issues in Advanced Practice: Knowledge of both your rights and your patients’ rights is necessary when involved in a leadership or administrative role.
  • Project Seminar or Clinical Practice: Some programs request a final thesis project on your focus or a clinical practice in your community under a mentor.

The program structure and course options can vary depending on where you decide to enroll, but these are a few course you may across in a DNP curriculum.

Admissions Requirements

RN to DNP Admissions Requirements

Admissions requirements vary from school to school, but you must be a registered nurse to enter a DNP program. Here are some additional requirements you may come across when looking to pursue an RN to DNP program online:

  • Active RN license
  • Prerequisite courses
  • Volunteer hours or letters of recommendation
  • GRE or GMAT scores, if required

As an RN, your experience in the industry can also be impactful on your acceptance into a program.

Accreditation

RN to DNP Programs Accreditation

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) approves regional accreditation agencies. Those agencies then look at educational institutions and ensure they meet predetermined standards of academic quality and integrity.

When pursuing your DNP degree, it’s beneficial to ensure that your prospective school is in CHEA’s directory of recognized organizations. A degree from a regionally accredited school is recognized by employers and institutions alike and is often a requirement for licensure and certification.

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In addition, a school’s accreditation status ensures that your training meets a standard of practice for the workforce.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

RN to DNP Programs Financial Aid

If you’re looking for financial aid as you pursue your RN to DNP degree, there are quite a few scholarship or aid opportunities that may be available to qualifying students.

Firstly, the school you are looking to apply to may have a scholarship opportunities available. In addition, your nursing union as well as healthcare institution may provide loans or other methods of financial help to assist you in pursuing growth in your career.

You may also consider FAFSA, which is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s a form that allows you to quickly determine what student loans or federal financial aid you may qualify for.

What Is a DNP?

Doctor of Nursing Practice

A Doctor of Nursing Practice is a post-BSN and RN medical practice degree. It is a doctorate position within the nursing field. Though it is not the same as a physician or medical doctor, it is the highest level of educational and professional training that a nurse can obtain.

A DNP can help qualify nurses for leadership roles in the nursing sector. It can also enable advanced practice registered nurses to make impactful and transformative changes in the healthcare industry.

Is a DNP a Doctor?

DNP nurse

A DNP nurse can be called “doctor” in the sense that they’ve earned a doctorate and become experts in their field, but they are not a medical doctor (MD). They are a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

A Doctor of Nursing Practice is the highest level of educational training in the nursing profession. A medical doctor—or physician—focuses on medicine while a nurse practitioner goes through different training to obtain a terminal degree in the nursing profession.

A DNP program includes a broader educational experience, allowing you to choose your specialty for when you enter the clinical practice and workforce. A nurse practitioner’s approach to healthcare is often more holistic while an MD focuses on medicine.

What Does a DNP Do?

nursing professional with a DNP

A nursing professional with a DNP has a number of possible roles in the healthcare industry that they can consider pursuing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that growth in this industry will continue to increase due to the demand for healthcare services.

Top industries for the nursing industry are hospitals, mental health facilities, and personal practices. You can designate a specialty within your DNP program in order to obtain certification as a specific type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Common APRN roles include nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, and nurse practitioner.

A D.N.P. may also allow you the opportunity to apply your holistic leadership skills to help manage the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of your patients. You can also choose to pursue administration roles to try and help improve the future of healthcare.

How Much Do DNP Nurses Make?

Nursing professionals with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) can earn various salaries, depending on their employer, geographic location, specialization, and career path. RNs with a masters or doctorate can pursue certification as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) and earn significantly higher salaries than registered nurses.

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Common APRN positions include nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, and nurse midwife. These roles earn median salaries of $111,680, $183,580, and $111,130 respectively (Bureau of Labor Statistics). APRNs with a DNP can often qualify for even higher earning potential as well as leadership positions, depending on their employer and level of experience.

What Can You Do with a DNP?

Obtaining a DNP degree can help you qualify for a role as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), depending on your chosen specialization. Common APRN roles include:

  • Nurse anesthetist: They provide pain medication before, after, or during surgery to patients.
  • Nurse midwife: They assist women through childbirth and offer holistic care to the mother and child.
  • Nurse practitioner: They assess patients, diagnose illnesses, and advise them in their healthcare decisions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expect APRN positions to have faster than average job growth over the next ten years, as healthcare experts continue to be in high demand. A DNP can also help prepare you for leadership roles within the healthcare industry.

Can You Go from RN to DNP?

RN to DNP

Yes, if you are a licensed registered nurse, there are programs that allow you to earn your Doctor of Nursing Practice without first needing to earn your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

Some RN to DNP programs give you the ability to fast-track your education, whether you currently have a bachelors degree, associates degree, or diploma.

How Long Does It Take to Go from RN to DNP?

RN to DNP programs typically take 3 to 6 years to complete, depending on the university and your chosen specialty. Your educational background can also impact your completion time.

If you choose to pursue an RN to DNP bridge program, you may find yourself in school for approximately 4 years if you study full-time or for 6 years if you take on a part-time course load. If you wish to pursue your BSN to DNP, it may only take 3 to 4 years of full-time study with an accelerate program. If you are only able to enroll part-time, it may take longer.

Should I Get My MSN or DNP?

MSN or DNP

Whether you pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) depends on your individual needs and career goals. An MSN is geared more towards nurses who are looking to specialize in clinical studies while a DNP is tailored for those wishing to become a leader in the healthcare industry.

An MSN allows you to focus on clinical skills while a DNP is more heavily focused on research and evidence-based practice. In addition, the salary of a DNP is greater on average than that of an MSN.

What’s the Difference Between a MSN vs. DNP?

Here are some quick ways to better understand the difference between a Master of Science in Nursing and a Doctor of Nursing Practice.

MSN DNP
  • Masters degree
  • Clinically focused
  • Faster degree to obtain from RN, depending on the program
  • Can lead to high average salaries
  • Doctoral degree
  • Clinically, leadership- and research-focused
  • RN to DNP is more limited and generally takes longer to obtain
  • Typically leads to higher average salaries than an MSN

Though the features differ between an MSN and a DNP, which you pursue depends on your individual career goals and interests.

What’s the Difference Between a DNP vs. NP?

There are extensive differences between a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and the role of a nurse practitioner (NP).

NP DNP
  • A type of advanced practice registered nurse
  • Can hold a MSN or DNP
  • Focuses on clinical practice
  • Can assess patients, diagnose illnesses, and advise them in their healthcare decisions
  • Doctorate—highest level of education in nursing
  • Emphasis on research and creating innovative changes in the healthcare industry
  • Aims to further develop clinical expertise and leadership skills

A DNP can help qualify you to become a nurse practitioner, or you may pursue additional leadership or management roles.

What’s the Difference Between a DNP vs. MD?

There are vast differences between a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and a medical doctor (MD).

DNP MD
  • The highest degree in nursing
  • A holistic learning path that focuses on the well-being of patients and has a broader focus
  • Whole-patient-based, finding the long-term emotional, mental, and physical needs of patients
  • Can lead to leadership jobs in research and development
  • Often requires 1,000 patient hours in clinical experience
  • A medical doctor, also known as a physician
  • A more specialized learning path that focuses on the medical needs of patients
  • Disease-based, finding solutions to fix disorders
  • Can lead to leadership jobs and high-powered jobs in the medical industry
  • Often requires 20,000 hours or more of residency experience

An MD is a more intensive medical role with more responsibilities, but a nurse practitioner with a DNP can also run their own practice in certain states without having to go to medical school.

What’s the Difference Between a DNP vs. PhD in Nursing?

While both a Doctor of Nursing Practice and a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing are both research-focused, there are quite a few differences between the two.

DNP PhD in Nursing
  • Typically for professionals working in the highest level of nursing practice
  • Curriculum is focused on advanced clinical practices and evidence-based experiences
  • More demand in the workforce
  • Greater salary on average
  • Typically for those who want to pursue careers in research or academic fields
  • Curriculum is focused on writing and research skills as well as the history of the industry
  • Present demand in academia
  • Lower average salary than DNPs

Where you wish to take your career may be the ultimate determining factor when deciding which degree works best for you.

Is a DNP Worth It?

Yes, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is worth it for many students. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that healthcare services will continue to see growth due to an aging population. Nurse practitioners in particular are expected to see 52% job growth over the next ten years.

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The nursing field has an ever-growing demand and very profitable salary averages, especially for advanced practice registered nurses. Earning a DNP can help you develop your expertise, allowing you to qualify for leadership roles or skillfully apply holistic practices to patient relationships and care.

Universities Offering Online RN to DNP Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Alvernia University

Alvernia University campus

Alvernia University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Azusa Pacific University

Azusa Pacific University campus

Azusa Pacific University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Boise State University

Boise State University campus

Boise State University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Chatham University

Chatham University campus

Chatham University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Columbia University

Columbia University campus

Columbia is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Drexel University

Drexel University campus

Drexel University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Duquesne University

Duquesne University campus

Duquesne University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Gardner-Webb University

Gardner-Webb University campus

Gardner-Webb University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Georgetown University

Georgetown University campus

Georgetown University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Idaho State University

Idaho State University campus

Idaho State University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Kent State University

Kent State University campus

Kent State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Liberty University

Liberty University campus

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Missouri State University

Missouri State University campus

Missouri State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Monmouth University

Monmouth University campus

Monmouth University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Nova Southeastern University

Nova Southeastern University campus

NSU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Ohio State University

Ohio State University campus

The Ohio State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Quinnipiac University

Quinnipiac University campus

Quinnipiac is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

University of Arizona

University of Arizona campus

The University of Arizona is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of Cincinnati

University of Cincinnati campus

The University of Cincinnati is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

West Virginia University

West Virginia University campus

West Virginia University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Getting Your RN to DNP Online

RN to DNP Online

If you’re ready to advance in the rewarding field of nursing, you may want consider enrolling in an RN to DNP program online. A growing number of universities even offer accelerated nursing programs online that you may want to explore.

Your developed expertise may help you to impact the future of the healthcare industry, work on the emotional, mental, and physical well-being of patients, or become a leader in the administrative and clinical growth of a hospital or healthcare community.

Fast-tracking your educational journey through an RN to DNP bridge program can allow you to reach your career goals more quickly. You can get started today by exploring RN to DNP online programs from accredited universities.

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Claudia Amendola Alzraa
WRITTEN BY
Claudia Amendola Alzraa
Claudia has a Master's in Library and Information Studies, a Bachelor's in Education, and a Bachelor's with Honors in English and Philosophy. With a history working in Special Education, Claudia is an advocate for diversified and equitable education, and student success initiatives.