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What to expect from a DNP nursing education

Jul 28, 2022
5 min Read
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Nurse measuring serum in vial while instructor looks on in white coat.

If you’re considering pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), you’re probably an accomplished nurse with years of bedside experience under your belt. You’ve learned a lot on the job and are ready to evolve your practice, take on a new challenge and become a leader in your field. Perhaps you’ve been encouraged to pursue a DNP nursing education and are looking for more information.

Completing a doctoral degree is a big investment of time, energy and resources, and you’ll want to do your research before committing to a program. Keep reading for guidance in planning your DNP journey with expert insight from Dr. Trina K. Walker, DNP, APRN, FNP-C and assistant professor in Creighton University’s Family Nurse Practitioner graduate program.

What is a DNP?

A Doctor of Nursing Practice is a terminal degree, meaning it is the highest level of training in the field of nursing. Prior to the introduction of the standardized model for DNP programs in 2004, most doctoral-level nursing graduates earned a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). While PhD-holders are essential for producing evidence-based knowledge and leading research teams, there was a clear need for practice-focused doctoral nursing education. DNP nursing education prepares nurse leaders to improve patient outcomes in increasingly complex healthcare environments.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), all DNP curriculums must promote the following learning outcomes:

  • Scientific underpinnings for practice
  • Organizational and systems leadership
  • Clinical scholarship and analytical methods
  • Information systems and patient care technology
  • Healthcare policy
  • Interprofessional collaboration
  • Clinical prevention and population health
  • Advanced practice registered nursing

What do you learn in a DNP program?

DNP nursing education builds on the skills you’ve already gained as a registered nurse (RN) or advanced practiced registered nurse (APRN). It provides you with a solid foundation to transition from a bedside nurse to a clinical or administrative leader.

“A DNP gives you the opportunity to incorporate a more systematic approach to care that extends beyond the bedside,” Dr. Walker shares.

As a Creighton University DNP graduate, you can expect to learn how to:

  • Integrate theories and knowledge from interdisciplinary sciences into your nursing practice
  • Work with families, individuals, groups, communities and providers to improve health, prevent disease and reduce disparities in access to healthcare
  • Engage in policy analysis, formulation and implementation, as well as advocacy at the local, regional, national and/or global level
  • Lead interprofessional teams in the evaluation of complex issues that negatively impact healthcare outcomes
  • Incorporate ethical reasoning, cultural humility and social justice into your professional framework

In addition to natural and social sciences, Creighton University’s DNP program also includes intangible teachings consistent with the Jesuit values of the school’s founders. “This strong moral and ethical foundation results in wonderful patient advocates, and I believe it sets Creighton graduates apart from others,” Dr. Walker explains.

Students must also complete a scholarly project that demonstrates their ability to synthesize all the knowledge, skills and attitudes acquired throughout the program. This final assignment requires students to collaborate with nurses and professionals from other disciplines to design, manage and evaluate clinical practices and organizational systems.

What are the DNP admissions requirements?

Admissions requirements vary depending on your entry point into the program. To apply for the BSN to DNP track at Creighton, students must submit the following items to be considered:

  1. A completed application
  2. $50 application fee
  3. A bachelor’s degree in nursing from a college or university accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  4. A cumulative GPA of 3.0
  5. Official transcripts from all colleges and universities attended
  6. Three letters of recommendation
  7. An active, unencumbered registered nurse (RN) license
  8. A current resume
  9. A personal statement
  10. Successful completion of an undergraduate statistics course
  11. Successful completion of an undergraduate physical assessment course

If you’ve already earned a Master of Nursing Science (MSN) and you are licensed as an APRN, you can apply for the Post-Graduate MSN to DNP general track. MSN prepared nurses without an APRN license could complete the Post-Graduate MSN to DNP track specializing in nursing administration and leadership.

How long does it take to complete a DNP?

Your time of completion depends on your entry point into the program, specialty and how much time you have to dedicate to your DNP nursing education. Many students find that the flexibility of online programs, like the ones offered at Creighton University, makes it easier to fit into their busy schedules.

Creighton’s graduate nursing programs do not have a specific timeframe; however, the advanced-level courses are typically only offered once per year. For students on the BSN-DNP track who work while going to school part-time, the program typically takes four to six years to complete.

What can you do with a DNP?

Obtaining a DNP degree can unlock several opportunities to advance your nursing career. Depending on your specialty, you may pursue work as a clinician, administrator or educator in a variety of settings.

At Creighton University, nurses who hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) can enroll in the BSN to DNP program and choose from the following specialized tracks:

  • Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner
  • Family nurse practitioner
  • Neonatal nurse practitioner
  • Pediatric primary and acute care nurse practitioner (dual)
  • Psychiatric mental health across the lifespan nurse practitioner
  • Nursing administration and leadership

No matter what kind of advanced practice nurse you plan on becoming, the job market outlook is promising. With more and more baby boomers reaching retirement age, the demand for trained clinicians will continue to grow.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of jobs for nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives will grow 45 percent by 2030. This is more than five times faster than the national average for all occupations. The earning potential for these positions is also above average, with the 2021 median annual salary reported at $123,780.

Take the next step in advancing your nursing career

It’s clear that a DNP nursing education is both rigorous and rewarding. Now that you know more about what to expect, you’re better prepared to make an informed decision. If you feel you have what it takes to become an advanced practice nurse, the next step is to compare programs and find the best fit.

Start your research by exploring the Creighton University online DNP program and find out how this training can equip you to help fill the gap in the healthcare field.

Still have questions? Click here to schedule a time to speak with an admissions counselor about the DNP program.