As one of the terminal degrees—meaning the highest level of educational attainment—in the field of nursing, holding a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree opens up a wide array of options for a career in professional nursing.
Generally speaking, those who pursue a DNP degree tend to be focused on clinical practice, either in terms of hands-on care delivery, managing others who do so or developing policy around it. But a clinical focus is not the only pathway a DNP can follow.
For people already in an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) role, pursuing a doctoral degree can strengthen your clinical expertise and give you additional skills in policy, leadership, and systems management, which can position you for high-level organizational roles.
DNP vs. MSN: Why get a doctorate in nursing?
As you evaluate the nursing role that suits your talents and goals, you should think about the educational pathway that will get you where you want to be. If you currently have an MSN, you may have found that there are roles that might suit you better, and pursuing a doctorate will help you succeed in those roles.
Even if you have a master’s degree in a related field, such as Master of Public Health (MPH), Master of Business Administration (MBA), or Master of Health Administration (MHA), you may find that a post-master’s DNP will allow you to expand your career options.
Education needed for certification
The criteria for levels of education required for certain professional nursing roles are always being re-evaluated. Currently, registered nurses with Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees are eligible for certification as APRNs who want to be nurse practitioners or nurse-midwives.
We are, however, entering a transitional phase for nurse anesthetists, who up until now have been categorized as APRNs. That is changing. The Council on Accreditation (COA), the body that approves the academic program standards for certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), has determined that beginning in 2025, a doctorate will be required for all candidates seeking certification as nurse anesthetists.
Since most doctoral programs are three-years long, students entering CRNA programs after Jan. 1, 2022 will have to meet the new educational requirements. (Students currently enrolled in master’s-level CRNA programs will still be able to be certified upon completion of their program, and current CRNAs will be able to maintain their certifications when they follow the usual schedules for continuing education and recertification.)
Why is a DNP degree recommended for entry-level nurse practitioners?
There is a similar restructuring proposed for nurse practitioners (NPs). The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties is recommending that all NPs successfully complete a DNP program prior to certification for that role by 2025. While that has not yet been adopted across the board, educational requirements could change in the future.
In their document , “The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice,” the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) explains the rationale for doctoral-prepared nurse practitioners. Among the reasons cited are the ever-increasing complexity of nursing practice and the need for advanced competencies to deliver effective care, as well as the need for “enhanced knowledge to improve nursing practice and patient outcomes.”
These types of requirement changes may influence your decision to pursue a doctoral degree.
What can you do with a DNP?
There are many roles that DNPs can fill, from clinical care to education to business and legal fields. The impact of a doctoral-prepared nurse practitioner can be broad in scope. Here is a brief description of some of the roles DNPs can assume:
Clinical Care—Doctors of Nursing Practice can choose from a variety of APRN specialties in six recognized nurse practitioner roles, including Family Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Primary or Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Neonatal Nurse Practitioner, among others. They may also elect to provide direct patient care as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist or Certified Nurse-Midwife.
While DNP programs also give full preparation in other aspects of nursing, such as practice management, quality improvement strategies, and more, many DNPs may remain focused on direct patient care.
Telehealth—One of the “silver linings” to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is the wider availability (and reimbursement from insurers) of telehealth services. NPs and other clinicians are able to provide health care services over the phone or computer to patients who don’t have to leave home for their appointments.
Providers can offer their services through established hospital systems, private practices, or dedicated online telehealth services.
Health Administration—DNPs can use their training in policy and leadership in administrative positions. This might be a position as a nurse manager to oversee clinical operations, or an executive position in a hospital, acute care facility, long-term health facility, or community clinic.
One of the essential areas of study for DNPs covers organizational leadership and systems thinking. This positions DNPs to evaluate and implement policies to meet the health needs of a particular patient population and improve practices to ensure positive health outcomes.
Health informatics—DNPs can be at the forefront of IT initiatives to manage electronic health records and associated technology. Hospitals depend on nurse informaticists to implement IT infrastructure and manage data collection and compliance with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
Policy leadership/advocacy—Health policy and advocacy have a direct effect on patient communities and care providers themselves. DNPs can advocate at the local, state, national, or international levels to promote health care policy that addresses health parity, financing, regulation, safety, quality, and efficacy.
Education—After undertaking additional coursework in pedagogy, a DNP can become an educator and prepare the next generation of nurses. To pursue the role of educator, the DNP can select a specialty area of nursing practice and marry that with additional coursework on teaching methodologies, curriculum design and development, and program evaluation.
There is a distinct need for teaching faculty in nursing science, so career opportunities will be broad. A DNP’s education prepares them to teach nursing students the tenets of evidence-based nursing practice, often in clinical settings as well as in academia.
Publishing—Related to education, DNPs may find a niche in the publishing world. They may author textbooks or other materials for continuing nursing education. Or, they may work for medical businesses that need a knowledgeable professional to create documents for their equipment, services, or medications.
Some additional nonclinical options for DNPs include:
- Thought leadership
- Health care organization boards/committees
- Nonprofit leadership
- Legal NP consultant
Look to a top-tier nursing program for your DNP
When you are evaluating DNP programs for your education, be sure to look at the University of Indianapolis (UIndy). Known for quality outcomes and outstanding faculty, UIndy has consistently produced high-caliber graduates who consistently pass their nurse practitioner exams at rates that surpass the national average.
UIndy’s Post-Master’s DNP program offers you the highest level of nursing education, grounded in both nursing practice and health system leadership geared to improve patient outcomes. Online coursework and clinical practicum hours provide training in health information technology, policy analysis, advocacy, and business theory and planning—culminating in a scholarly project focused on practice issues in your topic of interest.