Online DNP Programs

Updated April 10, 2023

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Who Gets One & What to Expect

A doctor of nursing practice (DNP) prepares nursing professionals to work in leadership roles at hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Registered nurses who wish to increase their earning potential and take on more responsibility can benefit from a DNP. Graduates of DNP programs also enjoy strong job prospects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs for advanced practice nurses to grow by 31% between 2016 and 2026.

This guide outlines important information about DNP programs, including common courses, possible career paths after graduation, and professional organizations for students and graduates. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Featured Online Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

DNP vs Ph.D. in Nursing: What's the Difference?

Students earning a Ph.D. in nursing practice online focus on research, while DNP students focus on clinical practice. Ph.D. students typically write a dissertation that can take years to complete; in contrast, DNP students work in clinical settings to gain supervised work experience. Ph.D. graduates often work in research facilities or academia, while DNP graduates usually take leadership roles in healthcare facilities.

Reasons to Pursue an Online DNP

There are many benefits to earning an online DNP, including career advancement opportunities and higher earning potential. The following list outlines several reasons to pursue an online DNP.


DNP curriculum plans emphasize managerial and administrative competencies; doctoral graduates often secure leadership roles, such as nurse manager or chief nursing officer.


DNP graduates enjoy more responsibilities than RNs. They often solve departmental problems; hire, fire, and supervise staff; and manage nursing schedules.


The increased responsibilities of nurses with a DNP often lead to higher salaries, which can reach six figures.


Professionals with DNPs can create workplace policies at their hospitals or clinics to improve patient care. They may also advocate for healthcare policy at the legislative level.


DNP programs may also train graduates to work as instructors in healthcare settings. These professionals guide other nurses, teach best practices, and lead continuing education workshops.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctor of Nursing Practice?

DNP graduates can take on a variety of roles in healthcare facilities, like hospitals, public health offices, independent practices, and clinics. DNP graduates often assume leadership roles, such as chief nursing officer or clinical nurse manager. They may also work in hospitals or universities as nurse educators.

Common Career Paths and Salaries

The following table outlines common career paths and average salaries for DNP graduates.

Nurse Educator

A nurse educator may work at a university or hospital. At universities, they teach students nursing skills. At hospitals, they create and run continuing education programs for working nurses. Average Annual Salary: $75,000

Chief Nursing Officer

A chief nursing officer serves as the top nursing manager in a hospital or other healthcare facility. They supervise staff, handle budgeting within the nursing department, and develop strategies for emergencies. Average Annual Salary:$127,000

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Clinical nurse specialists manage nurses and ensure the quality of patient care at healthcare facilities. They analyze patient results and teach nurses methods to improve their caregiving. Average Annual Salary: $88,000

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse

Advanced practice nurses work in positions such as nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, and nurse anesthetist. They typically enjoy more responsibility and higher pay than RNs. Some advanced practice nurses can write prescriptions. Average Annual Salary: $94,000

Clinical Nurse Manager

These professionals work in leadership positions at hospitals and other healthcare facilities. They often create nursing schedules, develop policies, and respond to complaints from patients. Average Annual Salary: $82,000

Source: PayScale

DNP Program Requirements and Outcomes

Applicants to a DNP program typically need at least a bachelor's degree in nursing, although some universities require prospective students to hold a master's in nursing. All previous degrees should come from accredited institutions, and many DNP programs require a minimum GPA (usually around 3.0). Most universities also expect students to hold an active nursing license.

Additional requirements may include letters of recommendation, a resume or CV, and a personal statement. Some universities include an interview as part of the admissions process, which applicants can usually complete over the phone or through videoconferencing.

Students typically spend at least three years pursuing their DNP. However, degree completion may take up to four or five years, depending on a learner's enrollment status and field experiences. Programs often require 33-39 credits of coursework, although some schools require more.

Common Courses

Curricula vary by program, but the following list outlines common courses in DNP programs. It also details how nursing professionals use the skills and knowledge gained in these courses during their careers.


In this course, students learn how to make hospital and healthcare experiences more comfortable and effective for patients. They study ways to evaluate best practices in healthcare settings and learn how to implement policies for improvement.


In this course, students learn about the relationship between information technology and healthcare data. Learners study data analysis methods, standardized clinical terminology, and data retrieval techniques. They also cover concepts like disaster recovery and business continuity regarding health informatics.


This course covers various government and institutional healthcare policies and regulations that nurses must adhere to. Students also study healthcare advocacy, learning how to partake in the legislative process to improve the nursing profession.


Epidemiology examines patterns of illnesses and how they spread across human populations. Nurses must understand epidemiology to know what health risks affect their patients so they can provide appropriate care.


Typically offered as an elective, this course gives students foundational knowledge about genetic issues that often come up in clinical practice. Coursework trains students about genetic risk assessment and predictions and teaches future nurses how to apply genetic concepts to healthcare treatment.

Other Requirements

While earning a Ph.D. in nursing practice online involves writing a dissertation, DNP programs typically require an intensive research project, field experience, and/or examination instead of a dissertation.


DNP candidates often complete a project. Students may prepare for this project by taking a capstone course toward the end of their program. Learners then create a research proposal, carry out the research, and defend their findings before a faculty committee. The project typically takes at least a year to finish.


Some schools require students to pass an exam before they begin their field experience. The exam usually features a written format and covers the breadth of the DNP curriculum, determining whether students can apply theoretical knowledge to practical scenarios.


DNP programs require students to participate in field experiences, such as a practicum or internship. Students can usually work at an approved site in their local area where they carry out supervised work. The number of contact hours depends on the school, but the experience usually takes one or two semesters to complete.

Skills and Competencies

DNP programs equip students with advanced knowledge and skills that allow them to take on a high level of responsibility in the workplace. The following list outlines several competencies that students gain during a DNP program.


The leadership skills gained in a DNP program prepare nurses to work in management positions. Students learn how to analyze difficult situations, make decisions using critical thinking skills, and motivate other nurses.

Improving Patient Care

DNP students learn how to identify and address weaknesses in patient care. This knowledge allows nurses to deliver quality care to patients.

Clinical Instruction

DNP students learn how to educate other nurses. Graduates might teach university courses for aspiring nurses or teach continuing education and professional development courses to working nurses in healthcare facilities.


DNP students learn how to manage and analyze healthcare data. These skills allow nurses to make data-informed decisions to improve healthcare facilities and patient care.

Develop Best Nursing Practices

DNP students learn up-to-date best nursing practices. Graduates can use this knowledge to implement practices and policies that improve patient care.

Legislative Advocacy

Many DNP programs prioritize legislative advocacy, equipping graduates to advocate for healthcare policies that improve the nursing profession and patient outcomes.

DNP Professional Organizations

Professional associations offer DNP students and graduates many benefits, such as continuing education, professional development, and networking opportunities. Many organizations also offer financial aid opportunities, such as grants and scholarships.

Students should look for organizations that align with their career path. For instance, students who want to become clinical nursing managers or chief nursing officers may benefit from joining the American Organization for Nursing Leadership.

American Nurses Association

This association connects RNs throughout the U.S. through a national conference and other networking events. Members receive access to professional development resources and discounted rates on continuing education courses and certifications.

American Organization for Nursing Leadership

AONL participates in advocacy efforts and offers professional development opportunities for nursing managers. The organization also publishes a list of resources for nursing leaders on its website.

Nurse Practitioner Associates for Continuing Education

NPACE hosts online continuing education courses in primary care and pharmacology, as well as an annual conference. The group also runs a faculty program, which lets nursing professors register for conferences for free.

American Association of Nurse Practitioners

With nearly 100,000 members, AANP provides many resources to help nurse practitioners with their careers, including a job board and nursing grants and scholarships.

National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists

This organization publishes research, books, and a journal. Members can access a career center and attend an annual conference.

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