In 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) first recommended that the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) become the educational minimum for all four APRN roles– nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife and clinical nurse specialist.
According to the AACN, the DNP answers the need for administrative and advanced practice leaders with a strong preparation in systems-based practice improvement and translational research.
Twelve years later and even as the MSN remains the educational minimum for advanced clinicians, this recommendation has changed the course of nursing education and cemented the Doctor of Nursing Practice as the degree employers prefer when considering nurses for career opportunities at the highest levels. The DNP is second to none in preparing graduates for leadership roles in the clinical environment and in areas outside of direct patient care.
DNP Careers by State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
A 2015 study commissioned by the AACN Board of Directors and conducted by RAND Corporation revealed a near-universal consensus that the DNP is best suited to prepare advanced practice nurses and leaders outside of direct patient care to meet our nation’s future healthcare needs.
Therefore, a career as a DNP includes a focus on one of the following:
- The provision of direct care or management of care for individual patients or the management of care populations (APRN roles)
- The provision of indirect care, such as nursing administration, executive leadership, health policy, informatics, and population health
Jobs for DNP-Prepared Nurses in Advanced Clinical (Direct Care) Practice
DNP nurses in direct care serve in an advanced practice registered nursing (APRN) role:
- Nurse practitioners (NPs)
- Certified nurse-midwives (CNMs)
- Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs)
- Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs)
Although the Master of Science in Nursing remains the minimum educational requirement for national certification and state licensure in each of the APRN roles, the DNP has become widely recognized for its positive influence on the practice of nursing, on the quality of patient care, and as the level of education best suited to preparing APRNs to meet the demands of an increasingly complex and technologically reliant healthcare field.
The DNP provides nurses with the opportunity to specialize in a clinical area within their chosen APRN role and/or assume leadership and management roles in clinical settings, both of which set the stage for higher salaries and more opportunities to make significant contributions to the nursing profession.
Through a DNP education, nurses are able to:
- Demonstrate their clinical practice expertise
- Provide direct patient care and clinical leadership
- Use information technology and evidence-based practice to improve healthcare outcomes
DNP programs are designed for:
Currently Practicing APRNs
Currently practicing APRNs pursue a DNP in an effort to advance their expertise within their current APRN role. DNP programs often include minor concentrations that allow students to specialize in and earn certification specific to a particular clinical area, such as:
- Hospice and palliative care
- Community health
- Pain management
- Emergency Care
Clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners can also gain the patient population-specific knowledge necessary to become certified in an additional patient population focus:
- Family/Individual Across the Lifespan
- Women’s Health/Gender Specific
- Psychiatric/Mental Health
According to the American Academy of Nursing, when a doctoral education occurs after entry into APRN practice, students are able to bring practice and systems knowledge and experience to their independent project work. Hospitals that employ DNP-educated nurse practitioners and other APRNs reap the benefits of their acquired doctoral level knowledge and skills, while these DNP-prepared APRNs enjoy salary increases and more opportunities to affect change.
Registered Nurses Seeking Initial APRN Certification and Licensure
Many DNP programs are designed for registered nurses seeking initial APRN certification and licensure and entry into advanced practice. These programs are most often available as post-baccalaureate (BSN-DNP) programs, though post-master’s (MSN-DNP) programs are also available for MSN-educated RNs who have earned a generalist master’s and that don’t currently hold certification in an APRN role.
Registered nurses with their sights set on advanced practice often choose to favorably position themselves in the nursing workforce by completing their DPN as a path to initial APRN certification and licensure, which better prepares them to take on many of the advanced clinical leadership roles often reserved for DPN-prepared nurses.
Jobs for DNP-Prepared Nurses in Non-Direct Care Roles: Executive Leadership, Informatics, and More
Not all nurses seeking a DNP have their sights set on careers in direct care. Therefore, many DNP programs provide nurses with specialty tracks that would focus their nursing careers on an aggregate/systems/organizational role:
- Organizational and professional leadership
- Nursing/health informatics
- Health policy
- Population health
- Clinical nursing education
This puts DNP-educated nurses in the unique position to take on roles in which they bring innovation to healthcare and exert positive influence as:
- Public health program directors
- Health policy specialists
Of course, DNP nurses can also achieve some of the highest executive-level positions in hospital systems, managed care organizations, and governmental agencies, often holding titles that include:
- Chief executive officer
- Chief operating officer
- Chief information officer
- Chief nursing executive officer
- Chief clinical officer
- Vice president, patient services
- Chief patient experience executive
DNP programs with an aggregate/systems/organizational focus address the most contemporary aspects of nursing practice while offering in-depth study in leadership, health systems design and evaluation, evidence-based practice, applied research, health policy, and more. This means DNP nurses are prepared to transform healthcare by:
- Analyzing health policy proposals, health policies, and related issues
- Demonstrating leadership in the development and implementation of health policy at every level
- Influencing policy makers through active participation in task forces and committees
- Educating others at all levels regarding nursing, health policy, and patient care outcomes
- Advocating for the nursing profession with the healthcare and policy communities
- Developing, evaluating, and providing leadership for healthcare policy
- Advocating for social justice, equity, and ethical policies