Do DNP Programs Include an Internship?

Because the DNP is a practice-focused doctorate, no DNP program is complete without extensive practical training in the form of internships and other clinical experiences. In fact, before you can graduate, you’ll be required to complete at least 1,000 contact hours of clinical training. You’ll be able to transfer about 500 of those hours from your MSN program, so you can expect to complete about 500 hours of clinical training throughout your DNP program.

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Yes, DNP programs include an internship—actually, many internships. Extensive clinical training is the cornerstone of the DNP and is your opportunity to strengthen your professional relationships and build upon your advanced nursing skills.

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DNP internships are no different than other internships completed through other undergraduate or graduate degree programs in that they are your opportunity to take what you’ve learned in the classroom and apply it in actual clinical settings.

According to the AACN’s DNP Essentials, practice experiences are designed to “expand on proficiency and mastery of APRN or systems competencies.” Through these experiences, you’ll collaborate with other professionals in complex health environments where you’ll get a chance to develop your clinical leadership and decision making skills.

How is the DNP Internship Structured?

What makes DNP internships different from internships in a bachelor’s degree, for example, is that instead of it being the culminating experience of your education, you can expect to complete many of them concurrent with coursework, with each practice-based experience building upon the applicable coursework you recently completed. In fact, the majority of the courses completed within a DNP program will include integrated clinical hours. The clinical experiences completed alongside DNP courses are designed to ensure mastery of each of the AACN’s 8 DNP Competencies as you progress through the program.

The bulk of your internship hours will be in the form of more traditional internships with healthcare providers in the community, while the remaining required clinical hours are completed as part of the final DNP project. In short, expect to fulfill your clinical requirements through a variety of clinical experiences.

For example, the 500 required internship hours within a typical DNP program may be broken down as follows:

  • 100 hours as part of the program’s core courses
  • Internship I: 140 hours
  • Internship 2: 140 hours
  • Final DNP project: 120 hours

Total internship hours: 500 hours

What Can I Expect in a DNP Internship?

Expect the design of each DNP internship or clinical experience you participate in as you progress through the program to be quite varied. The practice hours you complete as part of your core coursework will, of course, align with the course’s objective. For example, within a technology course, your clinical requirements may include assessing a current healthcare information system and determining its strengths and weaknesses and making recommendations for improvement.

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The DNP’s formal internship experiences, which are often referred to as immersion experiences or practicum experiences, are often completed right in the facility you already work in. Working in partnership with a faculty mentor, these experiences are designed to be directly related to your chosen area of inquiry and will support your clinical practice goals and final DNP project. Going into it, you’ll share your plan regarding the completion of these experiences and receive guidance from experienced faculty along the way.

Options for DNP internships, as identified by the AACN, include:

  • Practice experience
  • Collaborating with an expert in practice
  • Observing experts in the healthcare field
  • Learning new advanced practice skills
  • Serving on a committee or engaging in community activities related to the committee
  • Advocating for vulnerable populations
  • Engaging in policy development
  • Attending a conference