Online BSN-to-DNP and MSN-to-DNP Programs Available in Illinois

Northern Illinois University is developing its new, stand-alone school of nursing with the ultimate goal of offering students a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Slated to begin admitting students in the fall of 2016, NIU’s DNP will be “stringently accredited,” according to Derryl Block, dean of the school’s current College of Health and Human Sciences. The development of this DNP program is a result of high enrollment numbers in the school’s current nursing programs, which Block said encompass 20 percent of all nursing students in the state. NIU’s DNP program will be the ninth accredited DNP program in the state.

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This development reflects the fact that, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for registered nurses including APRNs is anticipated to grow 16 percent from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than average for other occupations. Advanced practice nurses, who are more often opting for the DNP – the ultimate terminal clinical practice degree for nurses – remain in particularly high demand as the nation’s healthcare system is faced with unprecedented demands and a need for more nurses capable of serving as primary care providers.

One particular area in which Illinois’ healthcare system has been struggling to meet the needs of patients is in the delivery of mental health services, as was recently described in a piece published in Central Illinois News Now. In July 2015, funding was cut to two of the state’s primary mental health agencies, creating deficiencies for residents in need of mental health services. Some Illinois patients are now seeking care from Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners, advanced practice nurses who have received specialized training in mental health, many of whom hold a DNP.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reports that nursing schools in Illinois graduated about 13,000 students at the bachelor’s level and higher in 2015, 2,049 of which earned a Doctor of Nursing Practice.

As highly experienced advanced practice registered nurses and clinical and organizational leaders, DNP nurses are vital to helping to develop and produce healthcare policies within professional nursing organizations in the state of Illinois:

  • Theresa Towle, DNP, FNP-BC, CNRN: Illinois Society for Advanced Practice Nursing, Government Relations Chair
  • Susan M. Krawczyk, CRNA, DNP: Illinois Association of Nurse Anesthetists, Director-Region III
  • Sarah Gabua, DNP, RN: American Nurses Association-Illinois, Treasurer
  • Melinda Noonan, DNP, RN, NEA-BC: Assistant Professor, College of Nursing & College of Health Sciences, Rush University; and Past President of the Illinois Organization of Nurse Leaders

Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Illinois

Doctor of Nursing Practice programs are available as post-bachelor’s programs for BSN-prepared RNs and post-master’s programs for MSN-prepared RNs and APRNs:

  • BSN-to-DNP programs allow BSN-prepared registered nurses to first fulfill their MSN requirements and then transition into the DNP program. This type of program is usually used as a track to initial APRN certification and licensure and would consist of an average of 90 credits taken over 36 months if studying full-time, depending on the specialization.
  • MSN-to-DNP programs allow MSN-prepared registered nurses who may already be certified and licensed as APRNs to fulfill the requirements of a DNP. These programs are designed for APRNs wishing to improve their proficiency within their current APRN role or to add additional certification(s) in other patient population foci or specialties. Executive and organizational leadership tracks are also available. These types of programs average 36 credits completed over 18 months if studying full-time, depending on the specialization.

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) accredit all DNP programs in the U.S. Accreditation is bestowed upon programs that offer at least 1,000 practice hours at the post-baccalaureate level and give students the opportunity to specialize in at least one of the following concentrations:

  • Advanced practice nursing direct care (nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist)
  • Organizational, aggregate, or systems concentration such as nursing leadership, health care policy, etc.

Illinois nursing students often opt for the many accredited online DNP programs that offer flexible distance learning options. In such online programs, students must still complete clinical requirements at partner clinical sites.

Both campus-based and online DNP programs offer students flexible scheduling options, including:

  • Traditional DNP programs take about 18-24 months to complete
  • Accelerated DNP programs take about 12 months to complete
  • Part-time DNP programs take about 30 months to complete

Three main components exist in DNP programs:

  • DNP core – The DNP core courses (includes topics such as application of analytic, organizational and leadership concepts and methods for evidence-based practice, healthcare informatics and information systems, concepts in population health outcomes, and healthcare policy)
  • Specialty courses consistent with the chosen concentration Specialty courses focuses on an advanced practice registered nursing concentration or an aggregate/systems/organizational concentration
  • Final project The DNP program’s final project gives nursing students the opportunity to prove and establish their proficiency in an advanced specialty within the nursing practice. DNP projects may entail a written paper appropriate for publication along with a formal presentation

BSN-to-DNP Programs for BSN-Prepared Nurses

Nursing students who currently hold a BSN may seek admission to DNP programs that allow them to earn both their MSN and DNP in one integrated program. A BSN-to-DNP program gives these students the opportunity to smoothly transition to a DNP program once MSN studies are completed. BSN-DNP programs are typically completed in three-four years.

BSN-DNP programs may concentrate on one of the four APRN roles (nurse practitioner, nurse-midwife, nurse anesthetist or clinical nurse specialist) or offer a systems/organizational leadership track. Additionally, these programs satisfy clinical requirements averaging 500 hours applied to the 1,000 total required to earn a DNP and often allow the student to earn national certification in their chosen APRN role and specialty concentration/population focus as applicable.

Depending upon the chosen nursing concentration, MSN courses will vary. However, the MSN core in a BSN-MSN program is usually uniform from school to school and will encompass the following principles in an average of 36-40 credit hours:

  • Clinical prevention/population health
  • Evidence-based practice research
  • Informatics and technology applications
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration
  • Organizational and systems behavior and leadership
  • Healthcare policy and advocacy
  • Healthcare economics
  • Culture, ethics and policy analysis
  • Program evaluation
  • Quality and safety

MSN programs specializing in an APRN role will also feature an APRN core, consisting of an average of 50 credit hours of study in areas such as:

  • Applied physiology or pathophysiology for advanced practice, including uniform principles that apply across the lifespan
  • Health assessment for advanced practice, including the assessment of all human bodily systems, concepts and methodologies, and advanced assessment practices
  • Pharmacology for advanced practice, including:
    • Pharmacokinetics
    • Pharmacotherapeutic implications across the lifespan
    • Pharmacodynamics

BSN-to-DNP and MSN-to-DNP Programs Available in Illinois

The following DNP programs have been accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), and/or the American Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Other DNP programs not shown here may hold regional accreditation or specialty accreditation through the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs or the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education.

CCNE and ACEN-accredited programs are generally available online to advanced nursing students in Illinois.

  • Illinois State University
    • Post-MSN
    • Aggregate/Systems/Organizational Focus
  • University of St. Francis, Joliet
    • Post-MSN
    • Advanced practice registered nurse focus
  • University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago
    • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
    • Specializations in:
      • Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner
      • Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner
      • Advanced population health nursing
      • Family nurse practitioner
      • Health systems leadership and informatics
      • Neonatal nurse practitioner
      • Nurse midwife
      • Nurse midwife/women’s health practitioner
      • Pediatric acute care nurse practitioner
      • Pediatric primary care nurse practitioner
      • Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner
      • Women’s health nurse practitioner
  • Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Edwardsville
    • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
    • Specialty tracks in:
      • Nurse anesthetist (BSN-DNP)
      • Family nurse practitioner (BSN-DNP)
      • Advanced practice registered nursing focus (MSN-DNP)
  • Rush University, Chicago
    • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
    • Specialty tracks in:
      • Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (BSN-DNP) (MSN-DNP)
      • Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner(BSN-DNP) (MSN-DNP)
      • Family nurse practitioner(BSN-DNP)
      • Neonatal nurse practitioner(BSN-DNP)
      • Pediatric-acute care nurse practitioner(BSN-DNP)
      • Pediatric-primary care nurse practitioner(BSN-DNP)
      • Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner(BSN-DNP)
      • Nurse anesthetist (BSN-DNP)
      • Adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist (BSN-DNP)
      • Adult-gerontology acute care clinical nurse specialist (BSN-DNP)
      • Neonatal clinical nurse specialist (BSN-DNP)
      • Pediatric clinical nurse specialist (BSN-DNP)
      • Advanced public health nursing (BSN-DNP)
      • Systems leadership (MSN-DNP)
      • Leadership to enhance population health outcomes (MSN-DNP)
  • Loyola University Chicago, Maywood
    • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
    • Specialty tracks in:
      • Outcomes performance management (MSN-DNP)
      • Healthcare informatics (MSN-DNP)
      • Infection prevention (BSN-DNP)
  • Lewis University, Romeoville
    • Post-MSN
    • Advanced practice registered nurse focus
  • DePaul University, Chicago
    • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
    • Specialty tracks in:
      • Adult-gerontology nurse practitioner
      • Clinical nurse specialist
      • Family nurse practitioner
      • Nurse anesthetist
      • Nurse midwife
  • Chamberlain College of Nursing, Downers Grove
    • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
    • Specialization in healthcare leadership systems
  • Kaplan University
    • Post-MSN
    • Aggregate/Systems/Organizational Focus
  • Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing
    • Post-MSN
    • Specialty Tracks:
      • Advanced practice registered nurse focus
      • Leadership

Opportunities Available to DNP-Prepared Nurses in Illinois

DNP graduates in Illinois will find a variety of career opportunities in leadership and advanced practice available to them, including:

  • Nurse executives in healthcare organizations
  • Directors of graduate nursing programs
  • Faculty members of clinical nursing programs
  • Developers of health care policies and practices

Registered nurses in Illinois who earn their DNP may find opportunities to advance in leadership roles in their current field and/or with their present employer. The following job listings (sourced in April 2016) reflect common job opportunities and offer insight into the numerous types of professional opportunities available to DNP graduates in Illinois, but are not intended to imply any guarantee of employment:

Health Systems Leadership and Informatics Faculty, University of Illinois Chicago: Chicago, Peoria and Springfield, IL


  • Advance scholarship in health systems leadership and informatics and translate this scholarship into care delivery, policy and practice
  • Serve as a nurse leader example to students within the health systems leadership and informatics program


  • DNP or related doctoral degree in a health sciences area
  • Rank and salary will be determined by level of experience and education (i.e., clinical assistant professor, clinical associate professor, clinical professor)

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, Compass Health Center: Chicago, IL


  • Perform complete, initial psychiatric evaluation to determine diagnosis and plan of care
  • Monitor patient progress
  • Revise, prescribe and implement therapeutic regimen in interdisciplinary approach
  • Ensure patient/family education on clinical condition and aspects of care


  • MSN or DNP from an accredited nursing program
  • State license and national certification as an APN
  • At least 2 years of advanced practice nursing experience in the state
  • Experience with patients in crisis

Senior Director of Global Medical Affairs, Circasia: Chicago, IL


  • Leadership of a field-based medical team, driven by strong personal ethics that motivates peers and team
  • Master Medical Affairs support needs and preferences of healthcare professionals in allergy/respiratory care
  • Develop trust and maintain integrity with health care professionals, institutions, and professional organizations


  • Advanced degree (MD, Ph.D., Pharm D or DNP)
  • At least 10 years in the pharmaceutical/biotech industry in medical affairs

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