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

According to a February 2016 article in the Cedar Valley Business Monthly, Iowa is in the midst of a statewide critical nursing shortage. As the baby boom ages into retirement, the problem of too little supply of nurses for the increasing demand of patients is expected to get worse. Dr. Jerry Durham, the chancellor of Iowa’s largest nursing school, Allen College in Waterloo, notes that the shortage exists statewide and in all areas of registered nursing, including acute care, medical-surgical, emergency care, rehabilitation and home health. Therefore, he notes, that Iowa’s nursing graduates have seen a 100 percent placement rate when seeking jobs.

Sponsored School

Featured DNP Programs:

More of Iowa’s RNs are seeking advanced nursing degrees, Durham notes. In 2006, 35 students were enrolled in master’s and doctoral nursing programs at Allen College; today, that number has grown to 240. In 2010, according to Durham, only 93 RNs in Iowa held a DNP, comprising less than one percent of all RNs in the state. By the 2012-13 school year, according to the Iowa Board of Nursing, DNP programs across the state of Iowa had a total of 70 students enrolled. The inference from these numbers is that the number of DNPs in Iowa is on the rise.

Amid the growing shortage of nurses, RNs and ARNPs (advanced registered nurse practitioners) are opting to take the time to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) to prepare for clinical instruction and nursing faculty positions that will ultimately increase the capacity of the state’s nursing schools and help stem the shortage.

Just as acute as the nursing shortage is the state’s shortfall of physicians and advanced practice nurses capable of serving as primary care providers. While DNP programs in executive leadership, informatics, public health and other areas that don’t involve direct patient care are widely available, most offer specialty tracks in advanced practice for aspiring and advancing nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, clinical nurse specialists or nurse midwives. BSNs are more often opting for a DNP as a path to ARNP certification and licensure as a way to future proof their credentials and command higher salaries.

Nurses in Iowa who attain nursing’s highest practice-focused degree, the DNP, often hold positions of leadership and influence within state and national nursing organizations and nursing educational institutions:

  • Mike Anderson, DNP, CRNA, ARNP: Iowa Association of Nurse Anesthetists, President-elect
  • Sister Theresa Keller, DNP, FNP: Forging Relationships for Advanced Nursing Cultural Competence in Siouxland (FRANCIS), Clinical preceptor
  • Jimmy Reyes, DNP, AGNP, RN: Iowa Board of Nursing Newsletter, contributing writer
  • Sarah Livesay, DNP, RN, ACNP-BC, CNS-BC, SCRN: Mercy Medical Center, RN Educator- Stroke Certified Registered Nurse Program (SCRN)

Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Iowa

Doctor of Nursing Practice programs are suitable for RNs who hold a BSN, as well as RNs and ARNPs with an MSN:

  • BSN-DNP (post-bachelor’s) programs give RNs who have earned their BSN the opportunity to satisfy the requirements for an MSN, before transitioning to DNP requirements, all in one accelerated program. These programs are often used as a path to initial ARNP certification and licensure, but are also available with an aggregate/systems/organizational focus. In a BSN-DNP program, full-time students usually complete an average of 90 credits in three-four years.
  • MSN-DN (post-master’s) programs give RNs who have earned an MSN the opportunity to complete the requirements for a DNP. As RNs with an MSN may already be certified in an ARNP area, they may choose to further their proficiency within their current ARNP role, add an additional specialty or patient population focus, or move into roles in administration, health policy, informatics, public health and more. In an MSN-DNP program, full-time students usually complete 36 credits in 18 months.

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accredits Iowa’s DNP programs. To earn CCNE accreditation, a DNP program must provide students with at least 1000 post-baccalaureate practice hours, as well as give them the opportunity or choice to specialize in one of these areas:

  • A direct care role in advanced practice nursing (such as nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse midwife)
  • Aggregate, systems, aggregate, or organizational focus (such as healthcare policy and/or leadership positions)

Online programs allow Iowa’s RNs who seek a DNP the flexibility to complete coursework from anywhere in the world. Practicum requirements of the program must still be fulfilled in-person at participating facilities.

Other types of DNP programs available in Iowa, both campus-based and online, include:

  • Traditional DNP programs, which average 18 to 24 months
  • Accelerated DNP programs, which average 12 months
  • Part-time DNP programs, which average 30 to 36 months

The DNP curriculum is uniform from school to school, including these types of courses:

  • DNP core – Core courses of the DNP program, which may include:
    • Advanced theory
    • Healthcare informatics
    • Analytical methods for health prevention
  • Specialty courses in an APRN role or aggregate/systems/organizational track:
    • Nurse Practitioner
    • Certified Nurse Midwife
    • Clinical Nurse Specialist
    • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
    • Administration
    • Executive Leadership
    • Informatics
    • Healthcare Policy
    • Public Health
  • Final project DNP programs typically include a final project, in which soon-to-be DNP graduates showcase DNP projects, which generally involve a written paper that may be published, along with a formal presentation.

BSN-to-DNP Programs for BSN-Prepared Nurses

A BSN-DNP program allows RNs who hold a BSN to earn an MSN and DNP together in a unified program. After completing requirements for an MSN, students transition into the DNP phase. BSN-to-DNP programs usually take 48 months to complete.

The MSN portion of BSN-DNP programs most often focus on an ARNP role, such as nurse practitioner, nurse-midwife, nurse anesthetist or clinical nurse specialist. These programs fulfill the 500 clinical hour national certification requirement, readying students to take a national certification examination when they have completed the program.

Of course, depending upon the concentration, courses in an MSN program will vary. However, the average of 36 hours of core MSN courses is consistent:

  • Evidence-based practice research
  • Quality control and safety
  • Health prevention
  • Informatics and information technology applications
  • Organizational, aggregate and systems behavior and leadership
  • Healthcare advocacy and policy
  • Healthcare economics
  • Ethics, diversity and policy analysis
  • Program evaluation

MSN programs that concentrate on an ARNP role will also include a core of about 50 credit hours of ARNP courses, like:

  • Physiology or pathophysiology for advanced practice across the lifespan
  • Health assessment for advanced practice across the lifespan
  • Pharmacology for advanced practice across the lifespan

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

Iowa is home to four CCNE- accredited DNP programs (current as of 2016). Some programs are available partially or totally online. 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.

Allen College, Waterloo

  • Post-MSN
  • Advanced practice nursing focus

Briar Cliff University, Sioux City

  • Advanced practice nursing focus

Clarke University, Dubuque

  • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
  • Program is offered online
  • Specialty tracks in:
    • Family nurse practitioner
    • Health Leadership and Practice
    • Nursing Education

University of Iowa, Iowa City

  • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
  • Specialty tracks in:
    • Adult/gerontology acute care nurse practitioner
    • Adult/gerontology primary care nurse practitioner
    • Family nurse practitioner
    • Health systems
    • Nurse anesthetist
    • Pediatric acute care nurse practitioner
    • Pediatric primary care nurse practitioner
    • Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner
    • Dual certification: Psych/mental health and adult/gerontology primary care nurse practitioner
    • Dual certification: Psych/mental health and family nurse practitioner
    • Dual certification: Psych/mental health and pediatric primary care nurse practitioner

Opportunities Available to DNP-Prepared Nurses in Iowa

The following job listings compiled in April 2016 reflect current opportunities and offer insight into the numerous types of professional opportunities available to DNP graduates in Iowa, but are not intended to imply any guarantee of employment:

Clinician, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland- Bettendorf, IA


  • Obtain patient health history and perform physical examinations and assessments
  • Perform, order and interpret diagnostic tests as required
  • Assist with staff training in medical care,


  • MSN required, DNP preferred
  • NP, PA or CNM licensing required
  • One year of experience in women’s health care preferred

Assistant Professor of Nursing Education-Undergraduate, Morningside College- Sioux City, IA


  • Classroom teaching, clinical and skills/sim lab supervising in BSN program
  • Teach a variety of courses across the curriculum


  • MSN required, DNP preferred
  • Current, unencumbered Iowa RN license required
  • Background in acute care nursing preferred

Assistant Professor of Nursing, Graceland University School of Nursing- Lamoni, IA


  • Coach and mentor students in nursing program success
  • Participate in professional development activities


  • MSN required, DNP preferred
  • Current, unencumbered Iowa RN license required
  • Two years of experience in clinical nursing required

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner/Work From Home – Clarion Telehealth: Des Moines, IA


  • Provide telepsychiatric consultation to nursing home residents
  • Diagnose psychiatric conditions and prescribe medication as needed


  • MSN required, DNP preferred
  • Behavioral and mental health experience required
  • Current, unencumbered Iowa RN license
  • Certification as a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner required

Back to Top