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

Iowa is aging – and quickly. According to a June 2018 article in The Gazette, about one quarter of Iowa’s counties have a senior population (65 and older) that exceeds 20%. And one of the fastest growing segments of the population in Iowa is the 85+ category.

As a result, the state’s healthcare system is under greater strain than ever. This is spurring the need not just for RNs, but also for highly educated NPs and other APRNs capable of serving in a primary care role.

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Fortunately, many of Iowa’s RNs are choosing the DNP as a pathway into advanced practice, satisfying the need for highly trained clinicians, particularly in the state’s rural areas where physician shortages are most acute.

According to a 2019 Nursing Trends Iowa report by the Iowa Center for Nursing Workforce, the number of RNs in the Hawkeye State who reported a doctorate in nursing as their highest degree increased by 21.2% between 2017 and 2018.

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

Enrollment in Iowa DNP programs continues to increase, with 2018 stats from the Iowa Board of Nursing revealing a steady increase of DNP students in Iowa’s colleges and universities in recent years:

  • 2011-2012: 279
  • 2012-2013: 305
  • 2013-2014: 280
  • 2014-2015: 292
  • 2015-2016: 333

The following job posts reveal just some of the exciting opportunities for Iowa’s DNP-educated nurses:

Family Nurse Practitioner, Community Health Care Inc., Muscatine, IA

  • MSN with FNP, DNP, or a related degree
  • Minimum of 2-3 years of primary care provider experience

Nurse Practitioner ED Casual, Nebraska Methodist Health System, Council Bluffs, IA

  • Must be a graduate of an APRN program

Nursing Faculty, Clarke University, Dubuque, IA

  • Minimum of an MSN, doctorate degree preferred
  • FNP or ADP certification required

Nurse Practitioner – Hospitalist, Nebraska Methodist Health System, Council Bluffs, IA

  • MSN or DNP
  • Valid state license and certification as an NP
  • Two years of experience as an NP required, preferably in a hospital

Adjunct Faculty, Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Purdue University Global, Des Moines, IA

  • MSN, doctoral (PhD, DNP, EdD) preferred
  • Active RN license in Iowa and national certification as an adult-gerontology NP or acute care NP

Martin-Herold College of Nursing and Health Faculty Practitioner, Mount Mercy University, Cedar Rapids, IA

  • DNP or PhD is preferred
  • Certified as an NP with eligibility for prescriptive authority in IA


Examples of DNP nursing positions were taken from a survey of job listings in January 2020 and are shown for illustrative purposes only. These examples do not represent job offers or positions that are currently available.

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