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

A May 2019 article by the Courier Journal highlighted some of the most pressing issues facing Kentucky’s healthcare workforce and, not surprisingly, the need for a better educated nursing workforce continues to top the list.

According to the Kentucky Department of Health, five of the state’s 13 counties report some of the lowest median annual household incomes in the nation. The state also has some of the highest deaths related to obesity, cancer, substance abuse, and smoking. In other words, many of the state’s residents are sick and many more come with their share of complex medical issues, so treating and caring for them is anything but simple.

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The article reveals that Kentucky demands nurses who can synthesize “clinical care information rapidly…apply that knowledge and skill set precisely…and advance high-quality patient outcomes.”

In other words, Kentucky needs advanced nursing professionals who hold the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), the highest clinical degree in nursing. On and off the clinical floor and in administration and nursing education, the DNP remains the pinnacle of nursing education, and everyone from stakeholders to employers are touting its benefits for building a competent nursing workforce in Kentucky and throughout the nation.

Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Kentucky

DNP programs are available as both post-bachelor’s programs designed for BSNs and post-master’s programs designed for MSN-educated RNs and APRNs:

  • BSN-DNP (Post-bachelor’s) programs are generally designed so that nurses with a BSN can earn their MSN before they transition to a DNP program. Students in APRN tracks would sit for national certification and thus earn their initial APRN license after completing the MSN phase of the program. Executive and organizational leadership tracks are also available. Typically, these programs entail taking about 90 credits and studying full-time for more than 3 years.
  • MSN-DNP (Post-master’s) programs are designed so that nurses who already possess an MSN can earn their DNP and advance to clinical leadership and other advanced nursing positions. Frequently, such students are already licensed APRNs who wish to advance their careers. These nurses have two options: they can advance in their current focus or choose an additional specialty or population focus. Executive and organizational leadership tracks are also available. MSN-DNP programs typically entail taking 30-36 credits and studying full-time for at least 1.5 years.

The national accreditation for DNP programs requires that that these students obtain at least 1,000 hours of post-baccalaureate practice hours. As many as 500 post-bachelor’s clinical hours accrued at the master’s level can be applied to the 1,000 total required for a DNP. Also, these programs must offer one of these two tracks:

  • Aggregate/systems/organizational focus
  • APRN direct care focus

Increasingly, Kentucky’s nurses are choosing to enroll in more flexible accredited online programs instead of obtaining their DNP at a campus-based program in the state. These programs offer coursework online, but students still must complete their clinical requirements at locations that have partnered with these programs.

Many online and campus-based DNP programs offer flexible formats to accommodate their student’s needs. These include part-time and accelerated formats that are usually completed in:

  • Traditional DNP programs: about 1.5-2 years
  • Accelerated programs: 1 year
  • Part-time DNP programs: about 2.5 years

DNP programs have three main components:

  • DNP core – Core DNP courses include such topics as:
    • Analytical Methods for Evidence Based Practice
    • Informatics in Healthcare Delivery
    • Theory Application for Doctor of Nursing Practice
    • Public Health Policy
    • Healthcare Economics and Finance Organizational Leadership
  • Specialty courses in the student’s chosen focus – Specialized courses in either an aggregate/systems/organizational or advanced practice nursing track.
  • Final project – Students complete their DNP program with a DNP Project which allows the nurses to showcase their advanced training by completing a research project on their advanced nursing focus. These projects typically consist of a research paper suitable for publication, or in some cases, a formal presentation at a conference. Typically, students must travel to their school to formally defend their DNP Project. Examples of DNP Projects from schools in Kentucky include:
    • An Evaluation of a School Based Asthma Protocol
    • An Evidence-Based Toolkit to Prevent Meningococcal Meningitis in College Students
    • Chronic Pain in Society: A Unique Approach for Primary Care Advanced Disease: A Pilot Study
    • Consequences, Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity

Post-Bachelor’s BSN-to-DNP Programs for BSN-Prepared Nurses

Virtually all of the BSN-to-DNP programs enable nurses with a BSN to earn both their MSN and DNP in a combined program. These programs typically require about three-four years to complete.

BSN-DNP programs that are specific to one of the four APRN roles require their students to earn an MSN in their chosen APRN role and patient population focus. These students must then meet all of the clinical requirements required for an MSN. Typically, this entails about 500 hours of practice before the students can sit for national certification in their role and primary patient population focus.

Although MSN programs vary depending on the nursing specialty that the students have chosen, the core MSN courses remain the same:

  • Program evaluation
  • Quality and safety
  • Interprofessional collaboration
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Policy and advocacy
  • Informatics
  • Clinical prevention/population health
  • Organizational and systems leadership

MSN programs in an APRN role also include the following as part of the core:

  • Advanced pharmacology, including:
    • Pharmacodynamics
    • Pharmacokinetics
    • Pharmacotherapeutics of all broad categories of agents
  • Advanced health assessment
  • Advanced physiology/pathophysiology

Accredited BSN-to-DNP and MSN-to-DNP Programs Available in Kentucky

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) (current as of 2016). 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.

Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond

  • Post-MSN
  • Focus on Organizational Leadership

Frontier Nursing University, Hyden

    • Nurse Practitioner
    • Nurse-Midwife
  • Post-MSN focuses on rural and underserved areas:
    • Adult Nurse Practitioner
    • Certified Nurse-Midwife
    • Family Nurse Practitioner
    • Geriatric-Adult Nurse Practitioner
    • Geriatric Nurse Practitioner
    • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
    • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
    • Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner

Murray State University, Murray

  • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
    • Family Nurse Practitioner
    • Nurse Anesthetist

Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights

  • Post-MSN
    • Advanced Practice Nurse Focus
    • Executive Leadership Focus

University of Kentucky, Lexington 

  • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
    • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
    • Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist
    • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
    • Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
    • Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing
    • Population and Organized Systems

Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green

  • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
    • Family Nurse Practitioner
    • Nurse Executive

Opportunities Available to DNP-Prepared Nurses in Kentucky

Outstanding opportunities exist for DNP-educated nurses in Kentucky. Fortunately, earning a DNP is easier than ever, thanks to the many Kentucky’s colleges and universities that offer this program, both for BSN- and MSN-prepared candidates. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Kentucky was home to 10 DNP programs in 2019.

The following job posts reveal just some of the exciting opportunities available to nurses in Kentucky who hold a DNP:

MSN Online Faculty, Spalding University, Louisville, KY

  • Master’s degree in nursing required; DNP or PhD or actively enrolled in a post-graduate DNP or PhD is preferred
  • Active unencumbered RN license
  • 5 years of clinical nursing experience
  • 2 years of teaching experience

Director, School of Nursing, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, KY

  • Doctoral degree in related field required (EdD, PhD, DNP)
  • Minimum of 5 years of nursing experience within the past 7 years
  • Minimum of 2 years of full-time teaching experience in nursing within the past 5 years

Market Director, Clinical Education, CHI Saint Joseph Health, Lexington, KY

  • RN license in KY
  • Master’s degree in nursing, education, or health related field required; DNP or PhD preferred
  • Minimum 7 years of experience and 5 years of leadership experience


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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