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

Whether bachelor’s or master’s-prepared, a growing number of nurses in Massachusetts are seeking out the highest clinical education path: the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. According to the American Nurses Association (ANA) the first DNP program was opened in 1999. In the 16 years that followed, DNP programs were opened in 35 states, and by 2016 Massachusetts offered seven accredited, highly respected DNP programs. In 2004 the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recommended that the level of education necessary to become certified as a nurse practitioner or other advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) be moved from the master’s level to the doctorate level. Though this requirement has yet to be implemented by national certification agencies and state boards of nursing, today DNP programs in Massachusetts are helping nurses achieve the highest level of practice-focused nursing expertise.

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According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), in 2015 Massachusetts was home to 683 DNP graduates. Despite the DNP programs the state offers, the level of doctorate-prepared nurses is still relatively low, and state nursing associations are working to increase those numbers.

According to the Massachusetts Action Coalition (MAC), the state received a $300,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to implement the Academic Progression in Nursing Program, which implements regional strategies to improve nursing education and develop a more highly educated workforce.

DNP nurses are the solution to many issues affecting Massachusetts’s healthcare system: they are able to fill faculty roles, boosting enrolment numbers to nursing programs in the state and helping to increase the number of RNs in practice; and they are able to mentor nurses entering the field, resulting in a more capable nursing workforce.

Not only do DNP-prepared nurses in Massachusetts have the opportunity to fill critical roles throughout the state, but they also are offered an increased salary over master’s-prepared nurses and the opportunity to lead nursing teams. Doctorate-prepared nurses in Massachusetts often move into leadership positions within nursing associations, faculty positions at local universities, or executive roles in hospitals and clinics.

Massachusetts’s DNPs also serve as influential leaders:

  • Cathleen Colleran-Santos, DNP, RN, President of the American Nurses Association of Massachusetts
  • Julie Cronin, DNP, RN, OCN, Director of American Nurses Association of Massachusetts
  • Anne Marie Caron, Lecturer; DNP, RN, ANP-BC, University Massachusetts Dartmouth
  • Margaret Rudd- Arieta, DNP, Faculty at University Massachusetts Dartmouth
  • Christine Gadbois, DNP, Vice President, Seven Hills Rhode Island

Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Massachusetts

Both bachelor’s and master’s-prepared nurses are eligible to begin working towards a Doctorate of Nursing Practice. Depending on the nurses’ prior education, there are two paths to a DNP degree:

  • Nurses with a bachelor’s degree will enroll in BSN-DNP Through this program, nurses will complete both a master’s and a doctorate degree in a comprehensive program that usually consists of about 90 credits and can be completed in 3-4 years.
  • Nurses with a master’s degree are eligible to enroll directly in MSN-DNP programs and begin doctorate coursework. However, if the nurse desires to specialize in a patient population different from their master’s studies, they will be required to complete prerequisite coursework in the chosen focus. MSN-DNP programs generally consist of 30-35 credits and can be completed in a year and a half. If the nurse is adding a patient population, the program will require additional credits.

DNP programs receive accreditation through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). In order to be accredited, programs must meet at least two qualifications:

  • Require at least 1,000 post-baccalaureate hours
  • Offer students the ability to specialize in an advanced practice nursing focus or an aggregate/systems/organizational focus

Massachusetts currently offers seven traditional in-state programs. Nurses in Massachusetts seeking DNP credentials may also choose from a variety of accredited online programs hosted throughout the country. DNP programs are heavily made up of practicum requirements, which will require the nurse to complete clinical hours in hospitals, clinics, and physician’s offices in the state. Universities partner with clinics throughout the state to offer practicum hours.

Many programs, both online and traditional, offer three different program tracks to accommodate individual students’ needs:

  • Traditional programs, which consist of about 18-24 months of study
  • Accelerated programs, which can be completed in about a year
  • Part-time programs, which can be completed in about 2 ½ years

Individual programs vary, but all DNP programs are made up of three core components:

  • DNP Core: the DNP core includes studies in scientific foundations, epidemiology, and advanced pathophysiology and Pharmacotherapeutics, as well as ethics and legality of health policy and leadership roles in a complex healthcare setting.
  • Specialty courses in line with the chosen focus: Specialty coursework will center around either an advanced practice nursing focus or an aggregate/systems/organizational focus.
  • DNP project: The final project of the program, the DNP project usually requires a written paper and a presentation on the nurses’ specialization.

BSN-to-DNP Programs for BSN-Prepared Nurses

The BSN-to-DNP program is an ideal option for bachelor’s prepared nurses, as it offers the most direct route to doctoral status. Bachelor’s-prepared nurses often seek out this program as an initial path to APRN licensure and certification. Although these programs require about four years of study, they allow the student to reach the highest level of clinical education in one comprehensive program.

BSN-to-DNP programs in one of the four APRN roles will require students to become certified in an advanced practice specialty. The clinical requirements usually include at least 500 practicum hours.

The MSN core will cover the following topics:

  • Biostatistics
  • Survey of Health Care Informatics
  • Health Care Economics and Financing
  • Population Health
  • Leadership within a Healthcare System
  • Health Care Finance and Marketing
  • Health Care Policy
  • Epidemiology
  • Quality Improvement in Health Care

APRN core classes will cover the following topics:

  • Advanced Practice Ethical/Legal Issues
  • Advanced Practice Research Methods
  • Advanced Practice Physiology/Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Health Assessment
  • Advanced Pharmacology

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

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).

MGH Institute of Health Professions, Boston

  • Offers BSN-DNP program as well as 34 credit MSN-DNP program
    • APRN roles
    • Advanced Clinical Practice
    • Education
    • Global Health
    • Informatics
    • Nursing administration

Northeastern University, Boston (US Army Graduate Program)

  • 30 semester hour MSN-DNP program
    • Nurse Anesthesia

Simmons College, Boston

  • Post-MSN
    • Specializations available in APRN roles

University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst

  • BSN-DNP and Post-MSN
    • Family nurse practitioner
    • Public health nurse leader
    • Adult/gerontology primary care practitioner
    • Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner
    • APRN roles

University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston

  • 39 credit MSN-DNP program
    • APRN roles
    • Public health nurse

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, North Dartmouth

  • BSN-DNP and Post-MSN
    • Adult Gerontology Primary Care NP

University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester

  • BSN-DNP and Post-MSN
    • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
    • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
    • Family Nurse Practitioner

Regis College School of Nursing, Science and Health Professions, Weston

  • BSN-DNP and Post-MSN
    • Gerontology
    • Health Informatics Concentration
    • Health Policy
    • Hospitalist Nurse Practitioner
    • Integrative Health
    • Nursing Education
    • Nursing Leadership
    • Public Health

Other DNP programs in the state not shown here may be regionally accredited or hold specialty accreditation through the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs or the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education.

Opportunities Available to DNP-Prepared Nurses in Massachusetts

In 2006, the AACN published a list of Doctorate Essentials to ensure nursing educational programs were pursuing the same goals. According to the AACN, graduates of a DNP program will be prepared to deal with the real-world ethics of nursing, have a strong understanding of psychosocial, analytical and organizational sciences, demonstrate leadership, understand safe, efficient care delivery, and use informatics to implement change on a clinical level.

In addition, the AACN maintains that DNP-prepared nurses will have the ability to influence health care policies, practice regulations, and access to care. With a broad range of knowledge and experience, DNP-prepared nurses may choose to move up the ranks at their current workplace or pursue positions elsewhere.

The following job listings, sourced in April 2016, represent current opportunities and provide insight into the many types of professional opportunities available to DNP graduates in Massachusetts, but are not meant to imply any guarantee of employment:

Nursing Administrator at Lighthouse School, Inc., in North Chelmsford, MA


  • Nursing doctorate background and experience


  • Supervise the medical services team
  • Develop health services and evaluation techniques
  • Provide medical assessment, emergency response, and patient review

Nurse Educator at Baystate Health in Springfield, MA


  • MSN required; doctorate degree preferred
  • Specialty certification required
  • Five years of experience in the designated patient population


  • Provide staff development through education
  • Mentor staff and provide professional development
  • Participate in evidence based practice and research 

Nursing Faculty, Population Health, at Curry College in Milton, MA


  • Doctorate degree in nursing
  • Minimum of five years of clinical experience
  • One year of teaching experience


  • Teaching, advising, and scholarship at both undergraduate and graduate levels

Clinical Coordinator at Baystate Health in Springfield, MA


  • MSN required; doctorate degree in nursing preferred
  • 3-5 years working in a hospital


  • Provide quality outcomes and assessments
  • Evaluate patient satisfaction
  • Engage staff in patient care techniques and policies
  • Provide staff education and workforce planning

Director of Nursing Programs at The American Women’s College in Springfield, MA


  • MSN required; doctorate preferred


  • Builds nursing programs
  • Teaches two courses a year
  • Leads evaluations of education
  • Supervises faculty to create collaborative team environment

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