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

Offering the highest level of clinical nursing education available, the practice-focused DNP allows APRNs and other master’s-prepared nurses to add an additional patient population focus or specialty, further their clinical expertise in an existing area of focus, move into executive and organizational leadership roles, and effect change in health policy from a clinical standpoint. This versatile degree even offers an entry point for BSN-educated RNs looking to enter advanced practice, clinical leadership or administration.

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The U.S. is experiencing a growing shortage of healthcare professionals, including advanced practice nurses, and Pennsylvania is no exception. Nurses in Pennsylvania are retiring at a faster rate than they are graduating from educational programs, resulting in a shortage of both qualified clinicians and nursing faculty to prepare them. As early as 2006, Pennsylvania officials began to designate funding to relieve the nursing shortage in Pennsylvania. According to the Highmark Foundation, in 2006 Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell invested $41 million into hospital incentives, expanding nursing clinical opportunities, and providing grants to universities specifically for nursing programs.

Meanwhile in 2015, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reported that a shortage of qualified nursing faculty has forced AACN member schools in Pennsylvania to turn away qualified applicants. Most faculty positions require staff to hold doctorate degrees, highlighting just one area in which DNP-prepared nurses in Pennsylvania are in greater demand than ever before.

As of March 2016, the AACN reported that 11,148 APRNs were licensed to practice in the state of Pennsylvania. The AACN also revealed that among the 7,105 graduates of bachelor’s and higher level nursing programs in Pennsylvania the previous year, 979 earned a DNP.

Even amid a shortage of qualified nurses, Pennsylvania’s RNs and APRNs report an excellent work environment. In a 2012-2013 report, Pennsylvania’s Registered Nurse Workforce published that 92% of surveyed nurses working in Pennsylvania were very satisfied with the nursing practice environment in the state. In addition, Philadelphia is ranked as one of the top ten metro areas in the US for nurses to work, according to the Pennsylvania Center for Health Careers.

DNP-prepared nurses often step into challenging leadership roles in the health care community. Listed below are three practicing DNPs in Pennsylvania who fill leadership roles in the nursing community:

  • Aislynn Moyer, DNP, RN—Pennsylvania State Nurses Association’s Director of Professional Development
  • Pearl English, DNP, MS, BSN, RN, CSN—Regional representative on the board of directors for the Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses and Practitioners
  • Joanne L. Sorensen DNP, RN, MS, FACHE, NHA, Director of Quality and Care Management at UPMC Northwest

Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Pennsylvania

Doctor of Nursing Practice programs are designed with multiple entry-points to accommodate both bachelor’s and master’s prepared nurses:

  • Nurses who hold a bachelor’s degree are eligible to enroll in BSN-to-DNP programs, completing the master’s degree first and then moving into the doctorate program. Generally, the BSN-to-DNP program consists of approximately 90 credits over 3 years (36 months) of full time study. Additional credits may be required depending on the nurse’s chosen specialization.
  • MSN-prepared nurses may apply to an MSN-to-DNP program, although if the nurse is obtaining a DNP in a different population focus than in their prior education, they will be required to complete prerequisite coursework before beginning the DNP program. MSN-to-DNP programs generally consist of 36 credits and at least 18 months of full time study.

Nurses in Pennsylvania may also choose online DNP programs hosted by universities in-state and throughout the country. These fully-accredited options consist of online course modules, a DNP requirement, and clinical requirements completed in local clinics, hospitals, and physician’s offices. These DNP programs are designed to complement a professional schedule and offer flexibility.

Traditional programs are about 18-24 months long, accelerated programs are about 12 months long, and part time programs can be completed in 2 and a half years.

DNP programs will include the following components:

  • DNP Core: the core courses include clinical scholarship, analytical methods for evidence-based practice, epidemiology, social determinants of population health, and scientific foundations for health.
  • Specialty Area Courses: These courses will be made up of either APRN practice focus or an aggregate, systems, or organizational focus.
  • DNP Project: The final project, focusing on the nurses’ patient population or study focus, will include a written paper as well as a presentation.

Online DNP programs are heavily made up of practicum experiences. Pennsylvania DNP programs partner with local clinics and hospitals to allow nurses the opportunity to complete clinical hours in a health care setting close to home.

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

Nurses who have earned their BSN may apply to BSN-DNP programs, which will allow them to earn both a master’s degree and a doctorate degree in one comprehensive program. It is the most direct route for bachelor’s-prepared nurses to earn DNP credentials.

The master’s level program generally consists of 30 core credits as well as additional credits in the nurses’ chosen population.

Core courses generally cover these topics:

  • Epidemiology
  • Health promotion
  • Examining evidence
  • Nursing Inquiry and Leadership
  • Research Methods and Applied Statistics
  • Health Policy, Leadership and Change
  • Practice Inquiry: Designs, Methods and Analyses
  • Philosophy, Foundations and Methods for Evidence Based Practice
  • Advanced Topics in Health Informatics
  • Leadership and Interprofessional Collaboration

MSN programs with an APRN focus will also include an APRN core, covering the following topics:

  • Theories for Advanced Practice Nursing of Families and Individuals
  • Clinical Assessment and Diagnosis in Advanced Practice Nursing
  • Pathophysiology for Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Foundations of Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Pharmacology for Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Local and Global Perspectives in Population Health

CCNE-Accredited BSN-to-DNP and MSN-to-DNP Programs Available in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is home to several DNP programs that hold accreditation through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). CCNE accredited DNP programs require students to complete a minimum of 1,000 post-baccalaureate practice hours and offer tracks in either an advanced practice nursing direct care focus or an aggregate/systems/organizational focus such as executive leadership or health policy. Clinical hours in the same area of focus gained at the master’s level may be applied to the 1,000 total hours requied.

Carlow University, Pittsburgh

  • Post-MSN
    • APRN roles

Chatham University, Pittsburgh

  • Post-MSN
    • APRN roles

LaSalle University, Philadelphia

  • Post-MSN
    • APRN roles

Robert Morris University, Pittsburgh

  • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
    • Adult Gerontology Primary Care NP
    • Family/Individual across the Lifespan NP
    • Psychiatric Mental Health NP

Temple University, Philadelphia

  • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
    • Adult Gerontology Primary Care
    • Family-Individual Across the lifespan

Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia

  • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
    • Community Systems Administration
    • Nursing Informatics
    • Family/Individual Across the Lifespan

University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh

    • Clinical Nurse Specialist
    • Nurse Anesthesia
    • Nurse-Midwife
    • Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
    • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP
    • Family/Individual Across the Lifespan NP
    • Neonatal NP
    • Pediatric Primary Care NP
    • Psychiatric Mental Health NP
    • Nurse Specialty Role-Administration

Waynesburg University, Waynesburg

  • Post-MSN
    • APRN roles
    • Nurse Administration

Widener University, Chester

  • Post-MSN and BSN-DNP
    • APRN roles

Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre

  • Post-MSN
    • APRN roles

DeSales University

  • Post-MSN
    • Clinical leadership
    • Executive leadership with MBA

Villanova University

  • Post-MSN
    • APRN roles
    • Nurse Administration

A larger selection of CCNE and ACEN (American Commission for Education in Nursing)-accredited DNP programs are available online.

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 Pennsylvania

DNP-prepared nurses may pursue clinical leadership with confidence, as Pennsylvania has a high demand for qualified nurses in leadership positions. DNP program graduates may seek employment with healthcare organizations, clinical programs, healthcare initiatives, or may pursue faculty positions.

The following job listings for doctorate-prepared nurses in Pennsylvania were surveyed in April 2016. They are shown for illustrative purposes only and are not meant to represent job offers or provide any assurance of employment.

Director of Nursing at University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in Greenville, PA


  • Master’s degree required, DNP preferred
  • Five years of leadership experience within healthcare


  • Oversee nursing staff to ensure compliance with nursing standards
  • Recommend changes to policies and procedure to benefit patient care
  • Support the nursing educational program through oversight of clinical hours
  • Develop clinical systems, promote customer service, and establish a quality standard of care

Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner at Excela Health Physician Practices in Greensburg, PA


  • Certification as a CRNP; DNP credentials
  • 5 years nursing experience
  • Prior CRNP experience


  • Coordinate and lead the Palliative Care Service of the hospital
  • Collaborate with the head medical director

Sickle Cell Nurse Practitioner at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, PA


  • Licensure as a CRNP
  • Three years of post-Masters experience in the care of sickle cell patients


  • Coordinate patient care in the sickle cell program
  • Provide care in home, physician office, hospital, and observation units
  • Use evaluation techniques to measure patient care
  • Work closely with other health care providers in the local system

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