What Courses Are in a DNP Program?

As a practice focused degree, DNP curriculum is focused solely on the work nurses do in different roles rather than on academia and research as is the case with a PhD in nursing. Whether the program has a direct patient care focus or an aggregate/systems/organizational focus, the courses in a DNP will always emphasize the skills and knowledge needed to attain the highest level of practice-focused competency, whether that practice is in the clinic as a nurse practitioner or the boardroom as an administrator.

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The particular track you choose in your DNP will dictate the specialty courses you take, whether it’s a Family Nurse Practitioner track, Nurse-Midwife Track, Nurse Informaticist track or Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner track, or any other. However, what remains constant is that all accredited DNP programs feature a sequence of courses that cover the AACN’s DNP Essentials, an outline of eight competencies DNP students should be prepared with by the time they graduate.

What Are the 8 DNP Essentials?

The 8 DNP Essentials and a sampling of courses for each one are shown here. Every DNP program, regardless of the chosen focus or specialty, will include courses and practical experiences covering all of the above competencies:

  • Scientific underpinnings of practice
    • Concepts and contemporary issues for the DNP
    • Methods & measurement for translational practice inquiry
  • Organizational and systems leadership for quality improvement and systems thinking
    • Improving health outcomes through quality improvement & safety
    • Organizational systems and healthcare economics
    • Transforming healthcare through interprofessional collaboration
    • Health policy & healthcare economics
    • Complex healthcare systems
    • Quality Improvement in Health Care and Professional Leadership and Practice Change
  • Clinical scholarship and analytical methods for evidence-based practice
    • Critical appraisal of evidence-based practice
    • Evidence-based practice: models and applied research in healthcare
    • Evidence-based practice process
    • Statistical methods
    • Dissemination and integration of research
  • Information systems/technology and patient care technology for the improvement and transformation of healthcare
    • Concepts and contemporary issues for the DNP
    • Informatics and data management
    • Evidence-based practice: informatics
  • Healthcare policy for advocacy in healthcare
    • Advanced health policy & advocacy
    • Health policy & healthcare economics
  • Interprofessional collaboration for improving patient and population health outcomes
    • Transforming healthcare through interprofessional collaboration
    • Complex healthcare systems
    • Epidemiology
  • Clinical prevention and population health for improving the nation’s health
    • Advanced concepts in clinical prevention and population health
    • Epidemiology and health promotion
    • Ethical and legal issues in advanced practice
  • Advanced nursing practice
    • Advanced concepts
    • Advanced research methods

How Will the DNP Curriculum Reflect My Chosen APRN Role/Focus or Specialty?

What will vary from one DNP track to the next is to what extent you’ll study each of the DNP’s core competencies. In other words, a student pursuing a DNP in an advanced practice nursing role will take courses covering the same set of core competencies as a student pursuing a DNP in a non-clinical role, like administration or informatics. However, the depth and focus of the courses included in each program’s curriculum will be unique to the specific role being studied.

For example, if you’re pursuing a DNP in a nurse practitioner role, your program’s coursework will naturally lean toward the DNP essential related to advanced practice nursing. Similarly, if you’re pursuing a DNP in organizational leadership, your program’s courses will be focused largely on the DNP essentials related to organizational and systems’ leadership.

You can expect your DNP coursework to accomplish two goals: (1) It will meet the DNP Essentials; and (2) it will include a set of courses focused on your specialty track. That means the courses will also meet the requirements for national certification in your patient population and role if you’re using the DNP to earn initial APRN certification or an additional population focus.

A few examples of specialty courses you’d find specific to a chosen APRN role/focus or specialization include:

DNP-Family NP:

  • Health Promotion, Disease Prevention, and Disease Detection Across the Lifespan
  • Acute Health Conditions Across the Lifespan
  • Chronic Health Conditions Across the Lifespan

DNP-Psychiatric Mental Health NP:

  • Psychiatric Assessment Across Lifespan
  • Neuropathophysiology: Lifespan Approach
  • Group Therapy and Complex Care

DNP-Nurse Anesthesiologist:

  • Nurse Anesthesiology Principles
  • Introduction to Anesthesia Equipment, Technology, and Clinical Practice
  • Professional Aspects of Nurse Anesthesiology Practice

DNP-Health Systems Leadership:

  • Finance and Economics for Health Care Leaders
  • Database Management
  • Leadership in Complex Systems

DNP-Executive Nurse Administrator:

  • Managing Healthcare Personnel
  • Nursing Administration Concepts & Theory
  • Nursing Administration Finance

What Other Courses Can I Expect in a DNP?

Practice experiences and a final DNP project are part of a comprehensive, well-designed DNP. You’ll complete at least 1,000 post-baccalaureate practice hours as part of your program (if you’re taking a post-master’s DNP, you may transfer in about 500 of those hours from your MSN program). These practice hours are designed to help you achieve specific objectives related to both the DNP Essentials and related specialty competencies and are integrated into the required DNP coursework.

The final project is a hallmark of the DNP. DNP final projects are evidence-based practice projects that can take a number of forms, including practice change initiatives, pilot studies, program evaluations, quality improvement projects, consulting projects, and more.