What Is a Direct Entry DNP?

The direct entry DNP, also commonly referred to as the pre-licensure DNP, is an entry point for the Doctor of Nursing Practice designed for non-nursing professionals with a bachelor’s in a field other than nursing. Though it is not widely available, it provides a unique opportunity for career changers interested in entering the nursing field with the highest practice-focused degree available.

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The direct-entry option is the about-face, second-time-around, it’s-not-too-late-to-reroute-your-career-and-earn-a-doctorate-in-the-process path to some of the most coveted positions in the nursing field.

Here’s what you’ll want to know about the direct entry DNP and how you’ll use your previous bachelor’s degree to your advantage:

Who is the Direct Entry DNP Designed For?

This accelerated degree program is specifically designed for students who have earned a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing.

Assuming this applies to you and you already hold a bachelor’s degree, you’ve already completed the basic prerequisites for a direct entry DNP. Regardless of whether your bachelor’s degree is in psychology, engineering, or business administration, the direct entry DNP is designed with you in mind.

With your previous bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field as your starting point, the direct-entry DNP, includes both master’s and doctorate level curriculum and results in earning both the MSN and DNP.

Different DNP tracks are specifically designed to prepare you for different roles, either in advanced practice in the role of nurse practitioner, nurse-midwife, nurse-anesthetist or clinical nurse specialist, or in an aggregate/systems/organizational role like administration or informatics.

Through the direct entry DNP, you’ll also earn your RN license along the way while getting the clinical and classroom training required to qualify for APRN licensure and enter the field as an advanced practice registered nurse as soon as you graduate. Programs with an aggregate/systems/organizational focus may not involve earning an advanced practice license.

What Are the Prerequisites of the Pre-Licensure DNP?

Admission to a pre-licensure DNP requires a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, along with the following:

  • Minimum GRE scores
  • Minimum GPA in undergraduate degree
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Current resume or CV
  • Personal essay/interview

Before you can begin a pre-licensure DNP program, you’ll also need proof that you’ve completed specific prerequisite undergraduate courses, including:

  • Anatomy and physiology (I and II)
  • Microbiology
  • Statistics
  • Nutrition
  • Psychology

If you haven’t taken one or more of the above courses, you’ll have the opportunity to complete them before commencing the pre-licensure DNP.

How is the Direct Entry DNP Structured?

The direct-entry DNP includes about 65-80 credits of coursework, about 700-800 clinical hours, and another 250 DNP practicum hours. Expect this program to include year-round coursework and take about four and a half years to complete.

Direct-entry DNPs are organized into two, distinct segments:

Pre-Licensure: The first portion of the program consists of the coursework and clinical training necessary to earn your MSN and sit for the NCLEX exam and earn your registered nursing (RN) license.

DNP: The second portion of the program, you’ll complete the coursework and clinical training necessary to earn the DNP and sit for the national certification examination and earn a state license in your chosen APRN role (nurse practitioner, nurse-midwife, clinical nurse specialist, or nurse anesthetist) and patient population focus (e.g., acute care, primary care, gerontology, mental health, etc.). National certification and advanced practice licensure don’t come into play for programs with an aggregate/systems/organizational focus outside of direct patient care.

What Are the Advantages of Completing a Direct-Entry DNP?

Since you’ve already spent four years completing a bachelor’s degree, you’ll likely be interested in getting through the next phase of your education as quickly as possible.

The direct-entry DNP accomplishes this goal, thanks to the accelerated design of the program. In about four years, you’ll be able to earn your RN license, APRN certification, and MSN and DNP degrees, thereby positioning yourself for some of the most sought-after careers in advanced practice nursing.

This degree program also puts your bachelor’s degree to good use, allowing you to transfer in undergraduate courses to meet prerequisite course requirements.

Finally, because it includes the MSN and DNP components, you’ll eliminate the need to enroll in two separate programs back to back. Instead, you’ll enjoy a streamlined course of study that will get you through the curriculum a lot faster.

What Should I Look For in a Direct-Entry DNP?

Specialty accreditation is the first thing you’ll want to look for in a direct-entry DNP program. The two national accrediting agencies for graduate nursing programs include the Accreditation Commission for Nursing Education (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Depending on your personal needs, you’ll also likely want to look for a direct-entry DNP program that comes with:

  • A flexible curriculum that includes the option of hybrid and/or online learning
  • A distinguished faculty of experienced practitioners
  • A low student-to-faculty ratio/small cohort size
  • Excellent student/graduate statistics, including high NCLEX exam pass rates, APRN certification examination pass rates, and retention/graduation rates
  • University/program reputation
  • Campus and clinical resources

What Else Should I Know About Direct-Entry DNP Programs?

A direct-entry DNP is a full-time, year-round commitment, so you’ll need to come prepared by expecting an intensive course of study that will demand a great deal of your time. For many students, this means devoting all of your time to the program and reducing or eliminating professional commitments and responsibilities.

Most of these programs are kept small; therefore, you can expect stringent admission requirements, including strict undergraduate requirements and GRE scores.

Many of these programs offer the option of online and/or hybrid courses, giving students a great deal of flexibility and accommodating the busy schedules of working professionals.