What is a DNP Nurse?

The term DNP nurse could refer to any nurse who has earned the Doctor of Nurse Practice (DNP) degree. This means a DNP nurse can be an advance practice RN working directly with patients as a nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse-midwife, or nurse-anesthetist, or otherwise work in an aggregate/systems/organizationally focused role like administration or informatics. Though DNP is a degree, not a a license or certification, some nurses will use DNP as a credential after their name on their nametag or in other places. 

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With the highest practice-focused nursing degree by your side, you’ll be prepared to lead and deliver nursing care of the highest caliber, improving  both the quality of healthcare and patient outcomes along the way.

Though “DNP” isn’t a title per se; earning a doctor of nursing practice still provides a clear sign that you are trained and educated to the highest level possible in the field of nursing.

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As a DNP nurse, you’ll be in good company. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the number of students enrolled in DNP programs increased from 29,093 to 32,678 between 2017 and 2018, while the number of DNP graduates also increased, rising from 6,090 to 7,039 during this time.

The movement toward the DNP in recent years comes as no surprise as nurses in nearly every clinical area seek recognition, respect, and equal representation as part of interdisciplinary healthcare teams.

Although it’s not a licensing or certification requirement (except for nurse-anesthesiology certification, which will require the DNP as the new minimum in 2025), earning a doctorate in nursing aligns with many other professions where practice doctorates have been the standard for years: dentistry, pharmacy, psychology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and audiology.

As a nurse dedicated to improving evidence-based care and patient outcomes, the DNP just makes sense – and is the unmistakable sign of your commitment to the advancement of the nursing profession.

What Unique Role Do DNP Nurses Fill?

To fully understand the value of the DNP nurse, it’s important to first recognize that our nation’s healthcare system is highly dynamic, changing in many ways from year to year to simply meet the changing needs of different age demographics and as policy shifts with regard to access to healthcare services. And it’s no wonder—it’s a complex system that’s driven by technological advances, the changing healthcare needs of our society, and certainly by the constant pursuit of enhanced quality, improved patient safety, and the need for cost-savings.

The nursing profession demands advanced clinicians who are able to be the one constant, in a changing healthcare environment that presents new challenges all the time.

According to the AACN, the transformation of nursing scholarship into practice “informs science, enhances clinical practice, influences policy, and impacts best practices for educating nurses as clinicians, scholars, and leaders.” DNP nurses lead this charge, using their advanced skills to translate research into practice, improve systems of care, and measure the success of their efforts along the way.

While their PhD counterparts are committed to scholarship and research, DNP nurses are unwavering in their commitment to translating scholarship into practice.

What Roles Do DNP Nurses Assume?

According to the AACN, DNP nurses in any role are educators, mentors, leaders, advocates, problem solvers, and role models. Their unique skillset enables them to address some of the most important issues in today’s healthcare environment, including improving patient experiences and lowering costs while ensuring a continued focus on team-based care and collaboration, both within the nursing profession and across the interdisciplinary healthcare team.

While the DNP is often associated with the profession’s advanced practice registered nursing (APRN) roles (nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, and nurse-midwives), other nurses in specialty practice, leadership, quality improvement, public health, nursing informatics, and more are increasingly earning the DNP to ensure they have the advanced training to match clinicians with the DNP.

These roles often include overseeing quality improvement initiatives and other strategies aimed at achieving positive changes at the bedside. Informaticists have a deep understanding of the value of using data analytics to drive improvement. DNP nurses are also well-suited for administrative and executive leadership roles where they can bring about system-wide improvements informed by a clinical background. They often assume high-level roles in public policy too.

Just some of the roles assumed by DNP nurses outside of direct patient care include:

  • Chief nursing officer (CNO)
  • Director of quality improvement
  • Director of evidence-based practice
  • Chief information officer (CIO)

According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), many of the newest roles for DNP nurses involve determining how best to use the growing body of knowledge and healthcare data to improve front line nursing practice. These unique nursing roles are focused on improvement science, implementation science, and implementation research. More than just being research-focused roles, their work involves bridging the gap between research and clinical practice.

Depending on the chosen clinical or systems focus, the DNP means different things for different nurses; however, what remains is that this degree is perfectly designed to produce highly skilled nurses committed to evidence-based care and capable of serving as leaders and change agents.