Earning your DNP is a major milestone in your nursing career. As a terminal degree, a DNP marks the end of your education path and sets you up for a successful career. With more and more BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP programs being made available, your dream of completing a DNP degree is not too far out of reach.
When it comes to actually starting your journey to get your DNP, there can be many questions or complications that arise and leave you wondering if this is the right path for you. Before you take on the challenge of a terminal degree, it’s important that you know what you’re getting yourself into.
What is a DNP?
A Doctor of Nursing Practice is a terminal degree that focuses more on clinical work than a PhD does. It prepares students to take on more responsibilities and hold leadership roles or advanced nursing careers. Students are taught to improve healthcare practices through evidence-based research and are expected to help improve their organization’s practices.
DNP programs build on what students learn during a master’s degree and places graduates at the same level as physicians. No matter your field of expertise or your specialty, a DNP degree will help you grow your skills and prepare you to be a better nurse.
What Roles Can You Hold With a DNP?
Most DNP graduates hold some form of advanced practice nurse position or a leadership role. Depending on your personal interests, you may decide to follow a patient-focused career or turn towards research.
Here are a few of the common jobs that require or prefer a DNP:
#1. Certified Nurse Practitioner
While a DNP is not yet required, many NPs have one. It is also expected to soon become a requirement as the AACN voted to update the minimum education necessary for advanced practice nurses.
Most nurse practitioners work in family practices, though many choose to further specialize their skillset. Some common specialties include pediatrics, gerontology, and psychiatry.
#2. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
CRNAs work independent from a physician and have some of the highest nursing salaries in the country. They administer anesthesia of all sorts and monitor patients both during and after a procedure. CRNAs may also work with patients during their recovery period and help with pain management.
#3. Health Policy Specialist
Nurses that want to step away from a patient-focused role can take on a career as a health policy specialist. These nurses use their medical expertise and experience to help shape and change the future of healthcare in order to better benefit patients. Health policy specialists may do anything from analyzing legislature to building coalitions.
#4. Nurse Educator
Nurse educators are responsible for training the next generation of nurses. As more students turn towards nursing and apply to nursing programs, schools are struggling to find enough educators to fill the need. For DNP graduates that find the stress of a hands-on medical career too much to handle, or those who enjoy sharing their knowledge with others, a job as a nurse educator is a good option.
#5. Chief Nurse Executive
Chief nurse executive is the uppermost position a nurse can have within an organization. They’re responsible for leading the nursing staff, managing patient care services, and making administrative decisions.
As an administration role, chief nurse executives don’t have as much patient interaction as other nurses. Instead, they’re in charge of monitoring nursing staff and budgeting for the department. They may even represent their workplace at conferences or by serving on certain committees.
What Will You Learn?
There are certain skills that are expanded upon during a DNP degree and specific competencies that you will be expected to have when you graduate.
#1. Scientific Foundation
Graduates are expected to improve and implement healthcare practices based on research-based evidence. As such, they’ll learn how to evaluate evidence and develop new healthcare approaches for their team.
#2. Organization and Systems Leadership
Graduates must be prepared to lead, so they can expect to learn methods for assessing patient care approaches and managing quality improvement programs. They’ll also learn budgeting and planning skills.
#3. Analytical Methods
In order to lead their team, students will learn how to design and evaluate improvement initiatives as well as how to analyze and apply readings in order to create and improve healthcare practice guidelines.
#4. Information Systems and Technology
Technology changes constantly, but DNP students are taught how to implement and adapt to new systems. They’re also taught how to assess the utility of a potential technology and ensure that new systems follow necessary ethics guidelines.
#5. Health Care Policy
DNP graduates will play a role in developing future health care policies and as such, they’ll learn how to design and examine health care policy proposals, how to educate outsiders about patient care, and how to create policies that help both patients and nurses.
#6. Interprofessional Collaboration
Once in the workforce, DNP graduates are often the leaders amongst their colleagues and as such, they’ll learn important skills for collaboration. They’ll learn how to guide and evaluate teams as well as how to communicate effectively.
#7. Population Health
In an effort to improve the country’s overall health, DNP students will learn to be leaders in health awareness and illness prevention programs. By analyzing scientific data and implementing programs to prevent the spread of diseases, graduates will work towards improving the general population’s health.
How Can You Get a DNP?
Many nursing schools offer programs that make earning your DNP a little bit easier. Through programs such as BSN to DNP or MSN to DNP, you can fast track your education and reduce your student loan costs.
Through these types of programs, you’ll be expected to pass the exams for each level of education. You’ll need to pass all licensing exams as well before you are awarded your doctorate.
While not every school will offer a DNP, there are currently 357 DNP programs in the United States that you can choose from. There are an additional 106 programs that are currently in the process of being created and planned for future students. You can even find online DNP programs if you are unable or unwilling to travel to a school that offers the program in-person.