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What Is a DNP Degree?

Many registered nurses (RNs) have two-year degrees or diplomas. However, reports, “Nurses at every educational level wished they had pursued more education earlier in their careers.” More RNs are returning to school to earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). But the options do not stop there.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), a growing number of nurses are going on to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). A DNP is the highest level practice degree in the nursing profession — similar to an MD (medicine), PsyD (psychology), DPT (physical therapy) or PharmD (pharmacy).

The idea of earning a doctorate while juggling a job, not to mention life, may sound challenging. As an affordable and convenient option, Northern Kentucky University (NKU) offers a fully online DNP that prepares nurses to work at the highest level in their profession. Because applicants earn their master’s in nursing first, they can complete their DNP in as few as 20 months.

What Does a DNP Focus On?

Nurses who want to pursue a doctorate have a couple of options. A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Nursing focuses primarily on research, while a DNP concentrates on evidence-based practice and leadership. Both are terminal degrees or the highest degrees awarded in the nursing profession.

NKU’s post-master’s DNP prepares graduates to take on leadership roles in their profession. Coursework places an emphasis on developing advanced knowledge of the following:

  • Strategies to promote financial sustainability of practice initiatives.
  • The application of information systems and electronic data to advanced nursing practice.
  • New care delivery models based on contemporary nursing science.
  • The role of scholarship in solving problems across disciplines, such as primary care and mental health.

What Are Some Benefits of Earning a DNP?

Improved patient care is the top priority when it comes to the push for highly educated nurses. Better pay and career growth are additional benefits of a DNP.

By many accounts, DNP-prepared nurses can expect a significant bump in their salaries. Doctor of Nursing Practice DNP reports on DNP salaries, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Medscape and other sources.

Take a look at some salaries this nursing resource reports for DNPs working in patient care, administration, education and more:

  • DNPs earn an average of $96,000 annually, compared with $87,000 for nurses with a master’s and $70,000 for RNs
  • Nurse practitioners with a DNP earn an average of $135,830 annually, nearly $5,000 more than those with a master’s.
  • At the high end, nurse anesthetists (likely to have a doctorate) earn $187,200 or more.
  • DNPs working at the top end in administration earn average annual salaries of $165,380.
  • DNP-educated clinical nursing instructors earn an average salary of $112,680.
  • On average, nurse executives (likely to have a doctorate) earn more than $250,000.
  • DNP-educated clinical nursing instructors earn an average salary of $112,680.

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM, now the National Academy of Medicine) called for 80 percent of RNs to have a BSN by 2020. The IOM’s recommendations go even further, calling for the number of nurses with doctorates to double by 2020.

NKU’s DNP program prepares nurses to deliver advanced patient care, and to take on leadership and research roles. And as nursing faculty, DNP-prepared teachers can ensure future nurses are ready to meet the changing and complex challenges of healthcare.

Learn more about NKU’s online DNP program.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing: DNP Fact Sheet

Doctor of Nursing Practice DNP: Salary Estimates for DNP-Prepared APRNs, Administrators and More

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Registered Nurses

National Academies: The Future of Nursing: Focus on Education

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