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Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs

Those who are interested in advanced clinical practice, teaching as a professor or clinical instructor, or narrowing their focus down to a specific field in nursing could be well suited to become a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Follow these simple steps towards earning your doctorate degree in nursing:

Step 1: Pursue a High School Diploma or GED

If you would like to become a DNP, you must first become an RN. In order to get your RN, you must be a high school graduate or have taken and passed the GED.

Step 2: How to Become an RN

There are several tracks towards becoming an RN:

  • Complete a two-year diploma program at your local health care institution (i.e. hospital)
  • Apply to and complete a four-year bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN) program at an accredited college or university
  • Complete a two-year associate's degree at a community college program for nursing
  • Complete theory-related RN courses online, and then complete your clinical work in the health care setting (hospital, private clinic, public health clinic, etc.)

Once you've completed one of the above routes to become an RN, you must take and pass the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination), a test which can allow you to practice as an RN.

Step 3: How to Become a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

There are several tracks towards becoming a doctor of nursing practice. Most of the tracks involve becoming a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). This track is usually eighteen months to two years in duration. After completing your education, you must sit for and pass the national boards to become an NP.

The DNP is a new standard adopted by the American Association of Colleges in Nursing (AACN) in October 2004. According to the AACN, the DNP should replace the MSN as the gold standard to become a nurse practitioner (NP) by 2015. Slowly but surely, institutions are phasing out MSNs and replacing it with the DNP, though this isn't without some controversy. Many academic institutions are pushing back, wanting to keep the MSN and PhD programs available without the DNP option.

As things stand now, many colleges and universities offer MSN programs and PhD programs, but not the DNP. It is important to discern between the PhD and the DNP. PhD programs tend to focus more in research trials than clinical practice. The DNP focuses more on a clinical specialty (i.e. HIV/AIDS or oncology) and less on performing research trials through an institution.

NPs: Should They Need More than a Master's?

Several institutions around the nation have already adopted the DNP as the gold standard for nurse practitioners. There has been some recent controversy in the field of nursing regarding whether nurses should be allowed to practice as NPs at the master's level or the doctoral level.

That being said, choosing a program or school where you can study your DNP specialty (adult health, pediatric, infectious disease, etc.) is important. While working as an RN, you may find that your passion lies in the geriatric population, or pediatric oncology.

The DNP degree allows you to practice as an NP. NPs take a national exam and are licensed on a state-by-state level. Check out your state's board of nursing website for more information on scopes of practice and licensing steps. Having a doctorate degree will also allow you to become a clinical instructor at an academic or teaching institution.

Since the DNP is such a new degree, it is difficult to find specific data about a DNP's salary or projected job growth. But as the demand for lower care cost health care in the U.S. increases, so does the demand for highly-skilled clinical nurses able to carry out procedures and primary care visits that are traditionally reserved for physicians.

Schools offering Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
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