How Long Is a DNP Program?

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A smiling D.N.P.-prepared nurse writes on a clipboard.By 2040, more than 80 million Americans will be over the age of 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The country’s health care industry will need advanced nursing professionals to help develop health initiatives and programs to provide quality care to an aging population. Moreover, health care systems may require advanced nursing professionals to lead teams and develop the next generation of nurses.

Professionals who earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) can position themselves to become leaders in the field. When considering an advanced degree in nursing, prospective students should understand the time commitment and requirements associated with a D.N.P. program.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a D.N.P.?

The time it takes to earn a D.N.P. degree depends upon where an individual is in their career, and whether they choose to pursue education full or part time.

Prospective nursing professionals at the beginning of their education must consider the time it takes to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.). Full-time B.S.N. students usually take four years to earn a degree, although part-time students can take as many as seven. Graduates must pass the NCLEX exam to earn the certification required to practice as registered nurses (RNs), and most programs require R.N.s to practice for at least a year before applying for a graduate degree.

Most doctoral-level programs require prospective students to first complete a Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.). Full-time traditional and online M.S.N. programs typically take one to two years. However, many nurses choose part-time education that allows them to work while also pursuing higher education. Part-time B.S.N. to M.S.N. programs usually take two to four years.

After graduating with an M.S.N., full-time M.S.N. to D.N.P. programs typically take one to two years, and part-time programs can take less than two years and up to four.

So, how long does it take to earn a D.N.P.? This is a simple question with a complicated answer. The path for full-time students typically includes a four-year B.S.N., at least one year of practice as an RN, a two-year M.S.N., and a one- to two-year D.N.P. program. But because many nurses choose to pursue at least part of their education part-time while practicing as RNs, the path may take longer.

What Topics Are Covered in a D.N.P. Program?

D.N.P. programs provide students with the opportunity to study a wide breadth of topics in care delivery ethics and improvement, technology integration, collaboration and proactive health promotion strategies.

Advanced courses explore how nurse leaders develop strategies to promote workplace safety and ethical behavior, offering students a deep understanding of care delivery ethics and enhancements. D.N.P. students also study health informatics, focusing on using data to improve care delivery, increase quality of care and patient satisfaction, and study population health.

Other common areas of study include advanced pharmacology, clinical reasoning, health care economics and the social determinants of health. Some programs offer a leadership track that focuses on training the nurse leaders of the future.

Many programs culminate with a final project that focuses on creating better health care outcomes through practice or systems adaptations, enabling students to develop original solutions to the pressing issues facing health care.

What Are the Benefits of Earning a D.N.P. Degree?

Among the many benefits of a D.N.P. is the opportunity to dive deeply into the discipline, studying topics at the highest level. D.N.P. graduates have earned the top educational accreditation in the field and are considered thought leaders. This can lead to a career at the forefront of innovation in care delivery, driving the emerging technological and medical trends that will shape the future of the nursing profession.

A D.N.P. opens the door to a broad variety of career options, preparing graduates for both clinical and managerial leadership positions. D.N.P. graduates’ expertise also enables them to act as mentors, passing on their knowledge to the next generation of nursing professionals.

A D.N.P. degree can affect salaries as well. In May 2021, the median annual salary for a professional with a Doctor of Nursing Practice was about $104,400, according to PayScale data.

Earn a D.N.P. Degree and Prepare to Become a Leader in Health Care

The University of North Dakota’s online Post-Master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice can provide prospective students with the opportunity to develop their nursing skills, as well as educate them on a wide breadth of crucial nursing topics. Students can take a variety of courses, including Advanced Univariate Statistics, Evidence-Based Research, Health Informatics, and Healthcare Economics, Finance and Leadership.

Learn how the University of North Dakota’s online Post-Master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice can provide prospective students with the opportunity to pursue various health care roles.   


Recommended Readings

Chief Nursing Officer: The Steps to Becoming a Key Health Care Leader

How to Become a Director of Nursing

What Can You Do with a DNP?


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Shortage

The Conversation, “Amid a Raging Pandemic, the US Faces a Nursing Shortage. Can We Close the Gap?”

International Nursing Review, “Leveraging Nurse Practitioner Capacities to Achieve Global Health for All: COVID-19 and Beyond”

The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties, The Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree: Entry to Nurse Practitioner Practice by 2025

Nursing Outlook, “Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree in the United States: Reflecting, Readjusting, and Getting Back on Track”

PayScale, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree