What Can You Do with a DNP?

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A chief nursing officer is consulting with two junior female nurses on her staff outside of a patient’s hospital room.Nurses looking to advance their careers should consider furthering their education, as doctoral degrees are becoming more prominent in the nursing field. While master’s degree programs provide nurses with clinical knowledge and skills for advanced practice, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs prepare nurses for leadership and executive roles in the growing health care field.

It’s important for nurses pursuing advanced careers to understand what they can do with a DNP, including career options, salaries and job outlooks, so they can choose the educational path that best meets their career goals.

What Is a DNP?

A DNP is considered the terminal degree for nurses interested in pursuing the highest level of nursing  leadership roles. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), in the past few decades, advanced practice nurses with master’s degrees identified a need for more in-depth knowledge and education, especially given advancements in health care technology. Specifically, nurses sought a deeper understanding of practice management, health policy, information technology, risk management, and diagnosis and management.

In 2006, the AACN created the Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice, which is a document to guide schools in building DNP programs. According to the AACN, practice-focused DNP programs should cover essential topics and skills, such as:

  • System leadership and management
  • Quality improvement
  • Analytic methodologies for practice evaluation
  • Technology and information for health care improvement
  • Health policy development and implementation
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration for patient outcome improvement

Chief among the skills is leadership. Nurses with advanced leadership skills will be able to design more effective and economical care delivery programs and partner with other medical professionals and policymakers to better advocate for high-quality patient care. That is, they’ll go beyond delivering direct patient care and use research and analytics to make a scalable impact in their field.

DNP programs also afford nurses the opportunity to develop specialty competencies. Advanced practice nurses, for example, may expand their knowledge in specialty areas such as nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, clinical nurse specialist and nurse practitioner.

DNP Careers in Leadership

DNP degrees provide nursing students with a wide variety of career choices, whether they choose to focus on health care systems management, organizational leadership, medical and health service management, or health care policy.

Following are leadership roles that professionals pursuing advanced practice nursing careers may consider after earning a DNP degree.

Director of Nursing

Directors of nursing manage and supervise nursing personnel in medical facilities, such as hospitals and nursing homes. Directors of nursing are responsible for hiring and training staff, enforcing best practices, setting and adhering to budgets, and ensuring that patient needs and organizational goals are met. Nurses in this role also collaborate with other managers to build administrative policies that adhere to budgeting restrictions and improve patient outcomes.

Hospital Chief Executive Officer

Hospital CEOs fill the top executive roles in their health care facilities. These professionals are responsible for coordinating all aspects of the organization. Their responsibilities include building strategies and policies for improved financial performance and patient care and overseeing day-to-day functions, such as onboarding employees and complying with government regulations and policies.

Chief Nursing Officer

Chief nursing officers manage nursing services at health care facilities, such as hospitals, clinics and rehabilitation centers. These leaders are responsible for overseeing administrative operations, including keeping medical records, scheduling staff, purchasing resources and supplies, and preparing budgets. Chief nursing officers also work with facility managers to provide feedback about care policies and to identify opportunities for improvement.

DNP Salary and Job Outlook

DNP-prepared nurses can build rewarding careers in their field. According to PayScale, the following are the median annual salaries for key nursing leadership roles:

  • Director of nursing: $89,000
  • Hospital CEO: $154,000
  • Chief nursing officer: $129,000

The salaries for nurse leadership roles can vary based on experience, job location and education level. For example, PayScale reports that directors of nursing with quality improvement, leadership and organizational development skills can earn higher salaries than nurses lacking those skills.

Nurse leadership in health care is in high demand and more organizations are beginning to require nurse leaders to earn DNPs. An aging baby boomer population will also increase the need for health care services and trained medical professionals to build programming, organize staff and manage new technologies like electronic health records. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical and health services manager jobs are expected to grow by 32% — versus a 4% average for all occupations — from 2019 to 2029.

Build Your Career in Nurse Leadership

The University of North Dakota’s online Post-Master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program is designed to help advanced practice nurses progress from nurse practitioners to nurse leaders in their field. Led by an expert team of board-certified faculty, the University of North Dakota’s personalized curriculum arms students with the clinical training and skills needed to influence policy change, advocate for quality patient care and make an impact on the future of health care.

Learn more about how the University of North Dakota’s online Post-Master’s DNP program can help you pursue your professional goals.

Recommended Readings

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

Health Care Economics: Looking at Hospital Resource Management in Times of Crisis

How to Become a Hospital CEO


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, AACN Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, DNP Fact Sheet

Nursing Outlook, “Moving Ahead with the Transition to the Doctor of Nursing Practice”

PayScale, Average Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) Salary

PayScale, Average Hospital Chief Executive Officer Salary

PayScale, Average Nursing Director Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers