As a nurse, you will have a whole wealth of career progression options open to you as you gain more specialist knowledge, clinical skills, and real-world experience. This enables you to tailor a job role that truly suits your interests, personality, and goals. So, for instance, you could choose to work specifically with children or the elderly, focus on a certain health condition such as cancer or diabetes, or move into an indirect patient care role such as teaching, research, or policy. There are so many possibilities following a career in nursing which makes it an ideal choice for so many people.
Whichever type of position appeals to you; you will most likely have to undertake some formal education and training in order to get there. But, again, there are many options open to you in this regard, from a master of science in nursing (MSN) to shorter certifications and even a Ph.D. However, one of the most popular choices is to take a doctor of nursing practice or DNP.
This qualification is a great way to open up doors to top job roles and develop your skills and knowledge to the highest level. Plus, thanks to the availability of online BSN to DNP programs, you can study for your degree alongside your existing family and work obligations.
If all of this has piqued your interest, read on to find out more about the DNP – including what studying for it is like, what careers it can lead to, and how to apply for one.
What is a DNP?
A doctor of nursing practice is a doctoral-level degree in nursing. It’s a terminal degree, which means it is currently the highest level of education available in clinical nursing. Online BSN to DNP programs and their campus equivalents are specifically designed for those students who wish to progress to top-level jobs within the field and use evidence-based practice to improve patient care and patient outcomes.
The number of programs available and students graduating from those programs is steadily increasing, with both full-time and part-time study options available. Generally speaking, a full-time DNP will take you between one and four years to complete, while part-time courses will take you between three and six years to complete. This depends on the type of program you enroll on, as well as your previous qualifications and experience. Both online BSN to DNP programs and degrees based on college campuses are available, so it’s easy to find a course that suits your circumstances.
How does a DNP differ from a Ph.D.?
Both the Ph.D. and DNP are terminal degrees in nursing; however, their focuses are quite different. A Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy) concentrates on research and academia and is aimed at those who are hoping to pursue a career as a nurse educator or nurse researcher. It takes longer to complete, lasting a minimum of three years full time and has no requirement for clinical hours. At the end of the course, you will write a lengthy academic dissertation, which you will then defend in an oral examination.
On the other hand, a DNP focuses more on clinical practice and is aimed at those who wish to work in advanced roles in either direct patient care (such as an advanced practice registered nurse) or indirect patient care (such as an executive nurse leader).
Who is eligible to take a DNP?
There are several different pathways that you can take to achieve a DNP, and each one has slightly different eligibility requirements. The traditional route is to take what’s known as an MSN to DNP program, which is for nurses who already hold a master of science in nursing (MSN). However, nowadays, there are also bridge programs aimed at those without an MSN degree.
Online BSN to DNP programs and the equivalent campus-based courses allow you to enroll straight after completing your bachelor of science in nursing degree (BSN). They combine the curriculums of the MSN and DNP to create a slightly accelerated degree that avoids duplication. Although less common, there are also bridge programs for registered nurses who don’t have a BSN and students who hold a bachelor’s degree in a subject outside of nursing.
In addition to these academic requirements, individual institutions may have other entry requirements that you need to meet. For example, you might have to take an exam such as the GMAT or GRE, have a certain amount of experience, or demonstrate proficiency in English if it’s not your first language. Normally you are also expected to have a current and unencumbered nursing license.
What is studying for a DNP like?
The study program for a DNP – whether it’s online BSN to DNP programs or on-campus MSN to DNP programs – can be divided into three main modes:
– Academic modules
– Clinical placement
– An independent research project
Looking firstly at the modules, these will vary according to both the institution you study with and the area you focus on. While there is a core curriculum that will remain similar across all programs, the specialist modules can differ considerably depending on which track you choose. For example, you could concentrate on one of the four main advanced practice registered nurse roles: nurse anesthetist or nurse-midwife or an indirect patient care field such as executive leadership.
With that in mind, the following is a list of the sort of modules you can expect to take:
- Theoretical and Scientific Foundations of Nursing
- Research for Evidence-Based Practice
- Healthcare Finance
- Advanced Pathophysiology
- Clinical Pharmacology
- Advanced Health Assessment and Diagnostic Reasoning
- Transforming Nursing and Healthcare Through Technology
- Epidemiology and Population Health
- Healthcare Policy and Advocacy
- Leading Healthcare Organizations
- Primary Care Approaches for Children
- Advanced Pediatric Nursing
- Primary Care of Adults Across the Lifespan
- Advanced Practice Care of Older Adults
- Advanced Nursing in Reproductive Healthcare
When it comes to clinical placements, the normal requirement is for you to complete around 1,000 hours of hands-on experience. For online BSN to DNP programs, your college will assist you in arranging placements at suitable healthcare settings close to where you live. You will have the opportunity to choose somewhere that aligns with your personal interests and fits with the career goals you have after graduating. Your placements are a fantastic chance to network with like-minded professionals, get valuable experience in the real world, and also learn directly from experts in your chosen field of nursing.
Lastly, there is the DNP project, which you will complete towards the end of the program. This is where you bring together all the knowledge and skills you have learned in order to investigate a real clinical or administrative problem in the nursing world. Make sure that you think carefully when choosing a topic because you’ll be spending a lot of time on it! For many students, this is the most rewarding part of online BSN to DNP programs. This is because you not only get to delve deeply into a subject that interests you, but your work can actually lead to improvements in patient outcomes in the real world.
What kind of careers can a DNP lead to?
One of the best aspects of doing online BSN to DNP programs is the variation of careers it can lead to after graduating. Having said that, it’s worth thinking about what type of job you are hoping to progress to early on because it will impact the specific program you enroll in and the modules that you choose to study.
There are two main types of careers that a DNP can help you reach: advanced direct patient care roles and advanced indirect patient care roles. The most common choice when it comes to direct patient care is to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). There are four main APRN roles you can aim for:
- Certified Nurse Midwife
- Certified Nurse Specialist
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
- Certified Nurse Practitioner
There are also six main patient populations that APRNs can specialize in:
- Family / Individual Across the Lifespan
- Women’s Health
- Psychiatric / Mental Health
So as you can see, there are plenty of chances to craft the exact type of job role that suits your nursing passions and life circumstances after online BSN to DNP programs.
In regard to indirect patient care roles, again, you have a wide range of routes to choose from. For instance, if you have an interest in data, you could work in nursing informatics. This combines information science and computing with nursing to improve patient outcomes through technological innovation. Alternatively, you could move into a health policy role, campaigning with lawmakers to create legislation that improves healthcare provision all across the country.
The most ambitious of you out there might like to set your sights on executive leadership positions. These involve duties such as managing budgets, overseeing the hiring and training of nurses, developing policies and procedures for your organization, advocating for your staff and patients, and managing overall patient care. This sort of role can also be undertaken as a consultant, rather than working in one specific place.
What are the specific advantages and disadvantages of online BSN to DNP programs?
Online BSN to DNP programs are becoming increasingly more popular as a way to gain the qualification without having to give up your current job or move away from your family. This flexibility is arguably the main advantage of virtual learning. It enables you to tackle the curriculum at a time, place, and pace that suits you and your circumstances. This means you can get in some quality study time before you leave for work in the morning, on your lunch break, or after the kids go to bed at night. Alternatively, you could dedicate your days off to academia instead. Likewise, you can choose whether to study in your home office, your favorite coffee shop, or a local library.
Another benefit of online BSN to DNP programs is that they are often cheaper than campus courses. This is both because tuition fees tend to be lower and because you don’t have to worry about extra costs such as commuting, accommodation during semesters, or parking on campus. It also gives you the opportunity to try out some cutting-edge virtual learning technology in a supportive environment, which could be useful when similar software is implemented in the workplace.
While there are no specific disadvantages to online BSN to DNP programs in terms of how employers regard them, it’s worth remembering that the experience will be different from that of a campus-based program. For example, all of your interactions with faculty members and your fellow students will be online, which might not be what you’re looking for if you want the traditional college experience of sports games and late nights in the library or campus bar.
It’s important to realize that you won’t be missing out, though. Firstly your clinical placements will still be conducted in person, and secondly, you will have access to plenty of support from your college as well as chances to network virtually with your cohort.
How do I apply for a DNP?
If you’re interested in applying for on-campus or online BSN to DNP programs, the first step is to research the courses that are on offer. Next, think about the exact track you are interested in and the type of career you are aiming for after graduation, then look for a module list that matches. You’ll also want to think about whether you would prefer to study on a full-time or part-time basis.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to two or three programs that you like the look of, check that you meet the entry requirements, and then start putting together your applications. You are likely to need to submit evidence of your previous qualifications, letters of recommendation, a copy of your resume, and a personal essay on why you want to enroll on the course. Don’t rush this last one, as it’s very important!
It’s a good idea to start looking into your funding options early too. Check out possible financial aid, scholarships, and even funding from your employer. Finally, if you’re nervous about returning to formal education, you can always ask an admissions tutor for some recommended reading to help you prepare for your introductory courses.
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