Earning a DNP Online

Become Team
Become Team
November 20, 2020

A doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree provides nurses the opportunity to pursue the highest level of education available in the nursing field. The DNP builds upon a BSN and MSN program, and usually emphasizes practice in a specific discipline or career, such as nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, or nurse midwife. Students in DNP programs participate in, and engage with, scholarly research in the field, and explore new methods for practice in clinical settings. Nurses who wish to earn the highest degree in the field, improve patient care, and further healthcare standards can earn the DNP and practice at advanced levels.

This guide introduces the DNP and offers information on how to earn a DNP online through an accredited program. You will also learn more about the kinds of careers the DNP prepares graduates for, salary expectations for those careers, and the available types of licensure.

What Can You Do With a DNP?

Practicing nurses who want to better patient care while increasing their knowledge of nursing practice and skills can benefit from earning an online DNP. This degree prepares graduates for advanced practice as nurse practitioners or specialists, and emphasizes scholarship and research in nursing. The table below outlines the median salary and expected growth rates for three potential career tracks for graduates of accredited online DNP programs.

Nurse Midwife

Median Annual Salary: $103,770
Expected Growth Rate: 21%

Nurse Anesthetist

Median Annual Salary: $167,950
Expected Growth Rate: 16%

Nurse Practitioner

Median Annual Salary: $107,030
Expected Growth Rate: 36%

Source: PayScale

Salary by Experience Level

Earning a DNP online is the next step for those who already hold a BSN or MSN, and wish to continue their education in nursing. Additionally, DNP-holders generally earn higher pay with more experience, while entry-level positions often pay less. The table below outlines the pay for DNPs as they progress through their career, according to data from PayScale.

The Top-Paying Industries for DNPs

Certain industries offer higher paying positions for nurse practitioners. The table below outlines the top three paying industries for these professionals, as well as the average salary in each.

  • Employment: 310

  • Percent of Industry Employment: 0.04

  • Annual Mean Wage: $139,460

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Traits of a Successful DNP

Nurse practitioners perform many of the same tasks as doctors, including recording and analyzing patient histories, diagnosing illness, and prescribing treatment. The professionals also have a working knowledge of chronic and acute illnesses, therapeutic treatment options, and have the authority to prescribe medications. While on the job, they work with various types of technology, such as medical coding software and recordkeeping programs for recording and referencing patient data. To make effective diagnoses and prescribe appropriate treatments, nurse practitioners must have strong listening skills and use critical thinking to evaluate the best treatment methods. Below are a few of the most valuable skills for a nurse practitioner.

Nurse practitioners employ active learning as they adapt to changing environments and situations. They must understand and evaluate each patient’s history to best determine a treatment path, and employ their existing knowledge of diagnostics to make a diagnosis based on what they learn.
While working with patients, nurse practitioners must use active listening to record medical histories, and listen to the patients describe symptoms in order to make an accurate diagnosis.
Nurse practitioners practice critical thinking in most aspects of their career, such as analyzing and evaluating patient symptoms and test results to confirm a diagnosis, and prescribe an appropriate treatment solution.

Certifications and Licenses a DNP Prepares For

Steps to Earning a DNP Online

The best online DNP programs require similar essential steps to earn the degree, from applying to completing coursework. The steps below feature a typical path for students; however, keep in mind that the requirements for each program and school may vary.

Find the Right Program for You

Prospective students must consider a variety of factors when researching the best online doctorate of nurse practitioner programs. Consider whether you want to complete all of your course requirements online, or if you prefer a blend of online and on-campus classes. If you want to complete your degree entirely online, consider whether each program requires proctored exams, or if any on-campus or in-person requirements exist. Additionally, find out which learning management system each program uses, and consider your preferences for online learning. Some programs may require synchronous work that will require you to log on at specific times.


Many online DNP programs will have similar admission requirements. Most programs require students to hold at least a BSN from an accredited program, and others require students to hold an MSN. Applications may require a formal application form and a variety of supplemental materials, such as letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose or a personal essay, proof of nursing licensure, and an in-person or telephone interview.

Capstone, Dissertation, or Thesis

Most doctorate programs require a formal dissertation. These scholarly projects involve a formal research study that demonstrates the student’s knowledge of the material. A capstone project or thesis generally requires less writing and can sometimes take a more collaborative approach; however, these are often required in master’s and undergraduate level programs. Dissertations usually require lengthy academic writing, and may be preceded by comprehensive examinations.

Fellowship or Internship

Nursing programs at all levels generally require some form of clinical internship or supervised practice hours. While earning a DNP online, this requirement can include working in a setting in your home community, and potentially at your current place of employment. Conversely, a fellowship is a research-based position where students work alongside a professor. Some programs may require students to complete an internship or fellowship following completion of coursework, while others may allow students to complete it concurrently with coursework.

Curriculum for an Online DNP

Courses in accredited DNP online programs will likely vary between schools and programs; however, the sample curriculum below details some common courses required in these programs.

  1. Methods for Evidence Based Practice: This course explores the intersection of theory and practice in nursing, and explores topics in philosophy and science-based theory. Students discuss ethical issues in nursing practice and employ theoretical knowledge to explore those implications. The course often entails readings and analysis of psychosocial and environmental sciences and their impact on patient care.

  2. Epidemiology: This course builds upon similar courses offered in undergraduate and master’s programs in nursing, further exploring epidemiologic methods and how they affect specific patient populations. Students examine various global issues in health — such as infectious disease and bioterrorism — and discuss the effects on study and theory in nursing and healthcare practice.

  3. Healthcare Policy: Nurse practitioners often serve in similar positions as medical doctors, and must advocate for patient welfare and navigate complicated systems to provide appropriate care. This course explores the economic and political factors that can impact healthcare and healthcare reform. The course often includes written components where students analyze existing policies and create new policies within existing frameworks.

  4. Research Methods in Nursing: This course may entail two separate courses in quantitative and qualitative methods. Students explore various research methodologies commonly employed in nursing studies. They also examine existing research studies and analyze the effectiveness of those methods. Additionally, learners may design and implement their own study — independently or collaboratively.

  5. Nursing Technology: This course provides a comprehensive overview of the various types of technology nurses use on the job. This includes devices like laptops and handheld computers, as well as machines used to run tests and administer patient care. This doctoral course also explores the implications of technology used in healthcare for increasing quality and patient outcomes.


The cheapest online DNP programs may also offer students the option to specialize their degree in one of the concentration areas listed below.

Nurse anesthetists dose and administer anesthesia to patients, and monitor their vitals while under, often working alongside surgeons and medical doctors during operations and other procedures.
Nurse midwives attend and assist with births. They counsel patients on childbirth and pregnancy, conduct women’s reproductive exams, and have the authority to prescribe medication.
Nurse practitioners perform many of the same tasks as medical doctors, including diagnosing and treating patients for acute and chronic illnesses. They often provide family healthcare alongside of in place of a medical doctor.
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