Why You Should Consider Enrolling for a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) as the Next Step in Your Nursing Career

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If there is one thing that the current COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it is how vital our healthcare workers are. From doctors and nurses to medical researchers, the past year has shown us just how vital their work is for our society. One consequence of this realization is that many people have been inspired to switch careers and move into the healthcare sphere, and those already working in the medical industry have been moved to think about how they can take their careers to the next level.

If you are already working as a registered nurse and considering what options are open to you for career development, a doctor of nursing practice – or DNP – qualification could be a fantastic choice. DNP online programs greatly broaden your knowledge and skills and prepare you for a future leadership role within the world of nursing. This makes the DNP an ideal course for those who want to fully dedicate themselves to nursing and play a role in developing and transforming healthcare. It enables you to make a real impact on the country's healthcare system's future, changing policy for the better for years to come.

Sounds good, right? Read on to find out more about what DNP online programs involve, the benefits of studying for one, and the impact doing so could have on your future career. If you decide this is the path for you, there are also some practical tips at the end for what to do next to get started.

What is a Doctor of Nursing Practice program?

A doctor of nursing practice is the highest level of practical-focused nursing qualification available. Just like a Ph.D., it is a doctoral-level degree, but whereas a Ph.D. focuses more on academic research, DNP online programs concentrate more on the clinical side of nursing. Therefore, those interested in leadership roles within nursing, rather than a career in teaching or research, should opt for the DNP. Both qualifications are equally prestigious, so you should pick whichever type of degree best suits your interests and career aspirations.

DNP online programs are normally open to those who already have a master of science in nursing (MSN) from an accredited school, plus a current Registered Nurse (RN) license. Each institution that offers the DNP may also have certain extra admissions requirements that you will need to check you fulfill before applying. If you do not yet have an MSN qualification, in some cases, it may be possible to enroll in a program that first involves completing the master's course before moving on to the DNP, combining both levels of study into one cohesive whole.

These days there are lots of options for how to complete your DNP. There are both full-time and part-time modes of study, and you also have the choice between traditional campus-based courses and DNP online programs that enable you to study from home. The latter are particularly well suited to those who wish to combine their studies with their current job or who have family commitments that make attending college in person difficult. Whichever style of program you opt for, you will benefit from the same high-quality education and gain the same career advantages.

What is studying on DNP online programs like?

DNP online programs focus on building your advanced clinical skills and covering areas such as leadership, organization, ethics, management, and economics. Completing your DNP will involve undertaking three main types of study:

  • Core courses
  • Clinical hours
  • A DNP project

The exact modules that you complete will vary according to the institution that you study with, but you can expect a selection of topics such as:

  • Organizational and systems leadership for quality improvement
  • Healthcare finance
  • Healthcare technology and data management
  • Epidemiology and population health
  • Healthcare policy and advocacy
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Ethics in complex healthcare systems

You may also have the opportunity to specialize in an area of nursing that interests you the most, for example, gerontology, anesthetics, midwifery, pediatrics, or mental health. Alternatively, you could focus on an area such as informatics, depending on the type of job role you wish to progress to.

In terms of your clinical hours, these will be completed at a site that is relevant to your focus – for example, a hospital, community clinic, or private practice. You can expect to be required to complete about 1,000 hours of fieldwork, and for those enrolled in DNP online programs, these can be carried out near to where you live. Most colleges will offer you comprehensive help in finding a placement and support during it to focus on your studies. It could also be a great networking opportunity, so be sure to make the most of it!

When it comes to your DNP project, this will be a systematic investigation into a topic of your choice. It should be either a clinical or administration based problem, which allows you to put your knowledge and skills into practice and demonstrate the mastery of your specialty. For most students, this is the biggest part of the course, and you should take your time choosing a topic that you are genuinely passionate about because you will be dedicating yourself fully to it!

First, you will have to identify a problem to focus on and then conduct a literature review before carrying out the project itself. Of course, you will have help from faculty along the way, so do not worry if it sounds overwhelming! This part of DNP online programs gives you the chance to make a real difference by contributing to improving the practice of nursing and patient outcomes and paving the way for future scholarship. All of this means your project has the potential to be extremely rewarding to both yourself and others.

How Can DNP Online Programs Help Advance My Career?

Studying for DNP online programs can give your career a huge boost, especially if you are hoping to move into a position as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). While the qualification is not necessarily a strict requirement for all such positions, this may well change in the future. Even if it does not, having a doctoral-level degree instantly puts you in the top tier of candidates for job applications.

DNP online programs also give you high levels of employability and job security. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job opportunities for advanced practice registered nurses are set to increase by 45% between 2019 and 2029, which is much higher than average. With a median salary of $115,800 per year for advanced practice registered nurses, it also gives you the chance to earn a higher salary and enjoy greater financial stability.

Nurses who complete DNP online programs have the choice of not only a career involving direct patient care, like an APRN but also to move into a more administrative or organizational role. For example, this could include working in healthcare policy, public health, informatics, education of nurses, or executive leadership. These sorts of positions are ideal if you want to be part of the drive for change in the healthcare sector by developing government healthcare policies, creating innovative healthcare programs, or working as a Chief Nursing Officer. Thus, DNP online programs open a huge number of doors to future career opportunities – including many that you may not even have considered before!

What are the Other Advantages of Taking DNP Online Programs?

There are many more benefits to DNP online programs than simply the jobs that they qualify you for. Firstly, studying for this sort of program gives you the chance to delve deeply into a subject that you are passionate about. For many people, this alone is motivation enough! It also provides an opportunity to develop your clinical skills to the highest level, enabling you to serve your patients' needs best regardless of whether you seek a new job after you graduate. Therefore, even if you already work in your dream job, if your specialty lines up with one of the areas you can focus on in DNP online programs, obtaining the qualification could still be highly beneficial. It also helps you stay up to date in a rapidly changing field and keep on top of new nursing trends.

There are more general advantages to DNP online programs or any higher education programs in addition to these subject-specific benefits. For instance, studying for qualifications like these enables you to develop further your transferable skills such as written and verbal communication, time management, teamwork, self-motivation, confidence, research skills, problem-solving, and decision making. All of these are valuable regardless of the job role you have or the industry you work in.

You may well also find that DNP online programs offer great opportunities for networking with like-minded professionals. This can be advantageous for your career, but in addition, it is a good chance to make some new friends in your field and broaden your social network.

What are the Next Steps if I am Interested in DNP Online Programs?

If reading this article has sparked your interest in doing a DNP, the first step is to start researching available programs. Decide whether you want to study on a full-time or part-time basis and check the entry requirements to see if there is anything further you need to do to be eligible to apply. It is also worth thinking about what fields of nursing you might want to specialize in to help you choose which DNP online programs will be the most appropriate for you.

Once you have narrowed it down to a few programs, it will be time to start putting together your applications. This might involve getting transcripts from your previous studies and proof of your clinical experience, asking people to provide references for you, and writing a personal essay about why you want to study for a doctor of nursing practice program. You may also be asked to have an interview as part of the process. It is generally a good idea to apply for two or three courses, just in case you do not get accepted for all of them.

Sometimes the application process can feel a bit overwhelming, in which case it can be helpful to talk to an admissions counselor at the colleges you are considering applying to. They will be able to answer any questions you have about the course, how to apply for it, or what the experience of studying DNP online programs is like. The latter might be especially useful if you have never undertaken distance learning before.

How Can I Prepare for DNP Online Programs?

If you are feeling nervous about returning to college-level study after a long break, do not worry – this is completely natural! Luckily, there are plenty of actions you can take to help you prepare and confirm with yourself that you are making the right choice. For example, you could ask your college for some suggested reading materials that you can start looking at in advance of the course start date to allow you to get acquainted with some of the topics you study on DNP online programs.

Another possibility is to sign up for a short online course in a relevant subject area before enrolling in your DNP. This will give you the chance to test out whether online study suits you and to figure out how you learn best. Do not be afraid to experiment with different study methods to see what works best for you. For instance, try and find out which times of day you are most productive, whether you prefer to work in complete silence or with the background noise of a bustling coffee shop, and whether you work best in short, frequent bursts or longer sessions once or twice a week. Knowing all of these factors will help ensure that you hit the ground running!

If you’re just starting out in your career, or you’re ready to take the next step, hopefully these facts will help. Good luck.