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DNP Discussions

DNP Courses and the "Essentials"

Published November 11, 2011 9:10 AM by Mai Kung

Q: Can a university/curriculum meet AACN Essentials without having a course that specifically addresses each Essential?

The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice (October 2006) by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) outlines the curricular elements and competencies that must be present in all DNP programs. There are two major components, the foundational and the specialty competencies. There are eight foundational outcome competencies and they are also referred to as the DNP Essentials 1 through 8:

I. Scientific Underpinnings for Practice
II. Organizational and Systems Leadership for Quality Improvement and Systems Thinking
III. Clinical Scholarship and Analytical Methods for Evidence-Based Practice
IV. Information Systems/Technology and Patient Care Technology for the Improvement and Transformation of Health Care
V. Health Care Policy for Advocacy in Health Care
VI. Interprofessional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes
VII. Clinical Prevention and Population Health for Improving the Nation’s Health
VIII. Advanced Nursing Practice

Under each of these foundational Essentials there are outcome competencies specified for DNP graduates. For example, Essential I specifies the DNP program will prepare the graduates to: (1) develop and evaluate care delivery approaches, (2) ensure accountability for quality and safety of patient care, and (3) develop and evaluate effective strategies for managing ethical dilemmas.

The specialty competencies are those contents that will prepare DNP graduates to assume a variety of roles. There are two general categories of specialty competencies. They are roles that specialize in the care of individuals as an advanced practice nurse (APN), and roles that specialize in practice at an aggregate, systems or organizational level. Specific competencies and contents for the “specialty competencies” are defined by the specialty organizations. These competencies complement and are incorporated into the eight core foundational DNP Essentials.

A DNP program meets the requirement for the AACN Essentials as long as the curriculum (aggregate courses) provides all the elements specified in the AACN Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice. Any one of the DNP courses may address parts of or all of the DNP graduate competencies specified in one or multiple Essentials. This is dependent upon individual course description and course objectives. For example, a core course such as Health Assessment for Advanced Practice meets the Essentials I (1-3), III (1, 2, 7), V (2), VI (1-3), VII (1-3), and VIII (1-8). A course on Legal and Ethical Complexities in Healthcare covers Essentials I (1, 3), II (2, 3), IV (4), V (7), VII (2), and VIII (4). DNP Residency is meant for a student to incorporate and apply both the foundational and specialty competencies; therefore, it meets most of the foundational and specialty competencies. The AACN was very clear to state that these competencies “should not be interpreted to mean that a separate course for each of the DNP Essentials should be offered” (

Editor's note: Here at the DNP Answers blog we take your questions about the DNP and answer them as best we can. This question is answered by blogger Mai Kung, NP, a recent DNP graduate. Comment below to discuss this topic, or send new questions to

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