DNP Programs: Are They All the Same?
In 2004, the American Association of the Colleges of Nursing (AACN) proposed that the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) should be the entry level for Advanced Practice Nurses (APN). A year later, the Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) announced that the only doctoral practice degree that the CCNE would accredit would be the DNP (AACN, 2006). As a result of these actions, DNP programs have increased precipitously in the United States. While we can assume some regularity in these programs, can we also assume that all programs are the same?
One university in the Midwest offers the DNP degree online with no obligation to visit the campus during the program. The student must complete 33 credits, and the university advertises that the program can be completed in 18 months. There is no clinical requirement but the student must complete a capstone project with clinical application. While there is an epidemiology with biostatistics class, there are no true clinical courses (such as physical assessment or pathophysiology). The remainder of the curriculum is focused on leadership and scholarly writing and research. Like the remainder of the programs in the review, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with national certification as an APN is a prerequisite.
A well-known university in the Northeast offers a 36-credit program with two-, three- and four-year plans for completion. This university makes no mention of online classes. Similar to the previous university, the courses are focused on evidence-based practice through research and its applications, as well as courses to develop leadership. A doctoral project is also required.
In the Southeast, a school advertises that its 33-credit program can be completed in 15 months. Most of the classes are online, but the school does require two three-day sessions at the university. Unlike the previous schools, this institution requires 360 "self-directed" practicum hours in addition to a capstone project. The curriculum is similar to the other schools except that eight of the credits are for the clinical practicum. The practicum hours, however, can be filled by attending conferences, shadowing DNPs or doing other scholarly endeavors. A second school in the South advertises a 36-credit two-year program with similar classes. This university requires 1000 hours of clinical practicum but allows the student to apply their practicum hours from their MSN program. There appears to be a research course but not a true research project.
Obviously, this is not an extensive review of the nation's hundreds of DNP programs. Certainly for prospective students, a far more complete review of the programs available should be undertaken. My review does seem to show, however, that while the programs may vary in their curriculum, they are geared towards developing an evidence based practice and preparing the DNP for leadership in the healthcare community.
AACN. (2006). The essentials of doctoral education for advanced nursing practice.