Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees have grown exponentially in nursing — between 2011 and 2021, enrollment in DNP programs has increased more than fourfold. The United States has thus achieved a key objective set by the National Academy of Medicine (NAM): Double the number of nurses with a doctorate by 2020.
However, even with the surge in doctorally prepared nurses, the demand remains high, which is a large reason why nurses should consider getting DNPs.
A DNP with an emphasis on strategic leadership can benefit your career and the profession in multiple ways. Read on to explore five of the most significant reasons you could benefit from a DNP degree.
#1: You’ll achieve the highest credential in nursing.
The DNP is a terminal nursing degree. In other words, it’s one of the highest credentials available in the field.
The other doctoral nursing degrees are the:
- Doctor of Philosophy
- Doctor of Nursing Science
- Doctor of Education
Unlike the PhD and DNS, the DNP is a practice-focused doctorate. It places greater emphasis on practice than theory or research.
PhD-prepared nurse researchers develop science. DNP graduates are qualified to translate and implement it.
It’s important to know that DNP programs are very rigorous. They integrate coursework and clinical/practicum experiences that build on master's degree programs, emphasizing actionable change within the healthcare sphere.
The DNP curricula will help you gain the highest level of knowledge and skills in the following areas as they relate to nursing practice:
- Scientific underpinnings for practice
- Organizational and systems leadership
- Quality improvement
- Evidence-based practice
- Information systems/technology and patient care technology
- Healthcare policy and advocacy
- Interprofessional collaboration
- Clinical prevention and population health
- Advanced nursing practice
You’ll also cultivate expertise in a specialized area by emphasizing on a degree focus.
Reasons to get a DNP
One of the reasons to get a DNP is that you’ll enjoy a bright career outlook and comparable education to other healthcare providers.
More Career Opportunities
One of the key DNP benefits is that you’ll expand your job opportunities and earning potential.
Doctoral nursing education prepares nurses for executive-level leadership roles in practice and scientific inquiry.
That’s because DNP graduates are grounded in a foundational understanding of all facets of nursing practice. They know how to:
- Identify emerging trends
- Initiate efforts to address clinical issues
- Mobilize interdisciplinary teams
You’ll be qualified for heightened responsibility with these competencies, which often comes with greater pay. You can apply your leadership in clinical nursing, healthcare administration and management or nursing education.
Strong Career Outlook
The demand for leadership positions in healthcare is high and will continue to surge.
Nurse practitioner, nurse educator and healthcare executive are just a few examples of positions in demand. Between 2020 and 2030, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the employment of each to grow much faster than the national average:
- Nurse practitioners: 52%
- Nurse educators: 22%
- Healthcare executives: 32%
Parity With Other Health Professionals
Another reason why nurses get DNPs is to achieve parity with other health professionals. Medical doctors, physical therapists and dentists are just a few clinicians who must earn a doctorate to practice.
Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) can practice with a master’s degree. However, earning a DNP will give you an educational credential comparable to your expert colleagues.
It’ll also equip you with the skills to lead and contribute effectively in multidisciplinary teams.
#2: The Demand for DNP Nurse Educators Is High.
Several factors are driving the need for doctorally prepared nurses. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), one is the nursing faculty shortage.
More than 892 nursing schools reported a total of 1,637 faculty vacancies for the 2019-20 academic year. Approximately 90% of the open positions required or preferred a doctoral degree.
The critical lack of nurse educators is contributing to the national shortage of registered nurses (RNs). As a result of faculty vacancies, nursing schools rejected over 80,000 qualified applicants in 2019.
What’s Causing the Nursing Faculty Shortage?
AACN attributes the nursing faculty shortage to:
- Aging out: The average age of doctorally prepared faculty was 62.6 during the 2019-20 academic year, limiting their number of active years.
- Rising retirements: One-third of the current nursing faculty are expected to retire by 2025, creating hundreds of roles that must be replaced.
- Salary: Many DNP graduates enter clinical roles because they tend to pay higher wages than positions in education
- Stagnant enrollment: Because nursing schools don’t have the resources to accept all qualified candidates, enrollment in graduate programs has stagnated. Graduate programs aren’t producing enough nurse educators to meet the demand.
How Will Earning a DNP Address the Faculty Shortage?
The country needs more nurses to advance to the DNP to ease the nursing faculty shortage.
The majority of full-time nursing faculty positions require a doctorate. A benefit of holding a DNP is that you’ll automatically meet the educational requirements for these vacancies.
You’ll also be qualified for leadership positions in academia. By serving as a nursing administrator at a college or university, you can address the faculty shortage at the higher-education level.
What Are Leadership Positions in Nursing Education?
Earning a DNP will prepare you to fill the role of a nurse educator as well as the following leadership positions:
- Dean of nursing: The dean of nursing is the chief academic and administrative officer of a nursing school. They’re responsible for setting the school vision and objectives, ensuring that the school adheres to applicable regulations and coordinating strategic partnerships.
- Associate dean of nursing: Reporting to the dean of nursing, the associate dean supports nursing school management. They plan initiatives, manage human resources and assist with budgeting.
- Nursing program director: The nursing program director manages a specific nursing program, such as a DNP or BSN program. The responsibilities include curriculum development, faculty supervision and professional development.
How Much Do Nursing Education Roles Pay?
The annual median salary for a nurse educator is around $77,440, according to the BLS. However, this amount can vary quite a bit depending on position, geographic location and level of experience and education.
#3: DNP Curricula Will Position You for Leadership Roles.
In a landmark 2011 report, the NAM called on nurses to take on an influential role in transforming the country’s healthcare system. The NAM recommended that more nurses serve in leadership positions and participate in executive decision-making about the future of healthcare.
Another reason to get a DNP is that it prepares graduates to answer this call.
DNP programs teach advanced nursing expertise and organizational and systems leadership. As such, candidates are prepared for the highest ranks of organizational leadership and administration.
The curricula focus on eight foundational competencies. They’re intended to enhance your knowledge and leadership so that you can fulfill the key objectives of every nurse leader — improve nursing practice, patient outcomes and healthcare delivery.
Let’s explore each competency and how it will position you for leadership roles as a graduate.
1. Scientific Underpinnings for Practice
According to AACN, DNP graduates need a robust scientific foundation to address the complex practice issues they will face. Earning the degree will give you a comprehensive background in nursing practice.
- Develop in-depth knowledge of natural and social sciences
- Learn to apply your knowledge to create and evaluate new practice approaches
- Translate science-based theories and concepts to identify, improve and measure healthcare delivery outcomes
2. Organizational and Systems Leadership
As a DNP graduate, you’ll have the training to lead the way in eliminating health disparities and promoting quality and safety for a patient population or a broad community.
The curricula will teach you how to:
3. Evidence-Based Practice
DNP graduates are leaders in evidence-based practice. The curriculum will help you cultivate the skills needed to:
- Translate, apply and evaluate new science
- Generate evidence
- Disseminate your findings
These skills will aid you in leading improvements in healthcare practice and outcomes. Expertise in evidence-based practice is a crucial DNP benefit.
4. Information Systems/Technology and Patient Care Technology
A distinguishing trait of DNP graduates is they can use information systems and technology to improve patient care.
The curricula will teach you how to assess the efficacy of patient care technology. You’ll also learn to use technology for quality improvement and administrative decision-making.
5. Health Care Policy
Healthcare policy can significantly impact patient care. For this reason, nurse leaders need to know how to develop policies that can improve care delivery.
The DNP curriculum covers the design, influence, advocacy and implementation of healthcare policies. As a result, you can serve as a leader on behalf of the public and the nursing profession.
6. Interprofessional Collaboration
Each day, nurses work with a variety of healthcare professionals. This collaboration is crucial to providing safe, timely, effective, efficient, equitable and patient-centered care.
DNP graduates are adept at facilitating interprofessional collaboration. They can establish and lead multidisciplinary teams and participate in their work. The curricula will help you learn communication, collaborative, consultative and leadership skills so that you can create change in complex healthcare systems.
7. Clinical Prevention and Population Health
DNP graduates are expected to lead the way in improving the health status of individuals and populations. The DNP curriculum will prepare you to do just that by establishing a foundation in health promotion and population health.
You’ll learn how to:
- Analyze scientific data
- Synthesize concepts
- Evaluate care delivery models to address and improve health promotion efforts
8. Advanced Nursing Practice
Our complex healthcare environment demands that healthcare providers develop specialized knowledge. Through specialization, practitioners can provide the highest quality of care.
That’s why DNP programs prepare candidates in a distinct area of nursing practice. No matter which specialty you choose, you’ll master the knowledge and skills necessary to:
- Navigate complex situations
- Manage therapeutic interventions
- Build strong therapeutic relationships
What Leadership Roles Can DNP Graduates Take On?
Another reason to get a DNP is that becoming proficient in the necessary competencies will qualify you for executive-level positions in nursing and healthcare.
According to the BLS, healthcare executives plan, direct and coordinate health services. They can manage a facility, department or multi-facility health system. DNP graduates are an excellent fit for healthcare executive roles because they’re experts in practice as well as healthcare policy, technology and delivery.
Hospitals employ approximately one-third of healthcare executives at the state, local and private levels. The remainder work in:
- Physicians’ offices
- Nursing and residential care facilities
- Outpatient care centers
Healthcare Executive Demand
The overall employment of healthcare executives will rise at a pace that is almost quadruple the national average between 2020 and 2030. During these 10 years, the country will add approximately 429,800 jobs.
The BLS attributes the demand to a growing population of older adults. As their need for healthcare services increases, so does the need for healthcare executives to manage the delivery.
The demand also stems from the need to replace retiring healthcare executives.
Healthcare Executive Roles
With a terminal degree in nursing, you can serve in a range of executive roles. Here are just a few of the positions relevant to DNP graduates:
- Regional chief nursing officer: The regional chief nursing officer (CNO) leads nursing practice across a multi-facility healthcare system. They’re responsible for overseeing nursing education and research, patient safety and quality improvement, among other areas.
- Patient care director: As patient-focused health professionals, DNP-prepared nurses can become patient care directors. This position supervises programs and initiatives related to patient welfare. Budgeting, policies and staff recruitment are a few areas of responsibility. Their primary objectives are to ensure safety, quality and affordability.
- Nursing home administrator: The nursing home administrator is a type of healthcare executive who oversees all aspects of residential nursing facilities, from staff and resident admission to finances and the delivery of care.
- Director of nursing/chief nursing officer: DNP graduates in the director of nursing/chief nursing officer role supervise the nursing departments of various healthcare facilities. They’re accountable for budgeting, staff performance, policies, procedures and much more.
- Chief nursing information officer: The chief nursing information officer (CNIO) champions informatics as a means of improving nursing practice and healthcare outcomes. A CNIO implements solutions for care delivery and serves as a subject matter expert on interprofessional healthcare teams.
#4: Earning a DNP will increase your earning potential.
An additional benefit of earning a DNP is the potential to significantly increase your earnings. Regardless of your career interests or salary expectations, a DNP will prepare you for a meaningful and lucrative role in healthcare.
How Do Salaries Compare for MSN and DNP Graduates?
On average, DNP-prepared nurses earn more than those with an MSN.
The average salary of a nurse with a DNP is $107,000, according to Payscale. That’s substantially higher than the average wage for master’s-level nurses, $98,000, also per Payscale.
Why do DNP graduates earn more? They’re compensated for having the greatest competency in the field and taking on ultimate accountability in leadership positions.
How Does DNP Salary Vary by State?
Depending on where you work, your salary can exceed the average for DNP graduates. The following states pay the highest:
- Washington: $134,126
- New York: $125,971
- New Hampshire: $121,967
- California: $119,603
- Vermont: $115,127
What Can DNP Graduates Earn as Healthcare Executives?
By earning a DNP and advancing to leadership positions, you can expect a substantially higher salary. Because the DNP is a terminal degree, it also positions nurses for the highest earnings in their roles. The top 25% of healthcare executives make an average of $135,750, while the top 10% take home $205,620, according to the BLS.
Where you work can also increase your earnings as a healthcare executive. The top-paying states for healthcare executives are:
- New York: $155,430
- District of Columbia: $151,370
- Massachusetts: $140,270
- Washington: $138,580
- New Jersey: $136,580
It’s not uncommon for healthcare leadership position salaries to rank in the six figures. As you gain more years of experience, you can also expect your salary to increase.
|Leadership position||pay < 1 Year Experience||Average Pay||Pay > 20+ Years Experience|
|Chief Nursing Officer||$111,000||$128,220||$144,000|
|Patient Care Director||$80,000||$100,022||$103,000|
|Nursing Home Administrator||$73,000||$90,528||103,000|
|Nursing Informatics Director||n/a||$117,407||n/a|
#5: Online Programs Make Earning a DNP Convenient.
Finally, one of the core reasons why nurses get DNPs is that they’re increasingly offered online. Approximately 1 in 3 graduate students are enrolled exclusively in distance education courses, according to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Flexibility is the main reason students choose online learning over campus-based programs.
Distance learning allows students to earn a degree while accommodating their existing commitments, such as a full-time job.
Respected online graduate programs typically offer flexible options. For example, Spring Arbor University’s online DNP has:
No set log-in times
Small class sizes to promote a sense of community
A unique 7-1-7 model, allowing students a week off in between courses
Engaged faculty who are experts in the field
A dedicated student success coach who’ll support you until graduation
Support resources such as a Student Success Coach
Like campus programs, online DNP programs include clinical/practicum experiences and coursework. However, an online DNP will help you obtain the highest credential a nurse can achieve with more flexibility than a traditional program.
Learn More About The Benefits of a DNP
Spring Arbor University’s online DNP in Strategic Leadership is designed for MSN-prepared nurses, with or without an APRN certification. Academic rigor, combined with a Christ-centered worldview, will help you develop as a nursing leader grounded in integrity and faith. Spring Arbor University aims to instill personal, professional and spiritual growth as students incorporate ethical teachings into practice.
Uniquely designed for working nurses, the online DNP program offers a flexible and supportive learning environment for today’s professionals. Graduates are prepared to land top positions of authority involving clinical applications, quality improvement and healthcare policy contributions.
Discover how SAU’s DNP can provide a relevant education with a real-life application of knowledge and unparalleled support every step of the way.
- Demand for Nurses: What Does the Current Demand for Nurses Mean for the Profession?
- Pros and Cons of Being a Travel Nurse
- Self-Care for Nurses: How to Prioritize Yourself When Caring for Others
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing, About the DNP
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- American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “Nursing Schools See Enrollment Increases in Entry-Level Programs, Signaling Strong Interest in Nursing Careers”
- National Academies Press, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health”
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- Payscale, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree
- Payscale, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers
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- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Postsecondary Teachers
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