BSN to DNP programs online: Your questions answered



If you’re currently working as a nurse and have been in your current job role for a while, you might be starting to think about the next steps you can take in your career. One of the many great aspects of nursing is that there are many different pathways you can progress to, allowing you to tailor your career to suit your personal interests and individual life circumstances. On the flip side, this can make it more tricky to choose which of the many options you want to take.

For those who already hold a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and are hoping to move on to one of the more advanced roles in the field, taking BSN to DNP programs online or on campus can be a fantastic choice. These courses prepare you for the best jobs in nursing, and enable you to develop your clinical skills and specialist knowledge to the highest level.

This article aims to help you decide whether a DNP is the right option for you by answering some of the questions you might have about the qualification. Hopefully, by the end you’ll have a better idea of the next step to take in your career.

What is a DNP?

A DNP is a doctor of nursing practice degree. This is a doctoral-level qualification in the field of nursing, meaning it is the highest certification in clinical education available to nurses. It is designed for those students who wish to progress to the very highest positions in nursing, whether that’s related to direct patient care or indirect patient care. The focus is on using evidence-based practice to improve patient outcomes. There are many different types of DNP courses on offer, from MSN to DNP programs on campus to BSN to DNP programs online. You also have the choice between studying on a full-time basis or a part-time basis. As such, it can take anywhere between one and six years to complete a DNP.

How is a DNP different to a PhD or MSN?

A DNP is the next level up from a master of science in nursing degree (MSN). That means it is more challenging academically, and prepares you for more advanced job roles. On the other hand, a DNP and a PhD are the same level of qualification, but they have a different focus. A PhD (doctor of philosophy) is geared towards those who wish to work in research or academia, whereas a DNP concentrates more on clinical practice. Unlike the DNP, there is no requirement for PhD students to complete any clinical hours during their course.

Who is eligible to take a DNP?

There are a couple of different pathways that you can take to achieve a DNP, with each course having slightly different entry requirements. Traditionally, you would be expected to earn your MSN before enrolling on a DNP, however, nowadays there are BSN to DNP programs online and also on campus that combine the curriculum of an MSN with that of a DNP. That means you can complete both qualifications in one course, shortening the time it takes to get your DNP by avoiding any repetition in the content. In addition, there are some bridge programs for registered nurses who either don’t have a BSN or have a bachelor’s degree in a different subject. As well as these academic requirements, for all courses there will normally be certain other entry requirements that you have to meet in order to enroll – a common one is to have a current and unencumbered nursing license.

What is studying for a DNP like?

Studying on BSN to DNP programs online involves three different types of study: academic modules, clinical placements, and an independent research project. While the modules will be completed through virtual learning methods, your clinical hours will still be done in person. The usual amount required is 1,000 hours, and your college will assist you in arranging these at suitable locations near to where you live. Try to choose healthcare settings that are relevant to your future career goals in order to gain the most benefit from your placements.

When it comes to your DNP project, this can be done on any relevant topic of your choice. The idea is to choose an existing clinical or administrative problem in nursing, which you will then conduct an in-depth investigation into. This involves undertaking a literature review before implementing and evaluating your project. It’s often the most challenging part of doing BSN to DNP programs online, but also the most rewarding. This is because not only do you get to concentrate on the area of nursing that you’re most passionate about, your findings could also lead to real improvements in patient outcomes.

What areas of nursing can I specialize in on BSN to DNP programs online?

Many colleges offer specialist BSN to DNP programs online that hone in on a specific area of nursing. These courses are good choices for those who have a clear idea of the career they wish to progress to after graduating, and want to narrow their field of study to focus on it specifically. There are lots of different options for specialization, which can be broadly divided into those that focus on direct patient care and those that focus on indirect patient care.

In terms of direct patient care, this could mean focusing on a specific health condition or on a specific patient population. For instance, you could specialize in midwifery, pediatrics, geriatrics or psychiatric care. When it comes to indirect care, this includes concentrations such as nursing informatics, health policy, management, nurse education, executive leadership and administration.

What modules will I take?

The specific modules that you study on BSN to DNP programs online vary according to the specialization you choose (if any) and the college that you enroll with. Some will be mandatory, whereas for others you will have a choice from a longer list of electives. To give you an idea of the sort of topics that might be available to you, take a look at the following list of titles:

  • Foundations and Essentials of Doctoral Study in Nursing
  • Health Policy
  • Quantitative Methods in Clinical Nursing
  • Doctoral Nursing Global Perspectives
  • Biostatistics
  • Translating Evidence Into Clinical Practice
  • Theoretical and Scientific Foundations for Nursing
  • Healthcare Technology and Data Management
  • Healthcare Finance / Economics
  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Clinical Pharmacology
  • Psychopathology
  • Best Practices in Nursing Specialties
  • Organizational and Systems Leadership for Quality Improvement
  • Epidemiology and Population Health
  • Advanced Pediatric Nursing
  • Primary Care of Adults Across the Lifespan
  • Advanced Practice Care of Older Adults
  • Advanced Nursing in Reproductive Healthcare

What jobs does a DNP qualify me for?

BSN to DNP programs online prepare you for a wide variety of high level roles in nursing, with certain specializations naturally being better suited to specific jobs. This is why it’s key to choose the course that is most interesting to you and that best aligns with your career aspirations. Just like with the specialist curriculums, there are two main career paths that a DNP can qualify you for: advanced direct patient care roles and advanced indirect patient care roles.

When it comes to direct patient care, the most common choice is to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). There are four main APRN roles you can aim for:

  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
  • Certified Nurse Midwife
  • Certified Nurse Specialist
  • Certified Nurse Practitioner

In terms of indirect patient care, this covers a wide range of roles such as:

  • Nursing Informaticist
  • Nurse Educator
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Healthcare Executive
  • Clinical Researcher
  • Healthcare Lobbyist

Are there any specific advantages to doing BSN to DNP programs online?

Doing BSN to DNP programs online definitely has its benefits. Firstly, there is the added flexibility that comes with a distance-learning course. You have the chance to study at times of the day and days of the week that suit you, as well as at a location that best fits your learning style. This means you could study early in the morning at your favorite coffee shop, in your workplace during your lunch break, or at home before bed – it’s entirely up to you. That makes these courses particularly well suited to those who need to fit their academic work around their day job or existing family obligations.

BSN to DNP programs online often have the advantage of being less expensive, too, both because tuition fees are lower and because you don’t have to cover additional costs such as commuting, parking, or accommodation near campus. You also get the chance to use some cutting-edge virtual learning software, which not only enhances your tech skills but also gives you an advantage when later using similar software in a work environment.

Are there any disadvantages to doing BSN to DNP programs online?

The short answer to this question is no. Taking BSN to DNP programs online rather than on campus does not count against you when it comes to applying for promotions or new jobs. Although this might have been the case in the past, these days employers are used to the notion of virtual learning and realize that these qualifications are just as valid. This is especially true in nursing because all of your clinical hours will be completed in person, so you’ll still be getting plenty of hands-on experience.

Having said that, there are certain differences that you should be aware of before enrolling on a distance learning degree. Firstly you will be interacting with your tutors and fellow students virtually, which might not be what you want if you’re hoping for library study sessions and drinks after lectures. You will also have to take a little more responsibility for your learning, as there will be no one looking over your shoulder making sure that you’re doing your work and meeting your deadlines. However, many students actually prefer this extra independence, and it’s important to recognize that you won’t be missing out on any support from your college.

Am I too old for a DNP?

Absolutely not! Anyone who is passionate about nursing and wants to progress in their career can enroll on BSN to DNP programs online. In fact, you’ll likely find that many of those on your course are mature students because it’s the sort of qualification that attracts people who already have a certain amount of experience under their belt. It’s important to remember that being an older student is by no means a disadvantage because you are likely to have a clearer idea of exactly what you want to get out of the course and what sort of career you wish to have afterwards. Plus, all the life experience and clinical experience that you’ve accumulated is sure to come in useful.

How do I apply for BSN to DNP programs online?

If reading the answers to these questions has convinced you that this qualification is right for you, it’s time to start researching BSN to DNP programs online. Make a shortlist of the courses you’re most interested in by comparing module lists and specialist tracks, and check the entry requirements to make sure that you’re eligible. At this stage you should also be thinking about whether you want to study full time or part time, and online or on campus. It’s also never too early to start looking into funding options, as these often have earlier deadlines than the actual courses do. Financial aid, scholarships, and funding from your current employer are all avenues worth considering.

When it comes to the application itself, you’ll need to submit a number of different materials such as a resume, academic or professional references, and proof of your existing qualifications (like your BSN). It can take a bit of time to gather everything together, so it’s best to start well before the deadline. Many colleges also ask for a personal essay about why you’re interested in doing BSN to DNP programs online. Make sure you let your passion for nursing shine through here, and ask someone to read over it before you submit to check for any typos. Remember, if you have any questions be sure to contact the admissions tutors at the colleges you’re interested in – they’ll be happy to help you out.