Working as a nurse is an extremely rewarding job role. As you’ll know if you’re already employed in the healthcare sector, nursing enables you to make a difference in the lives of your patients every single day. Whether you’re helping those who are sick or educating healthy people on how to stay fit and well, the importance of a nurse’s work simply cannot be understated.
If you’ve been working as a nurse for a while though, you may find yourself eager to take your career to the next level. There are plenty of options for how you can do this, but one popular choice is to study for a DNP, or Doctor of Nursing Practice. This is one of the most advanced degrees available in the field of nursing, and perfect for those who have a master’s degree in the subject and want to challenge themselves further academically.
In this article we’ll look at what exactly studying for a DNP program involves, what the benefits of doing so are, and how to keep fit at the same time as studying for it!
What is a DNP?
A Doctor of Nursing Practice is also referred to as a DNP is a doctoral-level degree program in nursing. It prepares nurses to be experts in their field, further building upon what you have already studied during your master’s level degree program.
The DNP is a terminal degree, meaning it is the highest level you can achieve in the sphere. The other terminal doctoral degree for nurses is a PhD in the subject, with the main difference between the two is that a PhD is more focused on research and academia. This means it is a good choice for those who wish to go on to become a lecturer, a researcher, or work in another similar scholarly role.
A DNP, on the other hand, is geared more towards putting what you learn and discover into practice. You will still conduct your own research, but the focus will be on its implementation in the real world. Once you are qualified, you will be able to work in either a clinical setting or a leadership role depending on your personal job preferences. Either way, the positions you will be qualified to assume will be at the very highest level.
If you don’t yet have a master’s degree in nursing (MSN), don’t worry! There are programs you can enroll in that enable you to complete the master’s level course first, and then move straight on to the DNP. Doing this on a full-time basis will typically take three to four years to complete, and if you study on a part-time basis, this timeframe will increase to around four to six years.
What does studying for a DNP involve?
The same experience you’ll have when studying for your DNP will vary according to the institution you attend. As a general guide, you can expect a very rigorous program during which you will undertake both practical clinical work and academic coursework.
One of the first things that you will need to decide is what the focus of your DNP will be. There are two broad varieties: those programs that focus on general leadership or administration, and those programs that have a specialty in a particular nursing concentration. For example, this could be a Family Nurse Practitioner program, or one focusing on psychiatric, geriatric, or pediatric care.
The exact courses you take will differ depending on both the college you study at and the specific program you enroll in, but whichever you choose there are eight ‘DNP essentials’ that they all cover:
- Scientific underpinnings for practice
- Organizational and systems leadership for quality development and systems thinking
- Clinical prevention and population health for enhancing the nation’s health
- Information technology and patient care technology for the development and transformation of healthcare
- Clinical scholarship and analytical practices for evidence-based practice
- Healthcare policy for advocacy in healthcare
- Inter-professional collaboration for increasing patient and population health outcomes
- Advanced nursing practice
You will cover all of these core competencies, alongside specialty courses that are relevant to your chosen focus, such as:
- Chronic health conditions across the lifespan (FNP focus)
- Psychiatric assessment across the lifespan (mental health focus)
- Finance and economics for healthcare leaders (leadership focus)
- Nursing administration concepts and theory (administration focus)
In addition, you will undertake a set number of hours of clinical practice, plus complete a wide variety of projects. A DNP can be done both as an on-campus program and via online study. The latter is just as thorough but gives you the flexibility to study at a time and place that’s most convenient for you. This makes it a great choice for those who wish to combine work and study, who have existing family commitments, or who are otherwise unable to attend college in person. Whichever style of program you choose is up to you, be sure to pick one that is properly accredited.
What job roles will a DNP prepare me for?
Just as with the specific courses you will take, the specific roles a DNP will prepare you for will vary according to the institution and specialty you choose. For example, if you choose a DNP program that focuses on administration and leadership, then it will lead to high-level jobs in those areas. This includes working in fields such as health policy, informatics, clinical nursing education, and population health.
These types of positions are often found in government agencies as well as hospitals and other care organizations, with possible job titles like chief nursing executive officer and chief patient experience executive. They are the sort of roles that are ideal for those who wish to be involved in developing, analyzing, and implementing healthcare policies, advocating for the nursing profession, or advocating for social justice.
Conversely, if you choose a specialty related to direct patient care, it will prepare you for an advanced practice registered nursing (APRN) position in the particular field you focus on. The most common of these are nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, certified registered nurse anesthetists, and clinical nurse specialists. Not only will you develop exceptional practical clinical expertise, but you’ll also work on clinical leadership, plus the use of technology and evidence-based practice to improve healthcare outcomes – both for those in your care and for the wider population.
What are the benefits of studying for a DNP?
There is a whole wealth of benefits you can expect to reap as a reward for putting in the hard work to achieve a DNP. Firstly, the qualification may soon become a requirement for many high-level roles within nursing, so by completing the program, you’ll be opening a lot more doors for yourself in terms of your career progression. Thus, the degree can boost your employability and also your job satisfaction.
As you might expect, this will be accompanied by a corresponding increase in salary. Having a DNP is estimated to earn you on average $7,688 more than having just a Master’s degree, but depending on the career you choose, the figure could be much greater. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also projects fast job growth for many of the positions available with a DNP, meaning it can also bring you higher levels of job security and financial stability.
Beyond this, studying for a DNP provides you with the opportunity to have a deep dive into a subject that you are passionate about. You’ll gain the highest possible level of knowledge and clinical skills, and work alongside like-minded individuals who are equally as driven – which is good for both professional networking and making new social connections. In itself, all of this can be genuinely valuable, enjoyable, and rewarding.
Finally, as with any higher degree, studying for a DNP will boost a wide range of soft skills that are useful in all facets of life. These include communication, problem-solving, leadership, confidence, decision making, research, presentation, critical thinking, time management, and organization. Whatever role you go on to after graduating, these are sure to serve you well.
How to keep fit and healthy whilst studying for your DNP
If this article has convinced you that studying for a DNP is the right option for you, that is fantastic – good luck with your application! As a reader of this blog though, one of the other issues you’re probably interested in is how to stay in shape whilst undertaking the extra work. With so much of your spare time given over to college, the thought of finding time to exercise as well might seem overwhelming. It would be best if you did though, because not only is keeping fit and healthy important for your body, it’s also important for your mind.
Good physical health is vital for good mental health. It can help with conditions such as depression and anxiety, plus also reduce stress and even boost your cognitive functions. This means that fitting in time for exercise is also likely to help your academic performance. The fact that a DNP is a practice-based program with clinical components means that you will be on your feet more than if you were taking a purely research-based degree; however, the following tips should hopefully still come in handy.
- Make exercise a priority: As mentioned above, exercise is super important for both your body and your mind, so treat it as such. Make a commitment to exercising and don’t let other things get in the way (such as Netflix!). It won’t necessarily be easy, but you’ll thank yourself later.
- Fit exercise into your daily routine: The best way to ensure that you get some exercise regardless of how busy you are is to seamlessly fit it into your daily routine. One very simple way to do this is to always take the stairs instead of elevators or escalators. It’s a small change but can make a big difference in terms of getting your body moving every day. Walking is another easy way to sneak some exercise into your daily routine, or you could try getting a standing desk if you’re going to be studying from home.
- Set realistic goals: There’s no point in setting a goal of going to the gym for two hours every single day if there’s no chance you’re actually going to do it. Start small and work your way up as you get settled into your new routine. Be prepared to make changes if something isn’t working or if your study schedule shifts. Then once your new routine becomes a habit, you can build on it further.
- Check out your college’s facilities: This is one that applies to those who will be studying their DNP on campus. Take a look at the gym facilities on offer – many colleges offer discounted rates for students that are much lower than what you’d pay at a regular gym. Even if you’re completing your program from home, see if your local gym offers a student discount.
- Make it social: We’re much more likely to stick to exercising if we enjoy it, and we’re more likely to appreciate it if there’s a social aspect to it. Join a fitness class or a college society if you’re studying your DNP on campus or see if you can meet like-minded people on your course or in your local area. It’s also a great way to make new friends!
- Eat healthily: Even if you don’t have time for exercise, you’ve got to eat – and what you put into your body is important. Load up on fresh fruit and vegetables, cut out sugar and processed foods, and drink plenty of water. It’ll be good for your brain too!
- Do what you love: Hate running? Then don’t do it! To stick to your exercise plan, it’s got to be something you enjoy. So, try out lots of different types of exercise (yoga, weights, dance, martial arts, anything!) and see what works best for you. I guarantee it will be more effective!