Health Care Jobs Available With a Doctor of Nursing Degree

May 12, 2022

Doctorate-educated nurse practitioners are filling an important gap in health care access, especially in rural and underserved communities — and demand for these nursing professionals is unprecedented: The U.S. Department of Labor anticipates an astonishing growth rate of 52% through 2030. On its annual career ranking lists for 2022, U.S. News & World Report ranked nurse practitioner No. 1 in Best Health Care Jobs, No. 2 in Best STEM Jobs, and No. 2 in 100 Best Jobs.

We spoke with Callie Bradley, coordinator of the Doctor of Nursing Practice program and clinical assistant professor of nursing at the University of Arkansas, about pathways toward earning a DNP online, what a doctorate of nursing education entails and nursing career options available to those with this in-demand degree.

Callie Bradley

Callie Bradley

Doctor of Nursing Practice Overview: What is a DNP?

Nurse practitioners provide primary and specialty care independently, as well as alongside their physician colleagues in a variety of health care settings, from private practice to community clinics. They also mentor other nursing professionals and communicate with family members

Previously, advanced practice registered nurse certifications — such as family nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists — required career experience and a master’s degree. But the profession, like other health care specialties, has continued to evolve.

Pharmacy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and other health care disciplines have moved toward a terminal degree requirement, and nursing has followed suit. In 2004, the American Nurses Credentialing Center released a position statement advocating for moving the level of academic preparation needed to enter an advanced nursing practice (which includes family nurse practitioner) from a master’s degree to a doctorate.

“As health care becomes more complex, it is crucial that nursing meets this challenge with advancing knowledge and education through advanced degrees. By moving toward DNP as entry into practice, nursing will have a seat at the table with our other health care colleagues to not only advocate and improve the nursing profession but patient outcomes overall.”

Since the 2004 position paper, the DNP has become recognized as the standard credential for today’s advanced practice registered nurses. In the decade that followed, the number of nurses earning doctorate degrees increased substantially; and, today, there is still more demand than ever for nurses with DNP degrees.

So, what is a DNP degree, and how does it differ from a Master of Science in Nursing degree? According to the ANCC, a doctorate of nursing education builds on the clinical aspects of a traditional MSN by adding in focus areas such as evidence-based practice, quality improvement and leadership. While an MSN program focuses on direct patient care in a variety of specialties, a DNP program dives into the science and reasoning behind that care. Further, DNP nursing education expands into topics such as population health, systems thinking, and assessment.

Bradley explains master’s- and doctorate-level nurse practitioners are both expert clinicians, but DNP-prepared practitioners are specifically trained to become evidence-based practice experts with additional knowledge in leadership and policy.

“This is critical to enter the complex health care system and make impactful improvements,” she says.

A Ph.D. is also a terminal degree; so, in addition to asking “What is a doctor of nursing practice?” people often ask how a DNP differs from a Ph.D. in nursing. The answer relates mostly to the curriculum, but also to career goals.

“Traditional Ph.D. programs are original-research-focused, while the DNP has a practical focus,” Bradley explains. “One way to look at it is that DNP-prepared nurses implement the science developed by Ph.D.-prepared nurse researchers; however, both researchers often work and collaborate together.”


Doctorate in Nursing Education Overview: DNP Degrees and Tracks

Over the past few decades, there have been many entry points to the nursing field. Many nurses began as LPNs after completing an associate’s degree program. Today, earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing is a more common route to becoming an RN — and more and more nurses go on to pursue an advanced degree to gain a specialized credential or to move into roles with more responsibility.

A doctor of nursing practice program is a logical next step for nursing professionals specifically looking to serve their communities as primary care providers. Bradley explains that DNP-educated nurses “are clinicians prepared to enter the health care field not only ready to provide excellent care, but also to put translational research into practice.”

The University of Arkansas ONLINE offers DNP options for nurses who’ve completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree:

  • BSN to DNP Online Program

The BSN to DNP program is specifically for individuals working as registered nurses who want to transition to a nurse practitioner role. In this program, they’d gain the foundational knowledge and clinical skills expected of an MSN program while also building the research, reasoning and leadership skills specific to the doctor of nursing degree. Upon completion of their BSN to DNP program, students are able to sit for certification to become a licensed APRN with a DNP degree. Additionally, students can concurrently complete their MSN in Nursing Education while completing their DNP. This is a dual degree program, meaning students in the BSN to DNP program, which takes about four years to complete, would graduate with an MSN in Nursing Education and DNP degree.

  • MSN to DNP Online Program

The MSN to DNP online program is geared toward master’s-level APRN nurses looking to advance their careers. Since these professionals already have clinical education (and career experience) under their belt, the two-year MSN to DNP program is largely focused on research, policy, information and analysis, organization management, systems leadership and evidence-based practice.

U of A ONLINE also offers DNP degrees in two concentrations: family nurse practitioner and adult-gerontology/acute-care nurse practitioner. While both tracks require the same foundational DNP coursework, they each have additional requirements specific to the concentration.

  • Family Nurse Practitioner Concentration

    Bradley explains, “The FNP concentration focuses on providing primary care for patients from birth to death in outpatient and urgent care settings. Preventative health and patient education are a large part of an FNP role.”

Coursework for this concentration includes common problems in primary care, complex issues in primary care, and primary care of children.

  • Adult-Gerontology/Acute-Care Concentration

The AG-ACNP concentration prepares students to work with adult patients in acute care settings. Coursework covers chronic health problems and acute and critical illness in adult and gerontology populations. Most practitioners in this specialty provide ambulatory care in hospitals, such as an ICU or ER. Bradley adds that many students interested in the AG-ACNP concentration generally have acute care nursing experience.

“They come back to school for the DNP because they want to stay in that environment but want to become a nurse practitioner and provide care,” she explains.


An Added Emphasis on Diverse and Rural Communities

Family nurse practitioners are in especially high demand in areas where there’s a significant doctor shortage, including rural communities across Arkansas.

Bradley says that many students in the University of Arkansas ONLINE doctor of nursing practice program intend to stay in the rural communities they’re already in, rather than relocate for a job. The program takes that into account in the curriculum.

“Content specifically related to rural health is weaved throughout the program,” Bradley explains.

Additionally, through a special five-year grant program called ANEW (Advanced Nursing Educate Workforce), the university developed DNP elective courses designed around improving the health of underserved veterans and citizens.

“These electives were designed to fit the unique patient needs in rural Arkansas and rural America,” says Bradley. “This training spans topics from opioid use and natural disasters to telemedicine, which was a lifeline to rural areas during the global COVID-19 pandemic.”


Putting Learning Into Practice: Building Nurse Practitioner Experience

One of the distinctions of being a doctorate-educated nurse practitioner is the ability to implement evidence-based practices into patient care. A DNP program should also prepare students to find gaps in care and develop ways to improve quality within their own organizations. With that in mind, the University of Arkansas ONLINE DNP program culminates with a final project that demonstrates the student’s competency as a care provider and health care leader.

“The DNP projects often revolve around improving patient outcomes,” says Bradley. “Recent projects have looked at ways to reduce surgical site infection rates at a hospital, lower 30-day readmission rates after congestive heart failure hospitalization, and improve outpatient diabetes management.”

Projects can also lean toward using technology to promote preventive health, as seen in another student project — a mobile app aimed at weight management.


Nursing Career Options: What Can You Do With a Doctorate of Nursing?

A practice-focused doctorate like a DNP allows nursing professionals to provide care for patients in a wide range of settings, including hospitals, urgent care centers, outpatient clinics, community health centers, physician offices and even educational institutions.

Bradley says about 90% of DNP graduates from the University of Arkansas ONLINE go on to provide primary care.

“Increasing the number of FNPs serving as primary care practitioners supports the school’s mission of improving the health and well-being of society,” says Bradley.


Nurse Practitioner Salary and Demand

Nurse practitioners are in demand and paid well. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median salary for a nurse practitioner in 2020 was $111,680. For the state of Arkansas in the same period, the median annual wage was $107,080.

As noted earlier, the demand for nurse practitioners is expected to grow by 52% through 2030. That rate falls into the “much faster than the average” category, which is reserved for occupations whose projected growth rates are 16% or more. According to the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services, nurse practitioner is one of the 10 fastest-growing occupations in the state for the period of 2018-2028.


Additional Health Care Careers for DNP Graduates

Demand is high for nursing professionals at all levels, and this means a greater need for nurse leaders, also. While titles and responsibilities vary from location to location, possible nursing and other health care leadership roles for DNP graduates include:

  • Chief nursing officer
  • Chief nurse executive
  • Director of nursing
  • Unit director
  • Clinical nurse leader
  • Nursing operations manager
  • Nursing administrator
  • Program director

“Another benefit of the DNP is that it can open doors to other health care careers if someone wants to transition from providing direct personal care,” Bradley explains. “One of the greatest things about nursing, in general, is the range of career opportunities.”

Nurse practitioners can also move into nonprofit leadership or health policy, and they also venture into academia or public research. Some might even pursue positions with a pharmaceutical or medical equipment company.

As large companies invest more in employee health and wellness, nurse practitioners also find roles within the corporate world. For example, an ad for an occupational health nurse at Procter & Gamble described the role as: “providing comprehensive health and wellness services to the employees of the plant” and “delivering comprehensive nursing care including prompt medical emergencies, prevention, treatment and follow-up for occupational injuries/illness.”


Advancing in Your Nursing Career: Options After the DNP

Nurse practitioners can continue to expand their scope of service or advance their careers by pursuing educational and professional development opportunities beyond the DNP.

University of Arkansas ONLINE also offers post-master’s graduate certificates in both of its DNP concentration areas: FNP and AG-ACNP. Bradley says these certificates are ideal for nurse practitioners looking to get board-certified in an additional specialty. For example, a nurse practitioner working in acute care could return to take the additional FNP courses needed to serve in primary care settings. U of A ONLINE also offers an online graduate certificate in nursing education.

“For nurses who have a desire to teach, this option can lead toward certification in nursing education,” says Bradley. Nurses with the CNE designation teach in hospitals, technical schools, and two- and four-year colleges and universities.


Benefits of Earning Your DNP Online with University of Arkansas

Flexibility, affordability and an association with a campus-based nursing school are just a few benefits of pursuing a DNP online through the University of Arkansas.

“Because our program is almost exclusively online, students have the flexibility to continue working part-time while pursuing an advanced degree,” says Bradley.

This flexibility appealed to Michael Vinson, who worked as a nurse for about six years before pursuing his doctorate at the U of A.

“You’re able to go to work and have that family balance with school that you might not get with a live, in-person class,” he said in a video testimonial for the program. He added that he’s primarily been a bedside nurse throughout his career and was looking to transition into an administrative or leadership role.

The convenience of earning a DNP online is also especially helpful for students living in south Arkansas and other rural communities. While earning their degree online, they can remain working in their local area — where they are needed. Faculty member Marilou Shreve addressed this benefit in a video about the program.

“Their community actually watches them and grows with them, and so the community tends to be just as invested in the nurse practitioner as the nurse practitioner is,” says Shreve.

But attending an online program doesn’t mean there’s not a strong connection to the Fayetteville-based campus. Bradley points out that U of A ONLINE students have access to the extensive on-campus resources at the Eleanor Mann School of Nursing, as well as throughout the university itself.

“Having an association with a brick-and-mortar nursing school means students can have one-on-one faculty meetings or come on campus for labs,” she says. “This community really enhances the online DNP program.”

Affordability is another benefit of University of Arkansas’s DNP. Bradley points out that, as a public institution, tuition rates are often lower than nurse practitioner programs at private schools. She adds that U of A ONLINE offers scholarships and fellowships specifically for health professions students seeking advanced degrees.

You can learn more about expanding your nursing career options with a doctor of nursing practice by visiting our program page.

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Doctor of Nursing Practice

Advance your career by earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. Nurses in this degree program learn to solve complex health issues, design and sustain quality improvement in organizations, and lead the transformation of health care through evidence-based clinical prevention and health services.

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