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DNP Fact Sheet

On October 25, 2004, the member schools affiliated with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) voted to endorse the Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing. This decision called for moving the current level of preparation necessary for advanced nursing practice from the master’s degree to the doctorate-level. In the 17 years since the position statement was endorsed, more than 60,500 have graduated with a DNP.

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What is the Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs prepare nurse leaders at the highest level of nursing practice to improve patient outcomes and translate research into practice.
  • DNP curricula build on traditional master's programs by providing content in evidence-based practice, quality improvement, and systems leadership, among other key areas.
  • The DNP is designed for nurses seeking a terminal degree in nursing practice and offers an alternative to research-focused doctoral programs. DNP-prepared nurses are well-equipped to fully implement the science developed by nurse researchers prepared in PhD, DNS, and other research-focused nursing doctorates.
Why Move to the DNP?
  • The changing demands of this nation's complex healthcare environment require the highest level of scientific knowledge and practice expertise to assure quality patient outcomes. The Institute of Medicine, Joint Commission, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and other authorities have called for reconceptualizing educational programs that prepare today’s health professionals.
  • Some of the many factors building momentum for change in nursing education at the graduate level include: the rapid expansion of knowledge underlying practice; increased complexity of patient care; national concerns about the quality of care and patient safety; shortages of nursing personnel which demands a higher level of preparation for leaders who can design and assess care; shortages of doctorally-prepared nursing faculty; and increasing educational expectations for the preparation of other members of the healthcare team.
  • The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs supports doctoral education for entry into nurse anesthesia practice by 2025. As of January 1, 2022, all students matriculating into an accredited CRNA program must be enrolled in a doctoral program.
  • In 2018, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties, the leading organization for NP education, called for moving to the DNP degree as the entry-level preparation for NPs by 2025.
Sustaining Momentum for the DNP
  • After a two-year consensus-building process, AACN member institutions voted to endorse the Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice on October 30, 2006. Schools developing a DNP are encouraged to use this document, which defines the curricular elements and competencies that must be present in a practice doctorate in nursing.
  • In July 2006, the AACN Board of Directors endorsed the final report of the Task Force on the Roadmap to the DNP, which was developed to assist schools navigating the DNP program approval process. This report includes recommendations for securing institutional approval to transition an MSN into a DNP program; preparing faculty to teach in DNP programs; addressing regulatory, licensure, accreditation, and certification issues; and collecting evaluation data. A DNP Tool Kit was developed using information and resources contained in the Roadmap report.
  • In June 2022, AACN released a report titled The State of Doctor of Nursing Practice Education in 2022, which provided the latest data on DNP trends; insights from employers, graduates, and program administrators on the value and impact of DNP education; and recommendations for ongoing engagement with practice partners and certification organizations to support the DNP for entry into advanced practice nursing.  
  • Schools nationwide that have initiated the DNP are reporting sizable and competitive student enrollment. Employers are quickly recognizing the unique contribution these expert nurses are making in the practice arena, and the demand for DNP-prepared nurses continues to grow.
  • The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the leading accrediting agency for baccalaureate- and graduate-degree nursing programs in the U.S., began accrediting DNP programs in Fall 2008. To date, 341 DNP programs have been accredited by CCNE.
Current DNP Program Statistics
  • 407 DNP programs are currently enrolling students at schools of nursing nationwide, and an additional 106 new DNP programs are in the planning stages (49 post-baccalaureate and 47 post-master’s programs).
  • DNP programs are now available in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. In 2021, post-baccalaureate DNP programs were offered in 280 schools; post-master’s DNP programs in 381 schools; and entry-level DNP programs (prelicensure) in 8 schools.
  • From 2020 to 2021, the number of students enrolled in DNP programs increased from 39,530 to 40,834. During that same period, the number of DNP graduates increased from 9,158 to 10,086.
Growth in DNP Programs: 2007-2021

Chart showing steady growth in DNP programs from about 50 in 2007 to about 425 in 2021

Last Update: July 2022



Robert Rosseter
(202) 463-6930, ext. 231