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About the American Association of Colleges of Nursing
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is the national voice for academic nursing representing more than 850 schools of nursing nationwide. AACN establishes quality standards for nursing education, influences the nursing profession to improve health care, and promotes public support of baccalaureate and graduate nursing education, research, and practice. 



AACN Releases Findings from National Study on the Practice Doctorate

Published October 28, 2014

AACN Releases Findings from a National Study on Academic Nursing’s
Progress in Transitioning to the Practice Doctorate 

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 28, 2014 – Today, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)released findings from a national study conducted by the RAND Corporation, which examined the progress made by nursing schools in transitioning to the practice doctorate – a solution advanced 10 years ago to better meet the healthcare needs of the nation. The report authors found near universal agreement among nurse educators about the value of the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree in preparing individuals for advanced nursing practice. Though many schools are moving to transition from the master’s degree to the doctorate for select nursing roles, many schools are facing barriers to full adoption of the DNP, which AACN is committed to addressing.

“The RAND study showcases widespread support for the DNP while pointing the way toward future action,” said AACN President Eileen T. Breslin. “AACN is pleased to see growth in the number of schools with the practice doctorate and will continue to work with stakeholders as we move toward the desired state of full adoption of the DNP by schools offering advanced nursing practice degrees.”

In 2004, member schools affiliated with AACN voted to endorse the Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing, which called for moving the level of preparation necessary for advanced nursing practice from the master’s degree to the doctorate by the target year of 2015. Even though schools have moved rapidly to offer the DNP, AACN acknowledges that all schools will not be able to fully transition their master’s-level programs to the practice doctorate by next year and that many schools are electing to maintain both master’s and DNP options to prepare Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs).

To better understand the issues facing schools moving to the DNP, the AACN Board of Directors commissioned the RAND Corporation to conduct a national survey of nursing schools with APRN programs to identify the barriers and facilitators to offering a post-baccalaureate DNP. Key findings from the report include:

  • DNP programs – either at the post-baccalaureate (BSN-DNP) or post-master’s (MSN-DNP) level – are now offered at more than 250 schools nationwide.
  • The study authors found near “universal agreement” among nursing’s academic leaders regarding the value of DNP education in preparing nurses to serve in one of the four APRN roles, specifically Nurse Practitioners, Clinical Nurse Specialists, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, and Certified Nurse-Midwives.
  • Though the master’s degree remains the dominant route into APRN practice at this point in time, the educational landscape is changing. Approximately 30% of nursing schools with APRN programs now offer the BSN-DNP, and this proportion will climb to greater than 50% within the next few years.
  • The national movement toward offering the BSN-DNP and closing master’s level APRN programs is expected to accelerate. Currently, up to 14% of schools with APRNs programs only offer the BSN-DNP as their entry-level option into advanced practice. An additional 27% of schools with or planning a BSN-DNP intend to close their master’s level APRN programs within the next few years.
  • Student demand is strong for all types of programs – BSN-DNP, MSN-DNP, and the MSN – that prepare APRNs. Approximately 65% of schools with BSN-DNP programs also offer master’s level APRN programs.
  • Many employers are unclear about the differences between master’s-prepared and DNP-prepared APRNs and could benefit from information on outcomes connected to DNP practice as well as exemplars from practice settings that capitalize on the capabilities of DNPs.
  • Barriers identified by schools transitioning to the BSN-DNP include a lack of faculty, costs and budgetary concerns, insufficient clinical sites, and resource challenges associated with overseeing DNP scholarly projects. The requirement of the DNP for certification and accreditation is an important factor in a school’s decision to transition fully to the BSN-DNP.

To facilitate the continued transition to the DNP, the report authors recommend that AACN conduct outcome studies to assess the impact DNP graduates are having on patient care and health care; provide outreach and data to employers showing the value-added benefits of recruiting DNP-prepared nurses; showcase success strategies that can be used by schools to overcome challenges, including securing clinical sites; and provide greater clarity and guidance around the DNP final project.

“AACN is fully committed to advancing solutions and creative ways to mitigate the challenges facing schools wishing to offer the DNP as well as to educating employers and students about the benefits of the practice doctorate to systems innovation and, more importantly,  patient care,” added Dr. Breslin.

The RAND study is titled The DNP by 2015: A Study of the Institutional, Political, and Professional Issues that Facilitate or Impede Establishing a Post-Baccalaureate Doctor of Nursing Practice Program. To highlight key elements contained in the report, AACN developed a set of talking points that may be downloaded from the website. For the latest developments and data related to the DNP, including enrollment trends, see the DNP homepage.