AACN Fact Sheet - DNP

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 18 years since the position statement was endorsed, nearly 72,000 nurses have graduated with a DNP.

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  • 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.

  • 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 National Academy of Medicine (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.
  • In a 2005 report titled Advancing the Nation's Health Needs: NIH Research Training Programsthe National Academy of Sciences called for nursing to develop a non-research clinical doctorate to prepare expert practitioners who can also serve as clinical faculty. AACN's work to advance the DNP is consistent with this call to action.
  • 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 were 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. NONPF has reaffirmed this position over the years, including its most recent statement issued in April 2023.

  • 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 2014, the AACN Board of Directors commissioned the RAND Corporation to conduct a national study to examine the progress made by nursing schools in transitioning to the practice doctorate. The report, 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, found near universal agreement among nurse educators about the value of the DNP in preparing individuals for advanced nursing practice.
  • 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, 354 DNP programs have been accredited by CCNE.

  • 426 DNP programs are currently enrolling students at schools of nursing nationwide, and an additional 70 new DNP programs are in the planning stages (32 post-baccalaureate and 38 post-master’s programs).
  • DNP programs are now available in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. In 2022, post-baccalaureate DNP programs were offered in 292 schools; post-master’s DNP programs in 394 schools; and entry-level DNP programs (prelicensure) in 12 schools.
  • From 2021 to 2022, the number of students enrolled in DNP programs increased from 40,834 to 41,021. During that same period, the number of DNP graduates increased from 10,086 to 11,149.

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

Updated: June 2023


Robert Rosseter