MSN to DNP Programs: Education & Length

Oct 23, 2018

If you want to continue your nursing education from a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), you'll find that many universities offer this option. Their curriculum may vary, but common courses and the expected program lengths are described below.

MSN-to-DNP programs are typically the terminal clinical nursing degree. These degrees are completed by those who want a practical education that is specialized in a particular nursing field. Most often, those who complete an MSN-to-DNP program are already registered nurses or nurse practitioners. Here, we will find out more about the various courses available as well as the typical length of this program.

MSN-to-DNP Courses

Many MSN students have already focused their master's program in a specific subfield within nursing, but a DNP may give you the opportunity to focus your studies on an area, such as pediatrics, women's health, mental health, nurse anesthesia, nurse midwifery, geriatrics, or family health. Depending on which avenue you choose to take, you'll find that some of your courses will vary, though a DNP degree will always focus more on theory and scholarly study.


Epidemiology is the study of controlling diseases and its transmission. In this course, you'll study the frequency of disease, injury, and disorders among different populations and demographics. You'll examine patterns that appear in certain demographics. You will then find out how to use the data you've compiled to better help the community and improve healthcare facilities to account for these trends.

Informatics in Healthcare

As technology grows, certain aspects of healthcare change as well. One area that students must be familiar with is informatics and the way it affects the healthcare industry. For instance, patient portals allow doctors and patients more direct connection outside of appointment and allow patients to better keep track of their own health progress. This course prepares DNP holders to recognize and optimize using technology as tools to advance healthcare practices.

Healthcare Economics

This course will look at reimbursement policies, economic theories, and financial modeling for a healthcare facility. You'll learn how healthcare can be entrepreneurial and how to run a large healthcare facility. A school's curriculum may include this topic in more than one course, giving students a more in-depth learning experience in this field.

Evidence-Based Practice

This course may vary between universities; however, the idea is the same: you'll learn how to take data and use it in assessments. You'll likely learn more about research techniques and data collection. You'll learn how to apply this new knowledge to the healthcare system, patient assessment, and patient treatment. It should help you to better understand how past work can influence future work in healthcare.

Organizational Management

Often, the DNP leads to an executive position within the healthcare industry. Because of this, it is important to study organizational theory and management of facilities. You'll learn about performance improvement and strategies to build a better healthcare system. You'll learn management techniques, as well as the best way to improve your facilities and/or departments. Also covered is the way organizational theory is used in the healthcare field.

MSN-to-DNP Program Length

MSN-to-DNP programs are designed for those who have already completed a master's degree. These programs can typically be completed in one to two years, with some colleges offering 15-month programs. The actual length may vary depending on your practicum and chosen specialization. Some schools also have a DNP project, which may take a few weeks to complete depending on the institution. Most universities assist their students in determining the required time to finish through a plan of study. Typically, planning your academic path with your adviser will allow you to know the specific time frame it will take you to complete a DNP program.

A DNP program will often look at many healthcare theories and allow for a subfield concentration such as pediatrics and mental health. Overall, it should take you roughly two years to complete this degree, but the actual length may vary depending on the school and your chosen specialization.

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