For practicing nurses, the highest levels of responsibility and authority (as well as pay) are in advanced practice and administration, and increasingly, those positions require a Doctor of Nursing Practice. For potential DNP candidates who are seriously considering enrolling in a Doctorate in Nursing degree program, it is essential to compare the best DNP programs that interest you with other related advanced nursing degrees, to ensure you are choosing the degree program that has the potential to bring you closest to your career goals.
Because the DNP degree is practice-based, coursework for the degree program generally complete traditional classwork, plus a comprehensive clinical-hour practicum that culminates with a capstone project, the capstone project provides an opportunity for each degree candidate to a) demonstrate their mastery of the Doctor of Nursing Practice coursework, and b) apply these skills to those aspects of the nursing field in need of improvement.
Our Method: Ranking the Best DNP Programs
For our ranking of the best traditional, on-campus Doctor of Nursing Practice programs, Best Health Degrees editors researched accredited, respected institutions focused on quality and opportunity. Programs are ranked according to their reputation, salary potential, and tuition cost, using data from U.S. News, Niche, IPEDS, and College Scorecard.
1. University of Maryland – Baltimore
The University of Maryland School of Nursing has one of the best DNP programs in the world. This program transforms students into top-notch nursing professionals who are equipped to lead in the world of nursing. Graduates work in direct patient care, applying the latest nursing practices to dramatically improve outcomes for their patients. The program provides training in systems leadership, quality improvement, and evidence-based practice.
The University of Maryland School of Nursing has been working to advance the science of nursing for 130 years. The school is dedicated to practical, hands-on learning and innovative research that makes a real difference in the community. The University of Maryland School of Nursing got its start as the Maryland University Training School for Nurses in 1889 and has been graduating highly-trained nurses ever since.
Favorite Facts: There are eight concentrations to choose from, as well as a post-master’s option for those who already possess a master’s degree.
2. Oregon Health & Science University
The Doctor of Nursing Practice offered by the Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing is also among the best DNP programs in the nation, if not the world. The program prepares nurses to be leaders in their field by training students in leadership as well as nursing skills. There are six concentrations to choose from: adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, nurse midwifery, nurse anesthesia, pediatric primary and acute nurse practitioner, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.
The Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing is committed to academic excellence and instilling a love of lifelong learning in its students. The school strives to promote a high quality of care and has many internationally and nationally renowned educators and scholars on its faculty. Students at the School of Nursing find a nurturing environment in which to gain the knowledge and experience they need to be successful in their careers.
Favorite Facts: The DNP program at OHSU is both future-focused and evidence-based.
Degree: DNP – 6 concentrations
3. University of Nebraska Medical Center
Students searching for the best DNP programs should definitely check out the Doctor of Nursing Practice offered by the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Nursing. The program prepares students for advanced nursing practice and leadership in the healthcare system. Graduates deliver high-quality patient care and are qualified to serve as faculty members in nurse education. UNMC offers eight different concentrations for its DNP program.
The College of Nursing at the University of Nebraska Medical Center focuses on its students, providing multidisciplinary training that helps them see problems from multiple angles. The school has a large impact on the country, especially in and around Nebraska. UNMC is doing its part to help solve the nursing shortage by providing highly-trained nurses who are ready to serve.
Favorite Facts: The UNCM College of Nursing is ranked among the top 8% of all graduate programs in the United States by US News & World Report.
4. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Another of the best DNP programs is the Doctor of Nursing Practice from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This program equips students to improve patient care in various healthcare setting. The faculty is committed to mentoring its students to become successful leaders in the nursing field. The school has five concentrations available for its BSN to DNP program: adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, health care leadership and administration, family nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, and pediatric nurse practitioner—primary care.
Carolina Nursing is dedicated to improving the health of the people of North Carolina. The school works hard to improve society for the better, starting with its students. The school strives to be #1 in its field. It values diversity, agility, excellence, leadership, and integrity.
Favorite Facts: UNC also offers an MSN to DNP program, which is available totally online.
5. University of Virginia
The Doctor of Nursing Practice offered by the University of Virginia School of Nursing also makes the list of the best DNP programs. This program prepares students to reach a high level of excellence in nursing practice. Students who complete the program are ready to serve as nurse researchers, practitioners, and clinicians in today’ ever-changing healthcare system. The University of Virginia offers both a post-BSN and post-MSN pathway for earning the DNP degree.
The University of Virginia School of Nursing offers interprofessional education, which exposes students to different perspectives. The school trains nurses to be open-minded, humble, and culturally competent when dealing with patients who don’t look like they do. It intentionally teaches self-care, resilience, and compassion to improve quality and safety and extend the duration of nurses’ careers.
Favorite Facts: The University of Virginia School of Nursing believes in caring for its nurses’ personal well-being so they are better prepared to serve.
6. Northeastern University
Next on the list of the best DNP programs is the Doctor of Nursing Practice from Northeastern University’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences. This program provides the highest level of academic training to prepare nurses for advanced practice. Students who complete the program are able to be effective agents for change in today’s rapidly-changing healthcare environment.
Northeastern University’s School of Nursing works to advance the science of nursing while making important contributions to the healthcare field. The school values equity, inclusion, and diversity. Nursing students at Northeastern find a caring environment that prepares them to become clinicians, educators, advocates, nurse scientists, and leaders in the field of nursing. The school provides highly-trained and highly-skilled nurses who play a key role in providing quality healthcare in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings.
Favorite Facts: The DNP program includes a scholarly project that is completed over three semesters and is suitable for publication.
7. Binghamton University (SUNY)
The DNP offered by Binghampton University’s Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences is another option for students seeking the best DNP programs. This program is designed for nurses who already hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing and want to become advanced practice nurses. There are four concentrations to choose from: community health primary care nursing, adult-gerontology primary care nursing, family psychiatric mental health nursing, and family health nursing.
The Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences includes the School of Applied Health Sciences, the School of Rehabilitation Sciences, and the Decker School of Nursing. The School of Nursing is one of the top nursing schools in the state of New York and is known for its academic excellence and nursing research. The college is named after a local dentist who made a large donation to the school.
Favorite Facts: Students can opt to pursue a role as clinical nurse specialist (CNS) or nurse practitioner (NP).
8. University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center
Another good choice for students looking for the best DNP programs in the BSN to DNP program at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. This program is designed for students who want to skip their MSN and go straight to the DNP degree. The program combines the material for the MSN and DNP programs into one seamless degree. There are four specialties to choose from: adult/gerontology clinical nurse specialist, family nurse practitioner, DNP completion, and executive leadership.
The Fran and Earl Ziegler College of Nursing at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center was established in 1911 and is now the largest nursing program in the state. The school’s outstanding faculty members help shape students into nurse leaders who bring about positive change in the healthcare systems where they serve. The College of Nursing engages in innovative research initiative to advance healthcare throughout the world.
Favorite Facts: The executive leadership program can be completed 100% online.
9. University of Michigan
With eight BSN to DNP options and a post-master’s DNP, the University of Michigan School of Nursing is a good choice for students seeking the best DNP programs. BSN to DNP students can choose from adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, acute care pediatric nurse practitioner, primary care pediatric nurse practitioner, primary care family nurse practitioner, nurse-midwifery/primary care family nurse practitioner, nurse-midwifery, and nurse-midwifery/primary care pediatric nurse practitioner.
The University of Michigan School of Nursing is dedicated to creating an academic community that promotes both the field of nursing and its individual community members. The school is immersed in research, producing new knowledge in the field of nursing as it trains nurse leaders who will bring that knowledge into the field, creating better outcomes for their patients as they serve their communities.
Favorite Facts: The U of M School of Nursing is less than a mile away from one of the highest-ranked health systems in the US.
Degree: DNP – clinical path or leadership path
10. Fairfield University
The Doctor of Nursing Practice – Family Nurse Practitioner program at Fairfield University is another of the best DNP programs in the country. The program is focused on clinical nursing skills that prepare students to take on the role of family nurse practitioner. Students learn about policy-making, information technology, clinical scholarship, business management, leadership, organizational systems, and population-level healthcare as well. Graduates of the DNP Family Nurse Practitioner program are ready to take on leadership roles in hospitals and other healthcare organizations.
The Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies uses small classroom sizes to promote engagement among its students and faculty. The school invests in the latest medical equipment to ensure that its students have the best possible training in the latest techniques.
Favorite Facts: Students participate in immersion opportunities and clinical experiences as part of the program, and complete a final scholarly DNP project.
11. University at Buffalo
The Doctor of Nursing Practice program at the University at Buffalo is also one of the best DNP programs in the nation. The program provides a solid foundation in decision-making and critical thinking that is essential to success in nursing leadership and clinical practice. There are four specialties in the post-BS program and seven in the post-MS program. The post-BS specialties are adult/gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, and psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner.
The University at Buffalo School of Nursing seeks to create an environment where nursing students can thrive. The school promotes a collaborative culture that enables scholarship, research, and academic excellence. The school’s values spell out I-CARE: integrity, collaboration, accountability, respect, and excellence. The University at Buffalo School of Nursing seeks to obtain international recognition for its accomplishments in research and academics.
Favorite Facts: The post-MS DNP program is offered part-time and takes five to seven semesters to complete.
12. Washington State University
Students searching for the best post-master’s DNP programs should consider Washington State University. The school offers three options in its post-master’s DNP program: family nurse practitioner, population health, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. The program emphasizes research, leadership, and evidence-based practice. The program is designed for Registered Nurses with a master of nursing degree, certified nurse midwives, and certified registered nurse anesthetists.
The Washington State University College of Nursing was the first intercollegiate nursing program in the US and has a history of leadership and innovation. The school was one of the first to use simulation as a tool for training nurses. The College of Nursing encourages students to participate in community service. Students participate in interprofessional training that focuses on a team-based approach to healthcare. The WSU College of Nursing was named as a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education in 2017 by the National League for Nursing.
Favorite Facts: The school offers flexible scheduling to make it easier for working nurses to participate in the program.
13. University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
Another of the best DNP programs is the Doctor of Nursing Practice program from The University of Colorado Anschutz. There are five tracks students can choose from: advanced practice registered nurse, DNP-PHN, DNP/MPH dual degree, post-graduate DNP health systems leadership, and the veteran and military health care leadership DNP. The program is grounded in clinical training and focuses on evidence-based practice.
The University of Colorado College of Nursing offers advanced learning methods using the latest technology. The school has a rich history that includes being the first school to offer a nurse practitioner program. The College of Nursing is pioneer and a leader in nursing education that is always looking forward to the future. The school is focused on educating nurse leaders who provide outstanding patient care.
Favorite Facts: Students are required to complete supervised clinical training as part of the program.
14. Rutgers University
When you are looking for the best DNP programs to accomplish your goals, Rutgers University offers a solution to help with your plans. The DNP program at Rutgers focuses on helping students with their goals by providing the training and skills that apply to modern nursing. It also recognizes that the healthcare industry is changing and takes measures to assist with the process of keeping up with technology and research to provide better patient care.
Rutgers University stands out by offering 11 areas of specialization or concentrations for students who are working on a doctor of nursing practice degree. The emphasis on providing specialized training ensures that students are able to focus on their personal goals for a career. It allows students to select the area of nursing that fits with their experience and their long-term plans.
Favorite Facts: Rutgers University offers an HIV-Care Certification that enhances the DNP program and allows students to further specialize in their fields.
15. University of Washington
The University of Washington offers one of the best DNP programs for students who want to work as family nurse practitioners. The degree program is specialized for family nursing practice and it recognizes that students may need to work with individuals of all age groups. That is why it focuses on providing general care for patients from childhood until they reach an older age.
The way that the University of Washington stands out is the focus on comprehensive care in medicine. Students learn the basics of family medicine, internal medicine, and patient care to ensure that they are ready to work in different environments and settings. The program is designed to prepare students to work with patients in medical hospitals, private facilities, or even veteran’s hospitals. The comprehensive aspects of the degree prepare students for a variety of positions and roles.
Favorite Facts: The University of Washington is accredited by the CCNE.
Degree: DNP – FNP
16. University of South Florida
The University of South Florida offers a DNP program that helps students with their goals. The program emphasizes accountability and responsibility when working with patients in a clinical environment. It teaches students to handle different challenges that may arise in a medical facility and ensures that students are fully aware of the healthcare policies that apply to different situations. It gives students a comprehensive view of nursing and clinical practice to help ensure that students know the practical application of nursing theories.
The University of South Florida differs from other programs by taking an evidence-based approach to nursing. It focuses on the application of theories and research into a clinical environment. That allows nurses to provide the level of care patients expect when working with medical professionals. It ensures that students are ready for the challenges they may face when they take on more responsibilities as a professional and leader.
Favorite Facts: The University of South Florida offers scholarships for students in the DNP program.
17. George Mason University
George Mason University offers two DNP programs for students: a BSN-DNP program as well as an MSN-DNP program. The programs focus on the needs of students who have different backgrounds and levels of education. The BSN-DNP program is designed for nurses who have a bachelor’s degree and want to advance into a higher level of education. The MSN-DNP program is designed around nurses who have a master’s degree.
George Mason University requires students to complete mentored clinical hours as part of the degree program. Students must have at least 1,000 hours of supervised clinical work from the time they finished a bachelor’s degree until they finished their doctoral degree. The clinical work ensures that students have the hands-on experience to handle challenges that may arise in nursing.
Favorite Facts: George Mason University offers internships for students in the nursing program with Veterans Affairs, which may help students who want to work with the VA or plan to work with veterans.
Degree: BSN-DNP or MSN-DNP
18. Columbia University
Columbia University offers one of the best DNP programs for students who want to provide comprehensive treatment and care to patients in a medical environment. The degree program prepares students for the challenges of diagnosing medical conditions in patients, providing effective treatment, and using informatics to keep track of patient data or stay up-to-date on modern technological tools used in healthcare.
Columbia University differs from other programs by offering six concentrations for nurses in the DNP program. Students are able to gain specialized skills that apply to specific areas of nursing care. That allows students to focus on addressing the needs of patients in different clinical settings and engaging patients in an environment that fits their goals. Students can focus on pediatric care, psychiatric care, family practice, midwifery, or two specialized areas of adult-gerontology.
Favorite Facts: Columbia University offers sub-specialties for students who want to enhance their qualifications and gain more specific skill sets.
19. University of Central Florida
The University of Central Florida offers a DNP program that helps students prepare for their role in a leadership position. The degree program emphasizes evidence-based practices in nursing and ensures that nurses are aware of modern research and data that helps with patient care and treatment. The degree program recognizes that students may face a variety of different situations in a clinical environment and it prepares them to take on leadership positions to address challenges.
The University of Central Florida stands out by emphasizing critical thinking and analysis as part of leadership in nursing. Students learn to think about different situations and find solutions based on their knowledge of nursing and nursing technology. It also ensures that students have the skills to take charge in a situation and apply theories to address the needs of patients in an emergency or when a medical concern arises.
Favorite Facts: The University of Central Florida offers five concentrations in nursing for DNP students.
20. Case Western Reserve University
Case Western Reserve University offers a DNP program that prepares students to work on the frontlines of nursing and take on active roles in a clinical setting. It ensures that students have the practical skills they need to work as a leader in a medical facility and to take action during emergency situations. By focusing on teaching students the skills they need to work in different environments and to adapt to modern technology, the school helps nurses with their long-term career goals.
Case Western Reserve University has a flexible executive and cohort system designed to help working nurses keep up with their job responsibilities while they are working on a degree. It gives students greater flexibility to work around a complex schedule and ensures that the program fits the needs of adults who have obligations to an employer or family members.
Favorite Facts: Case Western Reserve University is the school that offered the original doctor of nursing practice degree starting in 1979.
21. Marquette University
Marquette University offers a DNP program that emphasizes research and informatics, as well as traditional nursing practice. The recognition that informatics is changing the healthcare industry and that research offers new insights into medical health each year ensures that students are staying up-to-date with modern nursing practices. It also prepares students to adapt to new policies, technology, and tools used in medical treatments to provide the best care to patients when they are working in a clinical environment.
Marquette University stands out by offering six concentrations in nursing practice. That allows students to specialize as a doctor of nursing practice and ensures that students can focus on personal goals. The program allows students to work on a doctoral degree after completing a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, so students have two possible entry options for their goals. The standards for admission differ based on the level of education, so students should evaluate the standards before applying for the DNP program.
Favorite Facts: Marquette University is AACN-accredited for its DNP program.
22. University of Arizona
The University of Arizona offers a DNP program that is designed around the needs of students. The degree program provides a flexible schedule that allows working nurses to keep up with their job responsibilities and personal obligations while completing a doctoral degree. It also emphasizes clinical practice with practicums and clinical placements while working on a degree program. It prepares students for a fast-paced work environment.
The way that the University of Arizona stands apart is the flexible hybrid online program. While students do need to attend on-campus intensive training courses, it also offers online classes to help improve the level of flexibility. The online format ensures that students can work at their own pace and focus on classes when it fits their schedules. That flexibility allows students to address their concerns about a higher level of education while they maintain their current job responsibilities.
Favorite Facts: The University of Arizona is AACN-accredited as well as accredited by the Arizona State Board of Nursing.
23. University of San Francisco
The University of San Francisco offers a DNP program that emphasizes humane treatment of patients and equitable solutions in medical practice to provide greater patient care. The program recognizes that students need to have empathy and compassion for patients to provide effective care for their needs and it encourages students to focus on developing their compassion while also gaining practical skills.
The University of San Francisco differs from other programs by offering interprofessional collaboration before students graduate from the program. Students learn to work with medical doctors and other healthcare professionals before they take on the challenges of working in a leadership position as a nurse. Since nursing leaders must work with doctors and other professionals, the training emphasizes better communication skills as part of the program.
Favorite Facts: The University of San Francisco offers four DNP concentrations. Two of the concentrations allow students with a bachelor’s degree to pursue a DNP without obtaining a master’s degree prior to applying for the program.
24. University of Texas at Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington offers a DNP program that recognizes the value of building on previous skills and training. The degree program emphasizes the fundamentals before building on the training and practical experience nurses gain from previous education and their work. Students can expect the program to help them accomplish their goals by learning effective strategies for leadership in a modern work environment.
The University of Texas at Arlington stands out by emphasizing informatics, the translation of evidence, and leadership among nurses. The degree program teaches students to use modern technology and informatics to improve patient health outcomes. It also ensures that nurses are able to clarify details about a patient’s health and make decisions based on the evidence presented for certain ailments or concerns.
Favorite Facts: The University of Texas at Arlington follows the curriculum standards outlined by the AACN Essentials for Doctoral Education.
25. New York University
The DNP program from New York University emphasizes preparedness among nurses at the highest level of clinical practice. The degree program focuses on teaching nursing students the skills they need to work with patients and identify health concerns. Students can expect to gain relevant skills for safety, innovation in nursing, and leadership.
New York University differs from other programs by teaching students the interpersonal skills and communication skills they need to leader interprofessional teams in medical practice. It ensures that nurses know how to handle different medical professionals and work together toward a common goal through effective communication and leadership skills.
Favorite Facts: New York University offers graduate assistantships and scholarships to students in doctoral programs.
Why Should I Get My DNP?
If a person is already a nurse practitioner, he or she may question what’s the difference between a DNP vs NP. The answer lies within the responsibilities of the two. A DNP is allowed to work more hands-on with patients and exercise more authority. In some states, a person can serve as a primary healthcare practitioner. However, even with an MSN, a person can still work one-on-one with patients.
Another difference when comparing DNP vs NP, a person tends to take make more money with a doctorate.
Those who are questioning, “Should I get my MSN or DNP” should ask themselves what kind of care would they like to provide and where would they like to work. Additionally, when answering, “Should I get my MSN or DNP” should ask themselves what kind of money they would like to make.
Besides the MSN vs DNP debate, there’s also the DNP vs MD debate. In 27 states, a nurse practitioner can open his or her own practice. In the other states, a DNP must work under the direct supervision of a nurse. Additionally, when comparing DNP vs. MD, it’s important to know that doctors spend more on their education and spend a longer time training for their careers. A medical doctor must complete four years of undergraduate school and four years of medical school. Then, he or she must complete three to seven years of a residency. The length of the residency depends upon his or her specialty.
When considering DNP vs MD, a person should consider they can make a decent salary immediately after school with a DNP. On the other hand, a medical doctor undergoes a low-paying residency before making a higher salary than a DNP.
Additionally, when comparing a DNP vs MD and the MSN vs DNP debate, a person should consider that the job growth for a DNP is higher.
It’s also important to know when answering why should I get a DNP that there are a great many options for a person who has a DNP.
When answering what is a DNP, it’s important for a person to understand what he or she will study. During a program, a student studies quality improvement, systems leadership, and evidence-based practice. The DNP meaning represents a degree that can prepare a person for a role as a primary healthcare provider since what is a doctor of nursing practice entails being able to take on leadership roles. However, when considering what does DNP stand for in the medical field, a person must consider that laws vary from state to state, so a DNP can’t always take on all the same responsibilities as a physician.
When considering what is a doctor of nursing practice, a person should understand that he or she would have enough education to become a professor in a nursing school. Additionally, when answering what does DNP stand for in the medical field, it’s important to recognize that it’s a prestigious title that can prepare an individual to work in administration.
Should I Get a DNP or a Nursing PhD?
First and foremost, when answering nursing DNP vs PhD, a DNP is a doctor of nursing practice. On the other hand, when comparing DNP vs PhD, a person should know that a nursing PhD is a nursing doctor of philosophy.
If a person wants to know the difference between a DNP and a PhD in nursing, both are on the same level. Therefore, when understanding the difference between a DNP and a PhD in nursing, neither one is more advanced than the other. Both require the same amount of education.
To answer what is the difference between a DNP and a PhD in nursing a person should know that doctor of nursing practice prepares a person to take on a leadership role. A person can practice as a healthcare provider or choose a career in education. In other words, when a person compares DNP vs PhD, a DNP is a degree path that can provide a variety of opportunities. A person may become a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, or nurse anesthetist.
Another aspect to consider when determining the difference between DNP and PhD in nursing, a PhD is a research-based degree. It prepares individuals to become a nurse researcher.
Another aspect to compare between a nursing DNP vs PhD is that both have a high earning potential. Both degrees can earn a person close to $100,000 per year.
Is a DNP a Doctor?
Since a DNP does have to complete a doctorate, a person may go by the title of doctor in some states. In states like Delaware and Arizona, laws are in place that make it so nurses can’t hold the title of doctor.
In terms of patient care, a person may wonder is a DNP a doctor. In many states, a person with a DNP can have their own practice. On the other hand, in other states, someone with a DNP has to work underneath a doctor. Often, a person with a DNP can execute many of the same responsibilities as a doctor.