How Fast Can I Finish an Online DNP Program?

A DNP, or Doctor of Nursing Practice, builds on a master of nursing degree to prepare nurses for the most advanced roles in their field. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing recommends a DNP for advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) roles. These include nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist, and clinical nurse specialists.

The fastest online DNP programs let nursing students complete a doctorate in one year. During an accelerated DNP program, students take classes in evidence-based practice, clinical research, and advanced nursing practice. Doctoral students also take classes in their specialty area and complete clinical requirements.

An accelerated program helps nurses qualify for the top positions in their field. A DNP degree can also increase earning potential. This article introduces accelerated DNP programs, career and salary information for nurses with a DNP, and the benefits of an online learning format.

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Be Realistic: How Long Really Depends on You

How long does it take to earn a DNP? In many ways, that depends on the student. For most nurses, earning a DNP takes at least two years. For part-time DNP students, it can take four or more years. RNs seeking advanced practice roles often spend 4-5 years in school after earning their nursing license.

Some specializations add time to a DNP. For example, many nurse practitioner programs require additional credits and clinical hours to meet licensing requirements. Similarly, a DNAP, or Doctorate of Nursing Anesthesia Practice, can take longer than a DNP. Many of the top online DNAP programs take around three years.

By contrast, an accelerated DNP program can take as little as 12 months. During that time, nursing students take classes and complete clinical requirements.

An accelerated DNP program is not the right fit for everyone. Some students prefer a slower pace. But for nurses seeking the fastest route to a doctorate, an accelerated DNP program online can help them reach their career goals in less time.

How to Earn a DNP in One Year

Earning a DNP does not have to mean several years out of the workforce. The shortest DNP programs let nurses complete their doctorate in a single year. In an accelerated DNP program, online learners take courses at a rapid pace, finishing a doctorate in as little as 12 months.

One-year DNP programs let students complete a doctorate with 30-40 credits of coursework, including practicum and research requirements. Doctoral nursing students typically complete around 500 clinical hours as part of their training. Many programs also include a capstone experience where students implement evidence-based practices. Prospective students generally must hold an MSN degree and show work experience in their field.

Completing a doctorate in an accelerated format requires a significant commitment. The highly demanding timeline generally requires full-time enrollment. The fastest online DNP program can help nurses increase their earning potential in a short time.

Convenience and Flexibility: The One-Year Online DNP Plan

An online learning format helps working nurses advance their education. Distance learners complete their coursework through their university’s learning management system, which can include streamed or recorded lectures. Nursing doctoral students partner with a local hospital or clinic to meet their clinical requirements.

Online programs offer many benefits to students. Instead of relocating to attend school, students can enroll in a top DNP program from anywhere in the country. Working nurses can arrange coursework around their schedules rather than trying to attend in-person classes.

Students enrolled in a one-year online DNP program can also save money by choosing an online format. Online learners save on relocation costs, commuting and transportation expenses, and childcare. Many programs also offer tuition discounts for fully online students. Finally, an online learning format provides the flexibility to continue working while earning a degree, helping students maintain an income source and avoid a gap in their resume.

Online learners attending an accredited institution qualify for the same financial aid and scholarship opportunities as on-campus students. Learn more about the most affordable online DNP programs.

Is a DNP Required to Become an APRN?

Currently, APRNs do not need to hold a DNP. Candidates with an MSN can work as nurse practitioners and nurse midwives, or pursue other advanced practice roles. However, many professional organizations recommend earning a DNP. In 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing recommended moving to a DNP for all advanced nursing practice roles.

Earning a DNP can also mean a higher salary and more growth opportunities. The DNP is also growing in popularity. From 2017-2018, the number of DNP graduates grew by over 15% in a single year. The number of students joining DNP programs has also increased.


How long does a DNP usually take?Typically, candidates with an MSN can earn their DNP in two years. However, the fastest online DNP program lets nurses advance their education in one year.
Do you need a master’s degree to earn a DNP?In general, DNP programs require a master’s degree to gain admission to the doctoral program. The fastest online MSN-to-DNP programs take around one year.
What is the fastest way to get a DNP?Earning an online degree can help nurses complete a DNP program in less time. The shortest DNP programs online take around 12 months.
Can I earn a DNP online?Yes. Nurses with an MSN can earn their DNP online. Many schools offer 12-month online DNP programs for nurses seeking a higher degree.

Accreditation for an Online Doctor of Nursing Practice

Nurses researching online DNP programs should always check the accreditation status of their institution and program. To earn accreditation, schools undergo a rigorous review of their student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, and academic mission. Regionally accredited universities meet the highest standards for educating students.

Specialized accrediting agencies also grant accreditation to online schools. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission reviews online schools and awards accreditation to institutions that follow the best practices in distance learning.

In nursing, students should only attend programs that hold accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Accreditation (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). These programmatic accrediting agencies evaluate both traditional and online nursing programs. Only graduates from accredited nursing programs can earn their state license and practice as an APRN. Prospective students should always check for CCNE or ACEN accreditation before applying to any 12-month online DNP programs.

Career and Salary Outlook for APRN Roles

A doctorate prepares nurses for advanced practice roles. Nurses who enroll in a one-year DNP program online can work as a nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, nurse practitioner, or clinical nurse specialist. Within these roles, APRNs specialize in areas like acute care, neonatal care, or pediatric care.

Compared to registered nurses, APRNs operate with greater independence. As leaders in the healthcare system, APRNs typically earn higher salaries than RNs.

  • Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs): Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia to patients undergoing surgical or diagnostic procedures. They care for patients before, during, and after a procedure. CRNAs discuss the patient’s medical history, administer anesthesia, and monitor patients during and after their procedure. They generally need at least one year of experience in a critical care setting before enrolling in an MSN or DNP program.

  • Nurse Midwives (CNMs): Nurse midwives care for women and newborn babies. They provide prenatal care for pregnant women, as well as labor and delivery care. In the delivery room, CNMs handle emergency situations and assist surgeons during a cesarean birth. Advanced practice training prepares CNMs to provide primary maternity care for patients. In addition, they also offer wellness care, family planning services, and gynecological exams. A doctorate meets the requirements for CNM jobs in every state.

  • Nurse Practitioners (NPs): Nurse practitioners provide primary and specialty care for patients. They conduct patient assessments, determine treatment plans, order laboratory tests, diagnose conditions, and prescribe medication. NPs typically specialize in a field of healthcare like pediatric health, adult and geriatric health, women’s health, or family care. In many states, NPs work independently from physicians, though they often work closely with other medical professionals. A DNP program helps NPs specialize their skills and advance their careers.

  • Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs): Clinical nurse specialists provide direct patient care in a specialty area. For example, some work in pediatrics or psychiatric-mental health. As advanced practice nurses, CNSs often take leadership roles in healthcare systems, where they educate and supervise nursing staff. As part of this role, CNSs conduct research, recommend new policies, and implement methods to improve patient care. CNSs conducting research generally need a DNP, while other roles only require a master’s degree.

CareerMedian Annual SalaryProjected Growth Rate (2018-2028)
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners$115,80026%
Registered Nurses$73,30012%

Source: BLS