Doctor of Nursing Practice Program

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the DNP?

The Doctor of Nursing Practice – or DNP – is a practice doctorate degree for nurses, and represents the highest level of academic preparation for nursing practice.


How does the DNP degree differ from the PhD degree?

The Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Vanderbilt integrates course work with practice immersion experiences to prepare practice scholars to become leaders in bringing evidence-based knowledge into clinical practice, improving health care outcomes and strengthening nursing management and education. The Vanderbilt PhD Program prepares nurses for careers as research scientists in academic, governmental or private entities. Our graduates conduct independent research, participate as interdisciplinary researchers and develop and disseminate knowledge to improve health and the delivery of health care.


Why is the DNP degree important and necessary?

The rapid expansion of knowledge underpinning practice, the complexity of patient care, national concerns about the quality of care and patient safety, and shortages of nursing personnel and faculty have necessitated a higher level of preparation for leaders who can design and provide care for diverse populations. Several reports from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) underscore the need for an appropriately trained health care workforce to meet these challenges of the 21st Century. Given the dynamic nature of the science and evidence base in health care, innovative educational approaches are needed to teach students how to manage knowledge, use effective tools to support clinical decision making and apply methodological rules to evaluate the evidence. Likewise, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has recognized the need to change nursing education to meet the demands of an increasingly complex health care system and recommended adoption of the DNP by 2015 as the terminal degree for advanced practice nurses (e.g., nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, clinical nurse specialists, nurse informatics specialists, health care systems administrators).


If I have a MSN, what is the DNP program of study at Vanderbilt?

For applicants with an MSN degree the Vanderbilt DNP program is a post-master’s, 4-semester full time or 6-semester part time, 74-credit hour program of study; 39 hours of which may be transferred from a prior MSN degree. Courses are offered in an online/distance format and designed to prepare nursing practice scholars with a strong scientific foundation for practice. Graduates have the ability to translate knowledge quickly and effectively to benefit patient populations within the practice environment. The program of study encompasses didactic courses, a clinical experience and a scholarly project that synthesizes the DNP student’s learning.


Is the master’s degree in nursing required for admission?

No, qualified applicants with a BSN degree will have the opportunity to seamlessly progress from our MSN program in to the DNP program. Vanderbilt also offers post- master’s entry for advanced practice nurses who hold a Master of Science in Nursing and wish to add an additional specialty certification.


Can I enter with a BSN degree?

Applicants from accredited BSN programs may apply to our Master of Science in Nursing program and also have the opportunity to seamlessly progress to the DNP program. Our program offers the benefit of earning the MSN degree in one of our 12 advanced practice nursing specialties, eligibility for national certification as an APRN and continuing to earn the DNP as either a full time or part time student. The program of study require a minimum of 74 credits. Applicants applying with a BSN complete the MSN application. To progress to the DNP, the MSN student must graduate with a minimum 3.5 GPA and submit additional materials as requested.


Why does Vanderbilt offer a master of science degree for nurse practitioner and nurse-midwife education?

Due to the national need to increase the workforce of nurse practitioners (NPs) and nurse-midwives (NMs) in practice, the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing (VUSN) continues to offer the master of science in nursing (MSN) degree.

There are several advantages to completing a master’s degree for advanced practice.

  • Generally, the overall program cost burden is less than obtaining a doctoral degree.
  • Graduates can enter the advanced practice workforce in a shorter period of time.
  • NP or NM graduates can begin obtaining advanced practice experience and earning an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) salary.
  • NP or NM graduates can decide whether to proceed with their education, and if so, decide on a practice doctorate (DNP) or a research doctorate (PhD).
  • Graduates can continue to the doctoral degree while working as APRNs. 

Evidence has found equivalent quality of care by graduates from MSN and DNP programs. The NP and NM certification exams do not require DNP degrees to take the examination. Most states require a master’s degree (such as the MSN) to obtain licensure and do not specify a DNP requirement for NPs or NMs.

Currently, there is no regulatory requirement that NPs and NMs have doctoral degrees. Nurse anesthetists are the only APRNs that are mandated to have doctoral degrees by 2025. [Note: VUSN does not offer a nurse anesthesia program.] The American Association of Colleges of Nurses (AACN) recommended (not required) that APRNs (clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives) hold doctoral degrees by the year 2015. The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) made the commitment to move all entry-level nurse practitioner education to the doctor of nursing practice degree by 2025. VUSN continues to watch national trends and will respond accordingly.

VUSN DNP Program

The DNP builds on the MSN foundation, and Vanderbilt wholeheartedly supports continuation of nursing education to a doctoral degree. To demonstrate this support, VUSN guarantees admission to our DNP program after our students complete MSN requirements. Prospective students should consider how much time it will take to become an NP or NM while earning a DNP degree. VUSN has an efficient pathway/timeline to obtain the DNP degree and VUSN’s BSN-MSN-DNP sequence may be faster than some BSN to DNP programs.

VUSN Nurse Practitioner* programs: MSN (3 semesters) + DNP (5 or 6 semesters) = 8 or 9 semesters [2.5–3 calendar years]                                                                                                                                                                                          VUSN Nurse-Midwifery program: MSN (4 semesters) + DNP (5 or 6 semesters) = 9 or 10 semesters [3–3.5 calendar years]

VUSN BSN to DNP** option in AGACNP and FNP/ENP specialties = 8 semesters [2.5 calendar years]

*Nurse-Midwifery and dual MSN programs take 1 or 2 semesters longer

**BSN-DNP students may be eligible to take the certification exam before completion of DNP requirements but they cannot obtain APRN licensure until the DNP is completed.


What are the requirements for admission?

For Admission Criteria click here


Are new students enrolled every semester?

No. DNP students are only admitted for initial enrollment in the Fall semester. The coursework follows a defined sequence.


What is the on-campus intensive session?

DNP students attend an intensive on-campus experience in Nashville for approximately one week each semester. During this on campus time, students attend course orientation sessions, meet with faculty mentors and invited lecturers and attend various networking and social events with other doctoral students and faculty. Attendance at these one-week sessions is mandatory. Full time students will make a total of 4 visits to campus; part time students will visit 6 times. Other coursework, scholarly interaction and practice application takes place online and in students’ home locations, so that relocation or change of employment is not necessary. A variety of state-of-the-art online and distance learning technologies and techniques to facilitate the program and enrich students’ learning experience is utilized. The majority of coursework will be asynchronous. Synchronous activities will be scheduled by the faculty in advance.


Can I continue to work while seeking my practice doctorate at Vanderbilt?

Yes. Vanderbilt offers an online/distance curriculum format that only requires limited time on campus for face-to-face faculty mentoring and scholarly interaction. Please see answer to question above.


Is a dissertation required?

No. Instead, a hallmark of Vanderbilt’s practice doctorate is the successful completion of a scholarly project that demonstrates the synthesis of the student’s experiences. The scholarly project will embrace learning from both coursework and clinical practice application. Prior to graduation with the DNP degree, each student will prepare a manuscript describing the scholarly project and publicly present the projects findings.


What is the cost of tuition for the Vanderbilt DNP program?

Tuition for the Vanderbilt DNP program will be the same as that of the MSN program. More Info >


What funding is available to interested DNP applicants?

Funding is available from federal loans and other sources. The majority of nursing students at Vanderbilt receive some form of financial aid. Please see our Financial Aid Web page for additional information.


Where may I get additional information about the DNP program?

Please email Vanderbilt School of Nursing Admissions or by calling toll free: 1-888-333-9192.


Is the GRE required for admission?

No. The GRE is required for admission to the PhD program, but not the DNP program at VUSN.