Coursework Essential to Earning a DNP Degree

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Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) enter doctoral-level nursing school programs to meet the changing needs in healthcare and earn leadership roles that boost quality improvements in care management. Doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program courses encourage deep thinking and advanced clinical judgment skills.

The DNP curriculum is designed to promote success at the highest level of nursing, aligning with a key message in the landmark report by the Institute of Medicine, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. The report recommended that nurses achieve higher levels of education through programs that encourage lifelong learning.

The core curriculum elements for the DNP degree is directed by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s (AACNs) Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice. The AACN established foundational preparation and competency achievements for DNP graduates.

“Nurses prepared at the doctoral level with a blend of clinical, organizational, economic and leadership skills are most likely to be able to critique nursing and other clinical scientific findings and design programs of care delivery that are locally acceptable, economically feasible and which significantly impact healthcare outcomes,” the AACN said.

The leading DNP programs, including online DNP programs, feature coursework that focuses on educational preparation for the future of healthcare. DNP graduates “design, evaluate and create innovative patient care models, evaluate the cost effectiveness of patient care strategies and influence health policy at multiple levels,” the AACN said.

Core DNP Program Courses

Overall, the AACN defined eight foundational components that should be woven into DNP education:

Scientific underpinning

Using nursing science and evidence-based theories as the bedrock for delivering quality patient care

Organizational and systems leadership for quality improvement and systems thinking

Developing evidence-based theories, interventions and guidelines

Clinical scholarship and analytical methods for evidence-based practice

Utilizing scholarship and research to advance nursing practice

Information systems/technology and patient care technology for the improvement and transformation of health care

Applying technological advances and information systems to support patient care

Policy for advocacy in health care

Engaging in policy development to create healthcare systems that meet public needs

Interprofessional collaboration for improving patient and population health outcomes

Facilitating collaboration between healthcare teams for smooth interprofessional practice

Clinical prevention and population health for improving nationwide health

Achieving a national goal of improving health outcomes

Advanced nursing practice

Demonstrating skills in nursing science as it applies to psychosocial, biophysical, behavioral, cultural, sociopolitical and economic competencies

In developing DNP curriculum essentials, the AACN also identified three content areas, called the three Ps, ­as requirements for comprehensive academic preparation:

Advanced physical assessment

APRNs learn how to develop comprehensive patient health histories that incorporate bio-social, environmental, cultural and spiritual needs. Through the coursework, APRNs use assessment strategies, including clinical interviewing skills, physical exam techniques, common lab testing and critical thinking skills to collect and interpret information and create a health assessment.

Advanced physiology/pathophysiology

APRNs learn about the various physiological functions of the body and diseases across the lifespan to differentiate between normal and abnormal human mechanisms. Students learn essential information about assessing illnesses, recommending interventions and supporting plans for health maintenance.

Advanced pharmacology

APRNs build on basic pharmacological principles to expand their knowledge of medications used across a lifespan. Students learn about drug therapy management, prescription writing and the use of prescription drugs in the treatment of acute and chronic illnesses.

In addition to the three Ps coursework, DNP students undertake other courses that are essential to advanced practice.

DNP Curriculum

The DNP, a practice-focused degree, prepares nurses for leadership in a clinical setting. While earning the degree, nurses study a wide variety of topics including:

Transcultural Care and Global Health Perspectives

Cultural competency, or the ability to understand and communicate across cultures, is vital for DNP-educated nurses. As the world becomes more diverse, DNP-educated nurses are expected to promote care that is sensitive to all needs.

Coursework in transcultural care and global health perspectives looks at globalization, healthcare and strategies for meeting diverse cultural norms.

Social Justice and Vulnerable Populations

As leaders, DNP-educated nurses can bridge the divide between social justice and health equity. DNP-educated nurses advocate for vulnerable populations to promote policies and interventions that increase fairness, justice and the opportunity to be healthy.

Coursework in social justice helps DNP students understand the process and outcome of health equity and how health disparities change over time across generations and in communities.

Epidemiology and Biostatistics

Disease control and prevention are vital components of work as a DNP-educated nurse leader. In learning about the underlying causes for disease and identifying effective treatment protocols, DNP-educated nurses can improve population health.

Coursework in epidemiology and biostatistics helps DNP students understand the implications of disease on population health and use statistical science to advance public health.

Earning a DNP

In addition to the 3Ps and other foundational coursework, DNP students take courses in leadership, ethics, policy and finance. At Duquesne University, the online DNP program coursework is intended to stimulate critical thinking skills and encourage deeper learning.

Students study contemporary health and its relationship and impact on healthcare policy. They look at population health and ways to reduce risk and prevent disease. The university offers three DNP concentrations: Nursing Education and Faculty Role, Forensic Nursing and Transcultural Nursing. Each is designed to augment and further develop existing nursing skills.

About Duquesne University’s Online DNP Program

Duquesne University’s online DNP program prepares graduates for clinical leadership positions to encourage positive changes in healthcare. The DNP curriculum builds on existing knowledge and experience for a comprehensive education that is focused on problem solving and innovation.

Duquesne University DNP students have an opportunity to participate in one of three residency experiences: academic writing, leadership or overseas. For more information, visit Duquesne University’s online DNP program website.




The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health: Institute of Medicine

DNP Fact Sheet: AACN

AACN Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing: AACN

Transcultural Nursing: Intechopen

Preparing Today’s Nurses: Social Determinants of Health and Nursing Education: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing

Biostatistics course in postmaster doctor of nursing practice programs: Journal of Nursing Education and Practice