DNP Requirements: What to Expect with the Admissions Process and Coursework

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Doctor of Nursing Practice

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

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 recommends that nurses achieve higher levels of education through programs that encourage lifelong learning.

The core curriculum elements for the DNP degree are directed by the Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). 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 health care outcomes,” according to the AACN.

The leading DNP programs, including online DNP programs, feature coursework that focuses on educational preparation for the future of health care, one of the ways earning a DNP can enhance a nurse practitioner’s level of practice. Nurses who meet the DNP requirements for a program should be fully prepared to learn how to build and oversee forward-thinking care delivery models, analyze and adjust care delivery strategies to optimize cost-effectiveness, and influence health policy.

Requirements for DNP Programs

Accredited DNP programs typically have a few prerequisites. These include holding a current registered nurse (RN) license and a college degree, with a minimum GPA requirement. This degree could be an undergraduate or a graduate degree depending on whether the individual is considering a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to DNP or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) to DNP program. Some programs may also require the completion of specific undergraduate or graduate courses, such as statistics.

Prospective students may also be required to produce other elements to verify their knowledge and skill levels. These can include a resume or a curriculum vitae, a goal statement, school transcripts and a required number of reference letters. The need for these verification documents underscores the importance of quality networking for nurses as they pursue high-level careers in the field.

Some DNP program requirements also ask applicants for a face-to-face interview, either in person or online. Regardless of how schools gather information from students (via goal statements or personal interviews), students should be prepared to demonstrate an understanding of:

  • Personal strengths, weaknesses, motivations and aspirations
  • Reasons for wanting to become a DNP-educated nurse
  • Reasons for choosing a specific DNP program or school

Prospective students should always remain positive and enthusiastic and maintain direct eye contact during in-person (or video chat) interviews. Additionally, while it’s natural to be nervous, it’s important to remain as calm as possible. ThoughtCo offers a few suggestions on how to minimize nervousness:

  • Arrive 15 minutes early.
  • Dress professionally.
  • Be true to your personality.
  • Stay alert and attentive.

At Duquesne University, prospective DNP students must hold either a BSN or an MSN. They can have both, or they can have a BSN along with a master’s in another field or an MSN with a non-nursing undergraduate degree. They also need a minimum 3.0-grade point average and need to provide three academic and professional letters of reference.

DNP Interview Questions

When nursing schools ask applicants to answer questions for admissions during the DNP interview, school administrators are usually working to determine if the student would be a good fit for the program. As part of the holistic interview process, administrators want to know more about the applicants than just their grades.

To implement the holistic approach to admissions, nursing schools typically look at student attributes, experiences, and academic metrics to determine what best coincides with the school’s goals and missions.

The AACN lists various criteria that students should be prepared to share:

  • Life experiences that have influenced an interest in nursing
  • Personal strengths, skills, and aptitudes that will contribute to a continued career in nursing
  • Personal academic challenges and successes that have affected overall nursing goals
  • Obstacles encountered while achieving career goals

In addition, the AACN suggests nursing schools establish a list of characteristics and social/geographic factors as determinants for program admissions.

In some cases, applicants are expected to write goal statements, or personal statements, based on specific information. For example, at Duquesne University, nurses applying for the online DNP program are asked to provide a two- to three-page goal statement with responses based on the AACN’s Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice. The statement is expected to include this information:

  • Reasons for pursuing a DNP, including professional plans and career goals
  • DNP project ideas or topics
  • Past experiences in an area of interest or career goals
  • Information about past achievements in nursing, including professional organization memberships, nominations, certifications, scholarly publications, and more

Duquesne University online DNP program applicants are also required to meet the university’s technical standards for nursing school admission, which include the following:

  • General abilities: Students should possess functional use of natural senses (vision, touch, hearing, and others) to use as part of nursing practice.
  • Observational abilities: Students should be able to observe patients holistically to assess injuries and illnesses.
  • Communication skills: Students should be able to communicate and understand verbal and nonverbal cues to translate information.

DNP Courses

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

  1. Scientific underpinning: Using nursing science and evidence-based theories as the bedrock for delivering quality patient care
  2. Organizational and systems leadership for quality improvement and systems thinking: Developing evidence-based theories, interventions, and guidelines
  3. Clinical scholarship and analytical methods for evidence-based practice: Using scholarship and research to advance nursing practice
  4. 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
  5. Policy for advocacy in health care: Engaging in policy development to create health care systems that meet public needs
  6. Interprofessional collaboration for improving patient and population health outcomes: Facilitating collaboration between healthcare teams for smooth interprofessional practice
  7. Clinical prevention and population health for improving nationwide health: Achieving a national goal of improving health outcomes
  8. Advanced nursing practice: Demonstrating skills in nursing science as they apply to psychosocial, biophysical, behavioral, cultural, sociopolitical, and economic competencies

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

1. Advanced Physical Assessment</h3>

APRNs learn how to develop comprehensive patient health histories that incorporate biosocial, 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.

2. 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.

3. 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 treating acute and chronic illnesses.

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 the following:

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 people and their needs.

Coursework in transcultural care and global health perspectives looks at globalization, health care, 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 processes and outcomes of health equity and how health disparities change over time across generations and in communities.

Analytical Methods of Evidence-Based Practice

Optimizing care delivery is an increasingly vital goal in health care. In this part of the curriculum, DNPs will be challenged to use their analytical and leadership skills to identify, develop and support evidence-based practice strategies that improve existing care principles and build new avenues of care. This work also can be fundamental in improving care as it relates to epidemiology and population health.

Learn More About Earning a DNP

Duquesne University’s online DNP program prepares graduates for clinical leadership positions to encourage positive changes in health care — the kinds of changes that can make a tangible impact across a broad spectrum of communities. The DNP curriculum builds on existing knowledge and experience for a comprehensive education focused on problem-solving and innovation.

Duquesne University DNP students have an opportunity to participate in either the Clinical Leadership track or the Executive Nurse Leadership and Health Care Management track. For more information, visit Duquesne University’s online DNP program website.

Recommended Reading

How DNPs Develop Situational Awareness in Healthcare

Transparency in Nursing Leadership and Healthcare

Why Get a DNP? Benefits of an Online Nursing Degree


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, AACN Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, DNP Fact Sheet

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, How Can Implement Holistic Review at My Nursing School?

Indeed, “10 Graduate School Interview Questions (with Sample Answers)”

Institute of Medicine, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health: 4. Transforming Education”

ThoughtCo., “Graduate School Admissions: Do’s and Don’ts”