Advanced Nursing Careers: Exploring the DNP Salary for DNP-Prepared Nurses

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A chief nursing officer at a meeting with the medical team.Today more than ever, the U.S. healthcare system needs qualified advanced practice nurses. In September 2020, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) projected that the current nursing shortage will intensify as the healthcare needs of the baby boomer generation continue to expand.

Individuals who are interested in gaining the skills and knowledge to bridge the gap caused by the nursing shortage are likely to find that completing an advanced education — such as an online Doctor of Nursing Practice degree — can help them toward that goal.

Why DNP-Prepared Nurses Matter

The nation’s primary care shortage isn’t limited to nurses. For example, a 2020 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) found that the U.S. is likely to see a shortage of between 54,000 and 139,000 physicians by the year 2033.

Despite warning that the nation’s doctor shortage remains real and significant, the AAMC projects that the supply of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) will continue to grow. As such, DNP-prepared nurses will find their leadership qualities and healthcare knowledge will be in high demand in providing high-quality care across patient populations.

Average DNP Salaries

Individuals who have completed an online Doctor of Nursing Practice program have a variety of career roles available to them, such as clinical nurse specialist, chief nursing officer (CNO), health informatics specialist, public health program manager and population health manager. The average DNP salary for each position may vary based on a candidate’s years of experience and the part of the country in which the position is located.

Clinical Nurse Specialist

The clinical nurse specialist (CNS) oversees clinical care in a specialized environment, such as acute care clinics, intensive care units (ICUs) or oncology clinics. A CNS must have a master’s degree in nursing and be a licensed registered nurse (RN) in the state in which they wish to practice. (Some states require CNSs to complete a clinical nurse specialist certification as well.) The compensation website PayScale indicates that as of January 2021, the median annual salary of a CNS was around $90,900, although earners in the top 10th percentile reported annual salaries of more than $120,000.

Chief Nursing Officer

Chief nursing officers (CNOs) handle all nursing activities in their healthcare facility. They manage staff levels, execute budgets and direct orientation and educational programs for new hires and current nursing staff. Like CNSs, CNOs must have a master’s degree in nursing and relevant state licensing. January 2021 data from PayScale show the median annual CNO salary was approximately $130,500, although earners in the top 10 percent reported compensation of $201,000 or more.

Health Informatics Specialist

A health informatic specialist (HIS) establishes and maintains IT systems in a healthcare organization. They’re often responsible for maintaining patients’ electronic medical records. HISs ensure that systems are compliant with company regulations, policies and the law. They also troubleshoot medical computer systems when problems arise. Individuals who are working in this capacity must have advanced knowledge of computers, computer networks and a familiarity with healthcare software. PayScale reports that as of December 2020, the median annual salary for this position was about $68,400. Earners in the top 10th percentile reported salaries of more than $111,000 per year. 

Public Health Program Manager

A public health program manager (PHPM) oversees health facilities and the services they provide. PHPMs work with clinical staff to ensure performance standards are met. They may also assume general administrative functions, such as developing and executing budgets and managing patient records. Most employers require PHPM candidates to have a master’s degree in a relevant field. According to January 2021 data from PayScale, the median annual salary PHPMs is around $59,300. Earners in the top 10th percentile reported annual salaries of more than $77,000 per year.

Population Health Manager

Population health managers (PHMs) organize services and programs for their community. They manage outreach programs and public education projects such as seminars on healthy eating and the benefits of exercise. They evaluate demographics to determine which health concerns are most pressing in their area. Population health managers must have a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, although many employers prefer to hire candidates who have completed a master’s program. Data from PayScale indicates that as of January 2021, the median annual salary for professionals working in this role was approximately $75,400, although earners in the top 10th percentile reported annual earnings over $106,000.

Skills DNP-Prepared Nurses Must Develop

Registered nurses who aspire to become DNPs and earn a DNP salary usually begin their career journey by completing an advanced education. In addition to developing knowledge and skills that apply to the field, students must also have certain innate skills, such as analytical and critical thinking capabilities, leadership skills and technical acumen.

Analytical/Critical Thinking

Nurses must understand how to apply an analytical mindset to patient care. This enables them to evaluate patients’ symptoms, assess the effectiveness of a prescribed care regimen, and interpret the feedback they receive. Nurses who possess refined critical thinking capabilities can distinguish facts from opinions and tend to be more confident in their ability to prescribe care.

Leadership Skills

Nurses who can inspire others to work together to improve patient care and outcomes are invaluable. Aspiring nurse managers must have integrity, be willing to take initiative and be able to handle stress in the workplace.

Technical Skills

Nurses must develop the ability to learn and master many technical skills, including the ability to work with specialized equipment such as sonograms, glucose monitoring equipment and beyond. They must also understand how to manage electronic patient records and be comfortable working with cloud-based software.

Pursue a Career in Nursing Leadership

Nurses who wish to play an active role in helping address the nationwide nursing shortage will be well served by completing an advanced education, such as an online doctoral program. Upon graduation, students consistently find they’ve developed the key skills and professional acumen to take on advanced practice nursing leadership roles.

Duquesne University’s online Doctor of Nursing Practice program is designed to help students develop the knowledge and skills to serve as transformational leaders in the healthcare field. The program offers a Clinical Leadership track and an Executive Nurse Leadership and Health Care Management track.

Discover how the online Doctor of Nursing Practice programs at Duquesne University can help you take the next step in your career.

Recommended Readings:

Finding a Work-Life Balance as a Nurse Leader

Nurse Leadership During Organizational Mergers and Acquisitions

Transparency in Nursing Leadership and Healthcare 


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Shortage Association of American Medical Colleges, New AAMC Report Confirms Growing Physician Shortage

Health Catalyst, Population Health Management: Systems and Success

Healthcare, Chief Nursing Officers’ Views on Meeting the Needs of the Professional Nurse: How This Can Affect Patient Outcomes

Houston Chronicle, The Job Description of Health Informatics

National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists, What Is a CNS?

PayScale, Average Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) Salary

PayScale, Average Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) Salary

PayScale, Average Health Informatics Specialist Salary

PayScale, Average Population Health Manager Salary

PayScale, Average Public Health Program Manager Salary

Quartz, The U.S. Is On the Verge of a Devastating, but Avoidable Doctor Shortage

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses