Online Post-MSN to DNP Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Programs

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who provide primary care to patients of all ages, from infants to the elderly. As such, they must be prepared to diagnose and treat the wide range of ailments that can affect people throughout their lifespan. Traditionally, in order to gain certification as an APRN, students needed to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). However, there has been a shift in recent years toward raising this educational requirement to the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), the terminal practice degree in the field of nursing. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has endorsed this transition, and is pushing for widespread adoption of the DNP as the entry-level educational requirement for APRNs.

This article provides an overview of online MSN to DNP FNP programs, which give master’s-prepared RNs the opportunity to earn a DNP and gain certification in the specialty area of family nurse practitioner. These programs are essentially a combination of a DNP program and a post-master’s FNP certificate program. MSN to DNP FNP programs can be categorized into three different groups based on their admission requirements:

  • MSN to DNP FNP New Specialty: These programs are for nurses who hold a master’s degree in a non-APRN nursing field (such as clinical nurse leader, nurse administration, or nursing education), and want to pursue both a DNP and APRN certification in the specialty area of family nurse practitioner.
  • MSN to DNP FNP Second Specialty: These programs are for students who already hold certification in an APRN specialty area, and want to pursue a DNP along with a second certification as a family nurse practitioner.
  • MSN to DNP FNP Same Specialty: These programs are relatively rare compared to the previous two, and require students to already possess both an MSN and APRN certification in the specialty area of family nurse practitioner. Students should pay particularly close attention to MSN to DNP programs with Family Nurse Practitioner in the title, as they may fall into the category of same specialty programs. (At this time, online MSN to DNP FNP same specialty programs are not included on OnlineFNPPrograms.com.)

The difference between new specialty and second specialty programs is the requirement to complete core MSN-level courses such as Advanced Health Assessment, Advanced Pharmacology, and Advanced Pathophysiology. APRN students will have already completed these courses as part of their previous MSN program, and are typically not required to do so again in an MSN to DNP second specialty program. It should be noted that many schools offer both types of programs (or will waive courses that students have already completed); however, some schools only offer MSN to DNP FNP programs that require an APRN for admission, as they do not offer the core MSN courses online.

Currently, OnlineFNPPrograms.com does not include General/Leadership MSN to DNP programs or Clinical Practice DNP programs, as they do not prepare students for licensure as an APRN. All of the MSN to DNP FNP programs listed on OnlineFNPPrograms.com are accredited by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

Admissions Criteria for Online MSN to DNP FNP Programs

As mentioned above, MSN to DNP FNP programs can be grouped into several different categories based on their admission requirements. However, unfortunately for students, there is no standardized naming convention for these different types of programs. For example, a university may offer a program that they referred to as MSN to DNP new specialty even though it actually requires an APRN certification for admission. Thus, students should carefully read all program specifics and admission requirements to determine if an APRN certification is required for admission.

On OnlineFNPPrograms.com, programs are classified as either MSN to DNP FNP new specialty programs or MSN to DNP FNP second specialty programs. MSN to DNP FNP new specialty programs require RNs to hold a master’s degree from an accredited school of nursing in a field such as clinical nurse leader, nurse administrator, nurse educator, public health, or nurse informatics. For an MSN to DNP second specialty program, prospective students must already possess both an MSN from an accredited school of nursing and national APRN certification in order to be considered for admission.

In either case, applicants must hold an active registered nurse license with no restrictions in their state of residence. Additionally, most schools require that applicants have an overall graduate GPA of 3.0 or higher, and at least one to two years of professional nursing experience, however these specific requirements vary by program. As part of the application process, students usually must submit a resume/CV, one or more letters of recommendation, official transcripts from all previous postsecondary institutions, and a personal essay or goal statement.

Overview of Online MSN to DNP FNP Programs

With the DNP gaining traction, more schools are beginning to offer online MSN to DNP programs. Typically more flexible than campus-based degree programs, online DNP programs are a great fit for nursing professionals who want to pursue their doctorate but cannot commit to a campus-based program due to time and/or travel restrictions. In addition, they give students who do not live near a campus-based program access to education they would otherwise be unable to receive unless they moved to attend school.

Courses in an online MSN to DNP program are delivered through synchronous instruction, asynchronous instruction, or a combination of both. Synchronous instruction requires students to be online at a prearranged time to view live-streamed lectures and participate in classroom discussions through webcam or live chat. With asynchronous instruction, the lectures are prerecorded, and students can generally access them and other course materials at any time. While this offers a greater degree of flexibility than synchronous instruction, asynchronous instruction does not mean self-paced; students are still expected to meet set deadlines for completing assignments.

Online students should keep in mind that they will be required to travel to a nearby health care facility in order to complete their clinical placement hours. Additionally, most online MSN to DNP programs include one or more on-campus intensives in which students will need to visit campus to participate in orientation events, hands-on training exercises, or in-person lectures. The number and length of these campus visits varies by program. On OnlineFNPPrograms.com, we define an online program as one that requires three or fewer campus visits each year. This way, students clearly understand the travel requirements associated with each degree program. Students should note that each campus visit may be several consecutive days in length.

Online MSN to DNP FNP Programs: Full-Time vs. Part-Time Options

Online MSN to DNP students can choose to enroll in either a full-time or part-time degree program. Many schools offer both options, leaving it up to the student to decide how much time they want to spend on their studies each week. However, some schools only offer one or the other. Full-time MSN to DNP FNP programs typically take one to two years to complete, and require a larger commitment from students on a weekly basis. While part-time programs take longer to complete (often around two to three years), students in these programs take a fewer number of courses each term, making them ideal for working professionals who need greater flexibility. Students who want or need to continue working full-time while pursuing their degree, or have an otherwise busy schedule outside of school, should consider enrolling in a part-time program. It is generally not recommended that students enroll in a full-time MSN to DNP FNP program while also maintaining full-time employment.

Online MSN to DNP FNP Curriculum Details

As MSN to DNP FNP programs are essentially a DNP program combined with a post-master’s family nurse practitioner certificate program, students can expect to take both the required DNP curriculum as well as MSN-level FNP specialization courses. These MSN-level courses focus primarily on advanced clinical practice and training specific to the specialty area of family nurse practitioner. The DNP courses are designed to prepare graduates in the eight core competencies outlined by the AACN in their Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice, including systems leadership, health care policy, and analytical methods for evidence-based practice.

Students may be able to apply a certain number of credits from their previous master’s program toward either the DNP or post-master’s FNP certificate requirements. For example, many schools allow APRNs who have already completed the required MSN support courses Advanced Health Assessment, Advanced Pharmacology, and Advanced Physiology/Pathophysiology to transfer those credits to their MSN to DNP FNP program. Schools often perform a gap analysis to decide which credits students are able to transfer, and which MSN-level courses they still need to complete.

In addition to DNP coursework, FNP specialty courses, and all clinical practicum requirements, MSN to DNP FNP students must complete a capstone DNP Project before earning their doctorate. This original scholarly work represents the culmination of their studies, and is typically developed and implemented over several semesters. Examples of possible DNP projects include a pilot study, practice change initiative, program evaluation, consulting project, or quality improvement project. Upon completion of the project, students typically must present an oral defense of their thesis in front of their DNP project team, which may require online students to travel to campus.

Online MSN to DNP FNP Programs: Clinical Placements and Practicum Hours

As students are training in an entirely new specialty area in addition to pursuing a DNP, they will need to complete both the DNP-level clinical practicum hours required to earn their doctorate, as well as the MSN-level FNP clinical practicum hours required to qualify for state licensure and national certification as a family nurse practitioner. Most schools require students to fulfill at least 500 DNP clinical practicum hours as part of their MSN to DNP program. As for the FNP clinical component, programs typically require 500 to 650 specialty hours, and some may require more. At a minimum, students must complete 1,000 post-BSN clinical hours in order to qualify for the DNP degree.

Online MSN to DNP FNP students typically complete these clinical hours at a health care facility in their local area. Some schools help students find and secure their clinical placements, connecting them with an approved medical site and preceptor in their community or a neighboring one. Other schools require students to find their own clinical placement site, but may offer assistance in the search. Before enrolling in any DNP program, students should make sure they fully understand the clinical practicum requirements, as well as how that particular school handles clinical placements.

Online MSN to DNP FNP Programs: Sample Courses

The curriculum in an online MSN to DNP FNP program includes both master’s-level FNP specialization courses and DNP core courses. While course titles will vary by program, here are a few topics covered in most MSN to DNP FNP programs:

MSN-Level FNP Courses:

  • Advanced Primary Care of Adults: How to diagnose, treat, and prevent the wide range of common, acute, or chronic health issues that can affect adult patients. Some programs may include courses that focus specifically on the elderly, or examine women’s health issues, such as childbearing. This course often includes a practicum component, where students perform exams on live models and/or actual patients, and fulfill actual primary care tasks while under supervision in a medical setting.
  • Advanced Primary Care of Infants, Children, and Adolescents: In this course, students explore how to best provide care to the younger members of the family unit. Along with the unique issues associated with pediatric care, courses typically examine child development, behavioral issues, common genetic conditions, and pediatric pharmacology. This course may also contain a clinical practicum component.
  • Disease Prevention and Population Health: Covers the concepts and principles of epidemiology, including the history of diseases, modes of transmission, and different preventative measures. Students also learn about population-based health promotion and risk reduction strategies, as well as the basics of biostatistics.

DNP-Level Courses:

  • Quality Improvement in Health Care: How to measure and improve the efficiency, safety, outcomes, and cost-effectiveness of care delivery at both the clinical and systems level. These courses focus on risk assessment, process management, and how to analyze data and translate findings to create better models for patient care.
  • Health Informatics: This course looks at the current and emerging technologies and systems being used to capture and evaluate health care data, as well as how to use this data to improve direct patient care. Students learn how to utilize the different informatics tools at their disposal and interpret electronic resources to help with clinical decision making and program planning.
  • Effective Leadership and Organizational Management: This course examines different methods and theories of leadership in an effort to help students better manage health care teams, programs, and projects. Course topics typically include interpersonal, interprofessional, and organizational leadership skills; advanced nursing administration; and how to lead change and innovation in the health care system.