BSN to DNP programs online: The ideal career development option for busy but ambitious nurses

Being a nurse is a wonderfully rewarding career choice. You get to help patients every single day, providing not only vital medical assistance but also the crucial emotional support to help them get through what might be one of the most difficult times in their lives. It’s also a field in which you are constantly learning and developing, whether that’s by learning new skills and techniques, working with new technologies, or broadening your knowledge into more specialist areas of nursing.

The options for professional development are extremely wide, ranging from short courses you can do at your workplace to doctoral-level degrees that require you to go back to college. Yet, at the same time, being a nurse is often hectic. We’ve seen this more than ever before during the current COVID-19 pandemic, with medical staff working extremely long hours and taking on many additional responsibilities. So, how can you find the time to fit this crucial lifelong learning into your already packed schedule?

For many nurses, virtual learning is the perfect solution. Taking qualifications such as BSN to DNP programs online makes it possible for you to level up your skills and knowledge without having to quit your current job and attend classes in person. Distance learning gives you the flexibility to study at home and still graduate with a top-quality higher degree, with the DNP in particular having the potential to give your career a huge boost.

Sound good? Read on to find out more about what studying for BSN to DNP programs online involves, including a discussion of the specific advantages and disadvantages of virtual learning. If it seems like the right career pathway for you, there are also some tips at the end for how you can effectively combine your studies with your existing work and family obligations.

What is a BSN to DNP degree?

DNP stands for doctor of nursing practice, which is a doctoral-level degree within the field of nursing. That means it’s the same academic level as a PhD, however, it has a more clinical focus in comparison. If you are already working as a nurse, you probably know that a BSN stands for a bachelor of science in nursing, which is the standard qualification for many jobs in the industry.

Those nurses who wish to study for a DNP degree are normally required to already have not only a BSN but also a master of science in nursing (MSN). However, these days there are also BSN to DNP programs online and on campus, which are aimed at people who only have a BSN. By combining the curriculums for the MSN and the DNP, such programs can avoid repetition and accelerate your studies. As such you can often achieve your DNP in a shorter time period via these bridge programs than if you did the MSN and DNP separately. This makes it a fantastic choice for those nurses who have a BSN and are confident that they want to progress all the way to a DNP quickly.

As with many professional development degrees, you have the choice of studying BSN to DNP programs online on a part-time or full-time basis. Generally speaking, you can expect the course to take three or four years if you study full time, and four to seven if you take it part time.

How can having a DNP help my career?

Whether you choose to go directly from a BSN to a DNP or to take an MSN first, you can anticipate a wide range of benefits from studying for this qualification. It’s specifically designed to prepare nurses for top-level roles within the field, either in direct patient care positions such as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) or indirect patient care roles like executive leadership. This makes it perfect for those who are motivated to take their careers as far as possible.

A DNP offers the ideal opportunity to develop your specialist nursing knowledge and clinical skills to the highest level. You’ll get to take a deep dive into subjects that you’re passionate about, resulting in not only a sense of personal achievement but also increased job satisfaction. Plus, you’ll be in a position to offer those patients in your care the very best treatment. Therefore, gaining this qualification can help not only you but also your patients, colleagues, and the hospital or clinic you work at.

Taking BSN to DNP programs online can also help you to develop a wide range of transferable skills that will be useful no matter what job you progress to. These include abilities such as verbal and written communication, teamwork, leadership, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, analytical skills, organisation, time management and presentation.

Finally, studying for any higher level degree can provide a great chance to network with professionals in your field. In addition to the other students in your cohort, you will have the opportunity to mingle – either virtually or in person – with industry specialists and faculty staff, making both new friends and valuable new work contacts.

What does doing BSN to DNP programs online involve?

Both campus courses and BSN to DNP programs online split their curriculums into three different modes of study: taught modules, clinical hours, and a research project. Some degrees will offer different tracks that specialise in a particular area of nursing, such as a specific patient population, health condition, or type of indirect patient care like management. That means that if you are aiming for a career in an area such as paediatrics or women’s health, you can tailor your DNP to fit those aspirations.

In terms of the exact modules that you’ll study, these will vary according to both the specialty you choose and the college you enrol with. However, the following list gives a good overview of the sorts of topics you can expect to have available to you. Some will be compulsory, and for the remainder of your credit requirement, you’ll be able to choose from a selection of electives.

  • Healthcare Technology and Data Management
  • Organisational and Systems Leadership for Quality Improvement
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Effective Leadership in Organisations and Systems
  • Ethics in Complex Healthcare Systems
  • Healthcare Finance
  • Psychotherapy with Multiple Modalities
  • Transforming Nursing and Healthcare Through Technology
  • Epidemiology and Population Health
  • Creating Excellence in Professional Practice Environments
  • Biostatistics
  • Health Policy and Economics
  • Healthcare Advocacy
  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Practice Care of Older Adults
  • Advanced Paediatric Development and Behaviour
  • Clinical Pharmacology
  • Data-Driven Healthcare Improvement
  • Translating Evidence into Clinical Practice
  • Global Perspectives in Doctoral Nursing
  • Quantitative Methods in Clinical Nursing
  • Clinical and Applied Nursing Ethics

As with all distance learning programs, the modules for BSN to DNP programs online will be delivered through a mixture of virtual teaching methods. These could include live or prerecorded lectures, interactive quizzes and other exercises, reading lists, written assignments, discussion forums and message boards, group work, and similar activities.

When it comes to your clinical placements, even for BSN to DNP programs online these will be carried out in person. The normal requirement is to complete 1,000 hours, and your college will help you to find a suitable location that’s both close to where you live and matches your personal interests and career goals. You’ll be working under the direct supervision of experienced professionals, who can provide you with valuable feedback and advice.

In regard to the final project, this involves conducting independent research on a relevant real-world clinical or administrative problem in the field of nursing. It’s often the most challenging part of the DNP, but also the most rewarding because you get to put what you’ve learned into practice and potentially make a genuine difference to patient outcomes and the broader healthcare industry.

What are the advantages of doing BSN to DNP programs online?

As mentioned in the introduction, taking BSN to DNP programs online instead of attending a traditional campus program has many benefits. One of the main advantages is the flexibility it offers. Virtual learning enables you to study at a time, place and pace that suits you and your lifestyle. This means you can fit the program around any existing work commitments or family obligations you have, so there’s no need for your income or home life to suffer in order for you to get qualified.

This flexibility can also be a boost to your learning, because you can create your own ideal study environment. Whether you prefer working in silence or with music, early in the morning or late at night, in many small sessions or a single epic one per week, the choice is entirely yours. Indeed, this extra independence is something that many students on BSN to DNP programs online treasure, because you feel more like an adult than a college student.

The best part is that even with all this freedom, you don’t miss out on the support. Your tutors can be easily reached via email, message or video chat, and college services are now also designed with online students in mind. In fact, for shy students this system can be especially advantageous, because you can ask your professor questions more privately rather than having to speak up in front of a packed lecture theatre.

Finally, you might also find that taking BSN to DNP programs online saves you money. This is because not only are the tuition fees often lower, you don’t have to cover other costs such as commuting or finding accommodation during the academic year.

Are there any disadvantages to taking BSN to DNP programs online?

The first factor to make clear is that taking BSN to DNP programs online rather than attending classes on campus does not give you any disadvantages when it comes to applying for jobs. Employers do not regard virtual learning as any less valid than in-person study, especially with distance courses becoming more and more popular. This is particularly true for BSN to DNP programs online, because all of your clinical hours will be carried out in person anyway. That means you still get all of the necessary hands-on, practical experience, you’re just doing so in a more flexible manner.

The other concern people sometimes have is that networking is more challenging when doing BSN to DNP programs online. There is a certain amount of truth to this, because you won’t be able to hold study sessions in the library or grab a coffee with other students after lectures, however, as we’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more than possible to network virtually these days. Plus, as mentioned above, your clinical placements will be conducted in person, so you’ll still have the chance to network in the more traditional sense during those.

Tips and tricks for studying BSN to DNP programs online alongside your day job

There’s no point in pretending that studying for BSN to DNP programs online at the same time as working your day job isn’t an intimidating prospect. However, with a little discipline and the right motivation, it’s more than possible to do so successfully. Here are some top tips to help you manage:

  • Decide your study schedule in advance and stick to it. Figure out the best times for you to fit your learning around your work shifts, then block that time off for college. This is much more effective than just trying to fit in studying as and when you’re free, and makes it much easier for you to meet your deadlines.
  • Set up a dedicated study space where you can work in peace. Ensure you have an ergonomic arrangement, good lighting, plus plenty of space for your notes, books and stationery.
  • Establish weekly and monthly goals to make sure you stay on track, taking into account busy periods both at work and college.
  • Take advantage of the support services your college offers if you feel like you’re struggling.
  • Figure out how you learn best and lean into that.

Make self-care a priority. Eating well, drinking lots of water, exercising regularly, meditating and getting enough sleep will all help you to stay physically and mentally healthy and avoid burnout. This includes setting as