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Below are answers to frequently asked questions regarding our DNP programs. The first section pertains to the Post-Master’s DNP and DNP in Executive Leadership, and the second section below to our DNP in Nurse Anesthesia.

Post-Master’s DNP & DNP in Executive Leadership

Program Information

What is the difference between a PhD and a DNP?

Doctoral programs in the nursing profession primarily fall into two types: research-focused and practice- focused. Most research-focused programs grant the Doctor of Philosophy degree (PhD) and are designed to prepare nurse scientists and scholars to conduct generalizable research using rigorous statistical methods. Practice-focused doctoral programs yield the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree (DNP) and are designed to prepare experts in specialized advanced nursing practice. They focus heavily on evidence-based practice that reflects the application of credible research findings. The two types of doctoral programs differ in their goals but are complementary in nature.

What is the difference between the Post-Master’s DNP and the Post-Master’s DNP in Executive Leadership?

The Post-Master’s DNP (DNP-PM) expands the skills of master’s-prepared nurses to translate evidence in order to improve clinical practice and the health outcomes of specific populations. The DNP in Executive Leadership (DNP-EL) provides master’s-prepared nurses who already have leadership experience with the executive-level skills to lead systems and organizational change. Please refer to each program’s website for more information.


What are the different admissions requirements of the DNP-PM and DNP-EL?

Both programs require a graduate degree. The DNP-PM requires a master’s degree in a nursing field. The DNP-EL requires a BSN, but the applicant’s graduate degree may be in another related field (e.g. MBA, MPH, MHA, PhD). The DNP-EL also requires leadership and fiscal management (or graduate-level related coursework) experience.

If your only graduate degree is an MSN, it must be in an APN specialty, education, administration, etc. You are ineligible if the only MSN you have is a direct entry MSN that leads to an RN license.

What type of leadership experience meets the criteria for DNP-EL admissions?

Nurses with at least two years of formal administrative, practice leadership or program oversight roles may be eligible to apply for the DNP-EL program. Examples of common leadership experience include (but are not limited to) roles such as nurse manager, clinical director, chief nursing officer, patient safety and quality improvement leader, informaticist, lead nurse practitioner, project managers, and healthcare consultants

Future and Current Work Experience

What career paths and opportunities does a DNP-PM or DNP-EL degree prepare me for?

The DNP-PM provides content in health policy, informatics, quality improvement, epidemiology, data analytics, leadership skills and applied healthcare accounting and economics.  Based on their work experience, graduates often seek roles or additional responsibilities in clinical practice improvement, nursing education, and clinical program leadership.  The DNP-EL aims to graduate nurses for middle- or executive-level leadership roles including those in clinical operations or project/program leadership at a departmental or systems level.

Can I work while in the program?

Yes, in fact we encourage you to work while in the program as your practice can inform your learning and scholarship. Students often complete their DNP project (usually a quality improvement/practice change initiative) at their site of employment which not only benefits their institution but also showcases your scholarly work.

Plan of Study

Is the program fully online? Are the online classes held live or asynchronously?

Yes, the program is fully online with synchronous online (DNP-PM and DNP-EL) and in-person intensives (DNP-EL only). Course content is delivered asynchronously; individual courses may have a limited number of synchronous requirements to facilitate specific course learning objectives that are also made available in asynchronous format. Every course offers virtual, synchronous office hours with course faculty.  

I only see a Plan of Study with 2 courses per semester. Can I just take 1 class a semester?

We encourage all students to take 2 courses/term to remain within your cohort which is known to improve adult learners’ outcomes and supports networking and teamwork, but we understand that life circumstances can be unpredictable. If you have questions about a different pace of study, please contact your respective track director. 

How many graduate courses can I transfer into the program?

If you are Penn Nursing & Healthcare Administration or Health Leadership MSN alumni, up to 3 graduate course units may convey to your plan of study as approved by the respective DNP Track Director. If you earned your MSN from another institution, you can transfer up to 2 course units.

Can I take electives or online classes at other Penn graduate schools?

Penn students are encouraged to explore opportunities to learn in courses offered across the University. There are no required electives in the DNP Plan of Study. If students want to consider additional course work outside the DNP Plan of Study, consultation with an academic advisor is strongly recommended before registering for any additional/extra coursework. 

DNP Scholarly Project

Do I need to know my DNP project topic before I apply?

It is not necessary to know your DNP project topic before you apply and, in fact, we expect this to be an iterative process. As you engage in coursework and explore the literature, we encourage you to be curious and think critically about potential areas for practice change in your organization or specialty.  

How will I be matched with a Faculty Mentor for my DNP Project and who comprises my DNP Project Team?

DNP faculty collaborate with students throughout the program but particularly in the project courses to mentor them through various stages of the DNP project including development, implementation, evaluation, and dissemination. Students also work with respective institutional site leaders who guide them in identifying organizational needs and working with key stakeholders. For more information about the DNP Scholarly Project, please consult the DNP Handbook. 


What are the program intensives?

The Post-Master’s DNP and DNP in Executive Leadership programs host an all-day synchronous online intensive for first year DNP students at the end of August, at the onset of year one. This is an important, required event that helps DNP students to become familiar with University of Pennsylvania and School of Nursing education resources, develop specific insights for educational expectations of the DNP program, meet DNP faculty, and build relationships and network amongst your cohort. In addition, students participate in workshops that address evidence translation, leadership, and scholarship, including scholarly writing. A second all-day synchronous online intensive for second year DNP students is positioned at the end of August, prior to year two to prepare students for project development. During this intensive, you will meet with course faculty and participate in data analytics and project proposal planning activities to launch the second year Fall semester coursework. Additionally, DNP-EL students meet on-campus for five days during the first Fall semester in December for the Wharton Nursing Leaders Program.

How many students are in a cohort?

For the DNP-PM, there are between 20-30 students in a cohort. For the DNP-EL, there are approximately 10-20 students in a cohort. 

If I am a Penn Medicine or CHOP employee, can I use the Penn Nursing-Penn Medicine/CHOP scholarship for the DNP program?

Yes! Please complete this form, and submit it to the Penn Nursing Financial Aid Office.

Financial Aid

What is the cost per CU?

For program costs, please visit our website.

What financial aid is available?

Please visit the Penn Nursing Financial Aid website for information on financial aid options and external scholarships, including the Nurse Faculty Loan Program.

If I am a Penn Medicine or CHOP employee, can I use the Penn Nursing-Penn Medicine/CHOP scholarship for the DNP program?

Yes! Please complete this form, and submit it to the Penn Nursing Financial Aid Office.

More information

Who can I talk to for more information?

Email for more information.

DNP-Nurse Anesthesia

What is the experience needed to apply to the DNP Nurse Anesthesia program at the University of Pennsylvania?

You must have at least two years of ICU/critical care experience working with the most critically ill patients. All work experience should be calculated after your orientation period. Our most competitive applicants usually have more than two years. Neonatal ICU, Emergency Room, Recovery Room, Step Down Units, and Interventional Radiology will not be considered as ICU experience.

What is the minimum GPA for admission?

We have a very holistic admissions process. All parts of your application will be considered. However, we do recommend that your science GPA be at least a 3.0 or higher.

If I received credit from my AP Statistics course in high school, may I use this as my prerequisite statistics course?

Yes, but the credit must appear on your undergraduate transcript.

Is there an admissions interview?

Competitive applicants will be invited to interview by the program faculty.

When will I be able to start the DNP Nurse Anesthesia program?

Due to the demand for the DNP Nurse Anesthesia program, we are admitting students into the program two years in advance.