What are the Different Types of DNP Specialties?


Written By: Lauren Jacobson MS, RN, WHNP-BC

The Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) degree has become the terminal degree in nursing practice. If you are looking to go all the way with your nursing training and education, then this is the degree for you! This is a doctorate for advanced practice nurses (APRNs) and nurse educators who want to focus more on clinical practice rather than research like you would with a Ph.D. Similarly, to master’s in nursing (MSN) specialties (or population foci) DNP specialties are geared towards a specific patient population. Compared with an MSN, DNP degrees offer more training on leadership, management, education, and prepare you to play an active role in transforming health care systems. Here we will review the different specialties you can choose when applying to DNP school. DNP specialties vary depending on what you want to do with your career but largely focus on preparing you to be a leader in your field.


DNP Specialties: What You Need to Know?


With your DNP you can train as an APRN or as an educator, administrator, executive, and more. For all DNP-APRN specialties, you will be required to complete 1000 hours of supervised hands-on clinical experience during your education. All DNP specialties will require that you have at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. You also will need to have a certain GPA depending on your program and may need to take the GRE or GMAT exam before applying. The nurse practitioner specialties are the same for DNP and MSN educated nurses. We will briefly touch on these here but for more detail please see our guide “14 Most Popular Types of Nurse Practitioner Specialties and Sub-Specialties.” Keep in mind that regardless of your specialty, with a DNP you will be qualified to teach at universities depending on your background and skillset.


Let us Now go Through Each of the DNP Specialties One by One


1) DNP Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)


The FNP DNP specialty focuses on training you as an NP at the highest level of nursing education and prepares you to provide primary care to men, women, and children of all ages. During your education, you will take courses focused on providing primary care to this population as well as completing clinical hours to get hands-on training providing this care.

2) DNP-Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)


As a DNP trained WHNP you will be trained to provide advanced nursing care to women ages 13 and up. This will not be limited just to obstetrics and gynecology as women have unique health responses to many primary care conditions as well. Additionally, you may even provide care to men with sexual and reproductive health needs.

3) DNP-Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)


PNPs can be subspecialized and certified in either acute care or primary care. What you choose will help shape your curriculum during your DNP studies. As a PNP you will be prepared to care for the diverse needs of children in either inpatient or outpatient settings from birth through young adulthood.

4) DNP-Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP)


Like PNPs AGNPs can be either trained in acute or primary care. In this DNP role, you will be ready to care for the health conditions that male and female adults experience. You will have ample options for continued specialization and education if you so desire. You may work in primary care, a specialty clinic, the emergency department, and more.

5) DNP-Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)


Being a DNP NNP means that you will have the highest level of nursing education and training that prepares you to care for the most vulnerable of children. As an NNP you will be providing care to the newest of humans and will be in a unique position with your DNP training to impact health systems, education, and policy, thus having an even larger impact on your patient population.

6) DNP-Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)


PMHNPs are equipped to provide psychiatric care to people across the lifespan. Depending on the population you are interested in you can acquire additional training as well. With your DNP you will be able to educate students and clinicians as well as work to improve psychiatric healthcare from a macro level.

7) DNP Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)


As you embark on your adventure to become a DNP CNS you will be able to choose the clinical specialty that you wish to focus on. CNS’ are nurses trained at the advanced level and who are prepared to provide specialized nursing care to a wide range of patients. Different schools will offer DNP CNS tracks in different specialties so be sure to shop around for the one that fits you. As John’s Hopkins School of Nursing explains, as a CNS with a DNP you will be able to function in a variety of roles including an educator, manager, researcher, and more. You will also still be able to practice at the clinical level if that is where your passions lie. At the end of your coursework, you will be prepared to sit for your credentialing exam through either the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).

8) DNP Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)


As a DNP CRNA, you will be trained extensively on providing anesthesia to patients in a wide variety of settings. With the DNP you will have additional training in research and leadership that will enable you to have more of an impact on patient outcomes and health care systems.

9) DNP Clinical Nurse Midwife (CNM)


Being a CNM does not mean that you will only deliver babies. You will also be specially trained to provide care for women across the lifespan for both gynecologic and obstetrical care as well as some primary care depending on your work setting. This means that while delivering babies may be a part of your job, you will also be ready to provide antepartum, postpartum, intrapartum, contraceptive, newborn care, and more. During your DNP CNM training, you will have extensive classroom-based education as well as hands-on clinical experiences. With your DNP you will be prepared to advocate for and enhance the CNM role in health care systems.

10) DNP Nursing Education


As a DNP Nurse Educator, you will be trained to educate other nurses and nurse practitioners at the university level or in hospital settings. As a nurse educator, you will be a licensed nurse and/or nurse practitioner and have doctorate level training in education. Not only will you be able to teach nursing students, but you can also teach established nurses in clinical settings. You will have the ability to play a key role in continuing education for nurses. In 2016 the World Health Organization (WHO) came out with core competencies for nurse educators. This has been used to guide many DNP nursing education programs in developing their curricula. During your DNP nursing education you can expect to take classes focusing on the following topics: adult learning theory; developing and implementing curricula; nursing practice; research and evidence-based practice; communication, collaboration, and partnership; ethics and professionalism; monitoring and evaluation; and management, leadership, and advocacy.

11) DNP Executive Leadership


Not all DNP specializations prepare you to provide clinical care. Some specialties like executive leadership build on your clinical experience to prepare you to lead in the business side of health care. These DNP specialties often require that you already have nursing management experience or some sort of leadership experience. With your DNP in Executive Leadership, you will be ready to tackle some of the nation’s most challenging health care system problems. Check out George Washington University’s program to learn more!

12) DNP Nursing Practice


If you already have an MSN and are passionate about improving patient care and being a nurse leader than a DNP in Nursing Practice may be the right path for you. This DNP will prepare you to implement health systems changes and evaluate outcomes. You will gain additional training in research and evidence-based practice and will have the skills necessary to influence health policy.

13) DNP Health Policy


If there is anything we have learned about the American health care system by being nurses it’s that health care is a business and is strongly influenced by politics. What better way to ensure our patients are getting comprehensive care than by having those who are usually at the bedside with them developing policy? With a DNP in Health Policy, you'll be ready to get involved in the legal and political side of health care while still using your nursing experience, evidence-based practice, and population health to improve access to and the health of patients and their families.

14) DNP Public Health


Earning a DNP in Public Health will position you to be a leader in providing and influence health care to various communities. This may be in a community health clinic or somewhere like correctional facilities, schools, or occupational health settings. Like other DNP specialties you’ll be prepared to break into the teaching world at universities if that is something you desire as well. Keep in mind that depending on the school these programs may be called a DNP in Public Health, Public Health Leadership, or something similar. Just vet the programs you are looking at to be sure you are choosing the right one for you.

15) DNP Nursing Administration


If you are looking to transition your nursing career into an administrative role so that you can focus on administering healthcare programs and organizations then a DNP in Nursing Administration may be the path for you. The variety of DNP specializations available is creating a health care system where nurses are more likely to be recognized as the health care leaders they are trained to be.


How to Choose Your DNP Specialty?


As you can see there are a variety of DNP specialties to choose from and there is some overlap between some of them. As the highest level of nursing practice education, choosing your specialty should be a careful decision made through a combination of examining your professional background and aspirations as well as talking with individual schools about their programs. Try to contact nurses who have DNPs in the fields you are interested in so that you can gauge what their experiences have been like and lean on your professional relationships to see what advice these individuals will have for you. Ultimately this is a very personal decision but getting your DNP is unlikely to be one you will regret.


Lauren Jacobson MS, RN, WHNP-BC
Lauren Jacobson is a registered nurse and women’s health nurse practitioner who is passionate about global health and gender-based violence prevention. She is Editor and an Advisory Board Member for the Global Nursing Caucus and volunteers with Physicians for Human Rights as a medical evaluator for asylum seekers.