25 Best Online DNP Executive Leadership Programs For 2023

Written By: Darby Faubion BSN, RN

Are you a registered nurse who is ready to take on more responsibility? Does the idea of leading other nursing professionals in patient care sound like something you would love to do? Have you put off going back to school because you thought you didn’t have the time? If this sounds like you, enrolling in one of the many online DNP-Executive Leadership programs offered by nursing colleges and universities across the nation could help you achieve those goals. To learn which schools offer the best DNP-Executive Leadership online programs for 2023 and for a closer look at what students study, how to become accepted, or what career opportunities are available, keep reading!

What Exactly Is A DNP-Executive Leadership Program?

DNP Executive Leadership programs are nursing programs designed to prepare advanced practice registered nurses to become expert leaders in the healthcare industry. These programs provide students with an education that offers an emphasis on executive-level leadership. Students learn to bring evidence-based knowledge to the care they provide and methods to improve clients' health care outcomes. Graduates of DNP-Executive Leadership programs are vital contributors to strengthening nurse leadership roles while guiding the delivery of complex patient care.

How Long Are DNP-Executive Leadership Online Programs?

Online DNP-Executive Leadership programs vary in length. Whether you choose to enroll part-time or full-time and the type of program you choose, such as BSN to DNP or MSN to DNP, will determine how long it takes to complete the program.

Duke University

offers a Post-Master's DNP Executive Leadership track designed for completion in two years or five semesters of study.

Union University

offers three online DNP-Executive Leadership programs, the RN to DNP, BSN to DNP, and MSN to DNP. Registered nurses who have an associate degree in nursing can apply for the RN to DNP path of study. Applicants who have earned a bachelor's degree in a field other than nursing can complete the program in three to four years. Those who do not possess a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field complete an average of one hundred sixteen credit hours and can complete the program in four to six years. The BSN to DNP pathway is a sixty-eight-credit-hour program that is usually completed in thirty-six months. MSN to DNP students can choose between five-semester full-time enrollment or six-semester part-time enrollment.
Applicants accepted to the online DNP-Executive Leadership program at

Vanderbilt University

can choose between five-semester or six-semester plans, depending on their course load preference. Both plans start in the fall semester and are completed in either the spring of year two (five-semester schedule) or summer of year two (six-semester schedule).

The George Washington University's

Executive Leadership DNP program is a part-time program formatted for completion in three years. Students must complete forty-three credit hours.

How Much Do DNP-Executive Leadership Online Programs Cost?

Accredited online DNP-Executive Leadership programs can cost anywhere from $13,000 to over $100,000. A few influencing factors include whether you enter the program with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN to DNP) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN to DNP) or if you receive any grants or scholarship offers. Below are examples of a few of the DNP Executive Leadership programs featured in this article and their cost.


University of Vermont

prepares students in its Postgraduate DNP program (MSN to DNP) to demonstrate leadership skills that effectively aid in evaluating care delivery models. Students learn to participate in the development and implementation of health policy and leadership and collaborative skills used to support change in healthcare delivery systems. The Executive Nurse Leadership DNP program is a thirty-three credit hour program. Vermont residents pay $683 per credit hour, totaling $22,539. Non-residents pay $1,720 per credit or $56,760.
The estimated cost of the Post-Master's DNP Executive Leadership program at the

University of Pennsylvania

is $62,108.

University of North Carolina's

Executive Nurse Leadership DNP students complete a thirty-six-credit hour program in as little as five semesters. The program tuition is $369.77 per credit hour for in-state students, totaling $13,311.72. Non-resident students pay $1,138.04 per credit hour, or $40,969.44.


The coursework delivered in the best online DNP-Executive Leadership programs covers systems-thinking principles, helping a person view biological or structural systems with a broad perspective. This type of approach means seeing overall patterns and complete cycles rather than single events, which is an essential skill for executive nurse leaders to master. The following are examples of coursework required in some of the programs represented in this article.


Union University

offers three pathways for applicants and provides some of the best online DNP-Executive Leadership programs we have found. Students enrolled in the RN to DNP pathway typically need sixty-eight credits to complete the program, forty-five general education, and four nursing credit hours. General education requirements include:

◦ Anatomy and Physiology I and II
◦ Microbiology
◦ Pathophysiology
◦ Undergraduate statistics
◦ Christian Studies
◦ Humanities

After completing general education courses, participants transition into the BSN to DNP curriculum model. This portion of the program involves advanced courses such as Nursing Statistics for the Health Sciences, Introduction to Administration Practice, Nursing Administration and the Law, and Leadership and Teaching Practice Strategies.

The post-master's DNP pathway builds upon previous coursework with more advanced coursework including Organizational Leadership and Management, Healthcare Policy and Economics, Technical Transformations of Healthcare, and Methods for Evidence-Based Practice.

2. The DNP Executive Leadership program at

American Sentinel University

is a forty-two credit hour plan of study. Applicants with a non-nursing master's degree must complete three bridge courses and four hundred hours of clinical practice before they are considered eligible for admission into the DNP program. Coursework for the program includes classes such as Health Services Research, Health Policy, Business Intelligence, Health and Advanced Statistics, and Strategic Leadership and Planning.

East Tennessee State University

offers BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP options for students who want to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice with Executive Leadership concentration.

Program Option Core Course Credit Hours Requirement Specialty Concentration Credit Hours Course Requirements DNP Project Credit Hours Total Credit Hours
BSN to DNP 23 credit hours 42 credit hours 12 credit hours 77 credit hours
MSN to DNP 11 credit hours Nine credit hours 12 credit hours 32 credit hours

BSN to DNP core courses include Conceptual Systems for Advanced Nursing Practice, Nursing Research for Evidence-Based Practice, Advanced Role Development, Quality/Translation, and Systems Management. Executive Leadership Concentration courses include Leadership in Nursing Administration, Executive Leadership Practicum I, II, and III, Healthcare Organizations and Law, Human Resource Management in Health Organizations, and Strategic Planning for Health Care Organizations.

The MSN to DNP pathway consists of the following core requirements: Scholarly Writing, Principles of Population Health and Data Analysis for Advanced Nursing Practice, Systems Management, and Quality/Translation. Coursework specific to the Executive Leadership concentration for this study plan includes Strategic Fiscal Management, Executive Leadership, and Contemporary Problems in Executive Leadership in Nursing.

4. The George Washington University

DNP with Executive Leadership concentration consists of forty-three credit hours. Courses for this post-master's program include Health Policy and Analysis, Epidemiology and Population Health, Creativity and Innovation in Health Care, Health Care Economics, Finance and Reimbursement.

5. Felician University

offers a thirty-six credit hour Executive Leadership DNP that can be completed in two years. The program track focuses on indirect care and an aggregate system focus allowing students to analyze populations, organizations, state and/or national policies, and systems of care. Some classes students will take are Advocacy and Action for Health Care Policy and Social Justice, Impacting Healthcare Outcomes, Advanced Concepts in Population Health, and Business and Financial Concepts for the DNP Professional.

Clinical Training

There may be some variation, even among the best DNP-Executive Leadership online programs, when it comes to clinical requirements. Typically, Doctorally-prepared nurses are required to complete at least one thousand clinical practice hours. Some colleges or universities may allow students to receive credit for up to five hundred graduate-level clinical hours. Knowing the requirements you will be expected to meet will help you plan your academic program. Therefore, it is a good idea to verify whether you will receive credit for clinical hours from your previous nursing program before applying to any DNP program.

University of New Mexico

students enrolled in the Nurse Executive Organizational Leadership DNP program complete thirty-five to thirty-eight credits and a minimum of 1,000 clinical practice hours. Credit for up to five hundred clinical hours from your master's degree nursing program may be granted after admission counselors have verified the hours meet the university’s minimum standards.

The University of Oklahoma

offers a BSN to DNP in Executive Leadership program that includes seventy-two credit hours of coursework and 1,040 clinical hours.

The Executive Leadership DNP program opportunity at the University of Scranton

is a thirty-credit-hour program designed for completion in twenty-one months. Students must complete two DNP Scholarly Project courses, and each must include a minimum of one hundred twenty-five hours. Any additional clinical practice hours to fulfill the one thousand hours required for the DNP program are determined by the total number of scholarly project hours and master's level clinical hours approved for credit.

Examples For Admission Requirements

• Applicants to the DNP Executive Leadership program at

Vanderbilt University

School of Nursing have four entry options:

1. Possess an MSN in Nursing & Healthcare Leadership or Nursing Administration
2. Possess an MSN in other advanced nursing specialties
3. Possess a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and a master’s degree in a non-nursing business or health-related field
4. Applicants with an MSN in Nursing Education can be admitted to the School of Nursing. However, they must complete additional master's-level courses in Nursing and Healthcare Leadership before enrollment in DNP classes.

Additionally, applicants must be certified or eligible for certification in one of the following:

◦ American Organization for Nursing Leadership- Certified in Executive Nursing Practice
◦ American College of Healthcare Executives- Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives
◦ American Nurses Credentialing Center Nurse Executive-Board Certified
◦ American Nurses Credentialing Center Nurse Executive, Leadership

Admission to the Executive Leadership DNP program at

the University of San Francisco

is based on an applicant's overall ability to complete doctoral study and their contributions to the discipline of nursing before applying for admission. Some admission criteria for the USF program include:

◦ Submit an online application and a $55 fee for processing
◦ Possess a master’s degree from an accredited institution (in any field)
◦ Letters of recommendation from individuals who can give supporting reasons why they feel the applicant is competent and possesses the ability to succeed in a graduate program
◦ Prepare and submit a personal statement of professional goals

Duquesne University

offers BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP pathways to achieve an Executive Leadership DNP degree. The admission requirements are as follows:

BSN to DNP Applicants must:

◦ Possess a bachelor’s degree (nursing or non-nursing) from an accredited college or university Preference is given to applicants who hold a BSN.
◦ Possess an active, unencumbered license to practice as a registered nurse
◦ Pass an undergraduate statistics course with a minimum grade of “C”
◦ Have at least one year of full-time experience working as a registered nurse before enrolling in the clinical or specialty courses of the program

MSN to DNP Applicants must:

◦ Possess both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree (nursing or non-nursing) from an accredited college or university Preference is given to applicants with an MSN degree.
◦ Complete an undergraduate statistics course with a “C” or higher OR graduate statistics course with a minimum grade of “B”
◦ Submit a personal statement (2-3 pages)

Edgewood College

offers both BSN to DNP and Post-Master's DNP options. Applicants must meet the following admission criteria.

◦ Graduated with a BSN from an accredited nursing program and have a cumulative 3.3-grade point average from an accredited master's program. BSN-prepared applicants who have a master's degree in a non-nursing discipline may be considered for admission. These applicants may be asked to submit a portfolio that reflects professional practice highlighting their knowledge, skills, and MSN skills application. The candidate's master's degree program of study will be evaluated to verify coursework suitable for DNP preparation.
◦ Have at least one year of clinical experience as a Registered Nurse
◦ Participate in an admissions interview with the program’s Graduate Admissions and Progression Committee

6 Factors to Consider Before Choosing the Right DNP-Executive Leadership Program

Pursuing a DNP in Executive Leadership is no small feat. The best DNP-Executive Leadership online programs consist of a rigorous curriculum that challenges students. It takes true commitment to be successful. A few things to consider as you are searching for the right program are listed below.

1. Make sure the program is accredited.

Accreditation is a process that requires DNP in Executive Leadership programs to meet common quality standards. By meeting these standards, programs ensure that students have access to qualified, experienced instructors and that the content of programs meets current guidelines and standards of care. Many certifying agencies, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center, will only accept candidates for certification who have graduated from an Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)- accredited program. Additionally, employers typically favor hiring nursing staff who completed an accredited nursing program. You can feel confident if you enroll in accredited online DNP-Executive Leadership programs that you will receive an education that will prepare you to succeed as an Executive Nurse Leader.

2. How many clinical hours will you need to complete?

DNP-Executive Leadership programs online usually require students to have a minimum of 1,000 graduate-level clinical nursing practice hours. Post-baccalaureate DNP programs are typically structured to include the 1,000 hours in the curriculum. Post-master's DNP programs, on the other hand, may allow students to receive credit for some of the clinical hours they completed in their master’s nursing program. The possibility of receiving credit should not be misconstrued as a guarantee, though. While you may have master’s level clinical hours, you need to verify with the school(s) you are considering how many, if any, of your hours can be used.

3. How much experience does the faculty have?

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing recommends that DNP faculty are active in nursing practice. DNP faculty should be working as full-time nursing professionals working in adjunct roles. Visit the school's website and view faculty profiles. Go to sites like LinkedIn and view their professional profiles and experience. By checking credentials and professional profiles, you can be sure you are being offered the best instructors possible to prepare you for your career in Executive Nurse Leadership.

4. What percentage of students complete the program?

Even the best online DNP-Executive Leadership programs can expect to have an attrition (drop out) rate of five to ten percent. However, if the program shows a consistent dropout rate of more than ten percent of students, this could be an indication that you need to do a little more research and find out why. While there may be any number of reasons why a school may have students who do not complete a program, having inexperienced teachers or a program that is not well-formatted are not good reasons.

5. Do you prefer a program that is exclusively online?

Some colleges or universities advertise their programs as online programs but may require students to attend conferences or in-person simulations on-campus periodically. If distance-learning is a better fit for you, and you are searching for accredited DNP-Executive Leadership online programs, you may prefer to find a program that does not require any on-campus intensives.

6. Are hands-on clinicals required, and if so, who arranges them?

Some nursing programs, such as online DNP-Executive Leadership programs, allow students to participate in clinicals near where they live. Often students are given leeway to choose clinical sites and preceptors. However, the school reserves the right to approve the student's choice or require alternate options. If you are required to find clinical sites or preceptors, taking the initiative to make those choices early in the program will give you time to make changes if you need to.

Following Are the 25 Best Online DNP-Executive Leadership Programs in the Nation for 2023

1. Duke University - Durham, NC

Programs Offered:


2. Vanderbilt University - Nashville, TN

Programs Offered:


3. The George Washington University - Washington, DC

Programs Offered:


4. University of San Francisco - San Francisco, CA

Programs Offered:


5. Duquesne University - Pittsburgh, PA

Programs Offered:

BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP

6. University of New Mexico - Albuquerque, NM

Programs Offered:


7. University of Vermont - Burlington, VT

Programs Offered:


8. University of Oklahoma - Oklahoma City, OK

Programs Offered:


9. Union University - Jackson, TN

Programs Offered:

RN-DNP, BSN-DNP & Post-Master's DNP

10. University of Pennsylvania - Philadelphia, PA

Programs Offered:


11. East Tennessee State University - Johnson City, TN

Programs Offered:

BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP

12. University of Scranton - Scranton, PA

Programs Offered:


13. Baylor University - Dallas, TX

Programs Offered:


14. Anderson University - Anderson, SC

Programs Offered:

BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP

15. Bellarmine University - Louisville, KY

Programs Offered:


16. University of North Carolina - Wilmington, NC

Programs Offered:


17. American Sentinel University - Aurora, CO

Programs Offered:


18. DeSales University - Center Valley, PA

Programs Offered:


19. Tennessee Technological University - Cookeville, TN

Programs Offered:

BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP

20. University of South Carolina - Columbia, SC

Programs Offered:

BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP

21. Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi, TX

Programs Offered:


22. Capital University - Columbus, OH

Programs Offered:


23. Edgewood College - Madison, WI

Programs Offered:

BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP

24. Felician University - Lodi, NJ

Programs Offered:


25. University of Michigan - Flint, MI

Programs Offered:



7 Benefits of Pursuing DNP-Executive Leadership Programs

The healthcare industry is a complex system comprised of many professionals working together to promote the health and wellness of patients and families. Nurse executives are a valuable part of the healthcare team. If you are interested in an executive nursing role, choosing from one of the best online DNP-Executive Leadership programs could be an excellent option for you. There are many benefits of pursuing a DNP in Executive Leadership, a few of which are listed below.

1. Become a nurse advocate:

Nursing students of all levels learn the importance of being a patient advocate. However, some may wonder who acts as an advocate for nurses? The simple answer is "Executive Nurse Leaders." DNPs with a specialization in Executive Leadership represent nursing staff in settings that not every nurse can. They are the voice of nurses that speaks to decision-makers in healthcare organizations and advocate for change by bringing options for the best patient care to the attention of the people who can make things happen. Nurse executives learn to use leadership skills such as negotiation, influence, and business skills to make them an influential force in boardrooms and meetings on many levels. Accredited DNP-Executive Leadership programs online offer nurses like you the chance to be the voice for other nurses.

2. Develop expertise to help you work within various patient care systems and healthcare models:

The best online DNP-Executive Leadership programs focus on educating students about effective ways to establish, update, enforce and monitor patient care models that deliver effective outcomes. These DNP programs help nurse leaders become experts in strategic planning and transformation of healthcare models and patient care.

3. Expand your leadership skills:

DNP-Executive Leadership online programs help students learn how to develop influential leadership abilities. Nurses who pursue this degree study financial and evidence-based best practices, economics positioning principles, and other leadership skills that prepare them for nursing leadership.

4. Increased Earning Potential:

Nurses who earn a DNP with Executive Leadership specialization create opportunities for themselves to earn higher incomes. New DNPs may earn around $115,000 yearly, which is a great income. With experience, some DNPs in executive leadership positions earn up to $200,000 annually.

5. Better Job Opportunities:

Earning a DNP in Executive Leadership creates opportunities to move beyond traditional leadership roles into more diverse, senior executive-level leadership positions. With an expected increase in executive nurse leadership jobs over the next eight years, finding the work you want could be easier than you may have thought.

6. Earn the Respect of Peers in the Nursing Field:

Healthcare providers understand the dedication it takes to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice credential. When you graduate from any of the best DNP-Executive Leadership online programs, that accomplishment will earn you the respect of others in the industry.

7. Long-term Employment Options:

It is not uncommon for nurses who work in clinical settings such as hospitals or large clinics to rotate from one specialty area to another to give themselves a variety of experiences or to prevent burnout. However, many nurses who work in Executive Leadership positions often find their niche quickly and either stay in the same position until retirement or, at least, change jobs less frequently. Long-term employment can give you a sense of security and stability without feeling the stress of changing jobs.

Career Opportunities After Graduating with This Degree

Graduates of DNP-Executive Leadership online programs work in a variety of leadership positions. A few career opportunities that you may find after graduating with this degree include the following.

Chief Executive Officer:

Executive nurse leaders in this position manage political, technological, and economic factors that may affect the delivery of healthcare services.

Clinical Nurse Manager:

Acts in leadership and management of clinical nursing staff in large or small healthcare settings.

Patient Care Director:

Works to ensure affordable, safe, and quality healthcare to patients in various settings.

Chief Nursing Information Officer:

Uses informatics to enhance the nursing practice and improve patient outcomes, implement solutions related to the delivery of healthcare services and work collaboratively as part of the healthcare team.

Earning Potential for Graduates of This Degree

After completing DNP-Executive Leadership programs online, graduates earn an average yearly salary of $115,944. The type of setting you choose to work in, your employment position, and even your geographical location may influence your income potential. The chart below reflects an Executive Leadership DNP graduate's salary after graduation. With continued experience, you can expect to see pay increases. Additionally, benefits packages that include medical/dental/vision/life insurance and paid vacation or sick leave may not increase your wage but can be considered perks equivalent to higher earnings.

Hourly $55.74
Monthly $9,660
Annual $115,944
(Source: ziprecruiter.com)

Job Outlook for Graduates of This Degree

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for graduates from online DNP-Executive Leadership programs is favorable. The bureau suggests there will be an eighteen percent increase in job openings for Executive Nurse Leaders from 2018-2028, resulting in over 70,000 new jobs.


If you can see yourself in a nursing leadership position, pursuing a DNP with Executive Leadership specialization could be a great career path for you. The information in this article about the best DNP-Executive Leadership online programs for 2023 is meant to be a resource for you to learn about your options and help you begin your journey to earning this degree. There is a world of opportunity waiting for someone like you to become a nursing industry leader!

Frequently Asked Questions Answered by Our Expert

Do I need work experience as a nurse before I can enroll in an Executive Leadership DNP Program?

Most colleges and universities prefer applicants to have at least one year of clinical nursing experience before enrolling in a DNP program. However, each school may have different requirements. Admissions advisors at the schools you are interested in can tell you if there are mandatory work experiences before admission. Side Note: Executive Nurse Leadership DNP programs are tailored to educate nurses to be industry leaders. Having experience working as a nurse will help you learn to navigate the responsibilities of nurse leadership.

What is a DNP project, and do all DNP Executive Leadership programs require them?

A DNP project is also referred to as a scholarly project. The purpose of the project is to allow students to reflect on the area of specialization and create a project focused on clinical practices. DNP projects are used to demonstrate a student's mastery of skills required in their specialty. Typically, all DNP programs require students to complete some type of Scholarly Project.

Do DNP Executive Leadership online programs require applicants to submit GRE scores?

At one time, most colleges and universities required GRE or other standardized test scores to be submitted when applying for admissions. However, today fewer schools require them. As you are researching schools, their program's admission requirement section should tell you if a GRE score is mandatory for admission. Keep in mind, even if the test is not a requirement for admission, if you have taken the GRE and scored well, you can still submit your scores with your application.

Should I work while enrolled in a DNP Executive Leadership program?

Whether you should work while enrolled in any college program is something only you can determine. However, it is important to be realistic about your ability to balance work and school responsibilities. The advanced practice core and specialization coursework of DNP Executive Leadership programs require a lot of time for study. During this time, you may find it necessary to reduce the number of hours you work or to change your schedule to accommodate your education responsibilities.

Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years' experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels.