13 Best Online DNP-Health Systems Leadership Programs For 2024

Written By: Darby Faubion BSN, RN

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to take your nursing practice to the next level? Can you see yourself working with leaders in the healthcare industry? Would you like to help develop healthcare delivery systems capable of meeting the diverse needs of different patient populations and healthcare providers? If this sounds interesting to you, looking at DNP-Health Systems Leadership programs online could give you insight into how you can have an active role in healthcare leadership. In the following sections of this article, you will find information about some of the best online DNP-Health Systems Leadership programs for 2024. You will learn about career opportunities for DNPs with Health Systems Leadership specialization, review program information, and find some tips on being accepted into one of these programs.

What Exactly Is the Purpose of A DNP-Health Systems Leadership Program?

DNP in Health Systems Leadership programs are nursing programs designed to prepare advanced practice nurses for roles in executive leadership and management. Doctors of Nursing Practice who achieve this degree are instrumental in developing or recreating healthcare systems to meet the demands of the ever-evolving healthcare industry.

How Long Are Online DNP-Health Systems Leadership Programs?

The amount of time it takes to complete online DNP-Health Systems Leadership programs varies, depending on a few factors. Part-time or full-time enrollment and a student's current degree level upon admission are the two significant factors that determine how long it will take to complete the program. On average, part-time students can usually complete a DNP-Health Systems Leadership program in three years. Full-time DNP Health Systems Leadership programs can often be completed in two and a half to three years. The number of credit hours and clinical practice hours required in each program will determine the program length. The following are a few examples of some of the best DNP-Health Systems Leadership online programs featured in this article and how long it takes students to complete them.

The DNP with Health Systems Leadership concentration at the

University of Pittsburgh

is a forty-one-credit hour program. The program is designed for students who have completed a Master of Science in Nursing or achieved a Bachelor of Science in nursing and a master's degree in a related field. Typically, students complete the program in three years of full-time learning.

Emory University

offers BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP in Health Systems Leadership program options. The BSN to DNP track includes eighty-four credit hours and eight hundred forty clinical hours and can be completed in as little as thirty-six months. The MSN to DNP track is a thirty-nine-credit-hour program with no clinical component. Students can complete this program option in two and a half years.

University of Arizona

offers one of the best accredited online DNP-Health Systems Leadership programs. The program accepts applicants with a master's degree in nursing or a related field. Preference is given to applicants who have experience in a nursing leadership position recognized by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Full-time students who progress successfully through the program can graduate in as little as thirty months.
Students enrolled in the Health Systems Leadership DNP program at

Cleveland State University

learn from full-time doctorally-prepared instructors. The program schedule is designed for part-time learners to accommodate their work schedules. This online program can be completed in eight consecutive semesters.

How Much Do Online DNP-Health Systems Leadership Programs Cost?

The cost of a doctorate program can be expensive. However, the long-term benefits of pursuing this type of degree seem to outweigh the burden of expense. The best online DNP-Health Systems Leadership programs differ in cost from $33,000 to over $75,000. There are options to help offset some of the costs incurred in this degree program, such as applying for federal grants, scholarships or loans, private loans. Here's a look at what some of this article's featured programs may cost.

• Ashland University

offers BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP pathways for students who wish to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice with a Health Systems Leadership concentration. The BSN to DNP program is a fifty-seven-credit hour program, and the MSN to DNP program consists of forty-six to fifty-four credit hours. Tuition is calculated at $710 per credit hour. The BSN to DNP program tuition is $40,470, and the MSN to DNP program averages between $32,660 and $38,340. This calculation does not include additional fees, which should be reviewed with a financial advisor before enrollment.

• Elms College

accepts master's-prepared registered nurses in its Health Systems Innovation and Leadership Doctor of Nursing Practice program. The program is designed for nurses with an MSN. MSN to DNP students typically complete seventy credit hours. Tuition per credit hour varies depending on the course classification. For example, foundation core classes cost $854 per credit hour, and Health Systems Innovation and Leadership Theory core classes cost $922 per credit hour. The average cost of the program is $62,160.

• Marquette University

accommodates both baccalaureate and master’s-prepared nurses in its online DNP in Health Systems Leadership program. BSN to DNP students complete sixty-three credits. The MSN to DNP pathway consists of thirty-six credits. With an average cost per credit of $1,220, the BSN to DNP pathway costs $76,860, and the MSN to DNP pathway costs $43,920.


The curriculum plan in online DNP-Health Systems Leadership programs prepares nurses for executive leadership and management roles. Depending on whether a student enters with a BSN or MSN degree, some coursework may vary.

Core coursework in these programs often includes DNP Roles and Interprofessionalism, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Research Methods and Evidence-Based Practice, Healthcare Informatics, and Health Policy and Advocacy. Examples of other coursework students in some of the DNP-Health Systems Leadership programs online mentioned in this article include the following.

• University of Colorado Denver:

At the University of Colorado Denver, DNP-Health Systems Leadership programs are offered in BSN to DNP or MSN to DNP format. The BSN to DNP program offers baccalaureate-prepared nurses the opportunity to earn a master’s degree and a practice doctorate in nursing in one continuous program. The MSN to DNP program is a practice-oriented clinical leadership program focused on evidence-based practice.

Sample of BSN to DNP Coursework:

◦ Policy and Politics of Healthcare Systems:

This course focuses on policy decisions related to organization, finance, and delivery of healthcare in the community and provides a basis for understanding how social and political forces impact nursing practice and healthcare delivery.

◦ Systems and Leadership Theory:

Provides instruction on the use of information systems and patient care technology to support clinical decision-making and improve patient care and healthcare systems' quality and safety.

Sample of MSN to DNP Coursework:

◦ Executive Leadership in Complex Systems:

Students learn to appraise health care organizations and systems through a doctorally-prepared nurse executive's perspective. The course emphasizes the development of a systems approach to executive leadership problem-solving.

◦ Legal and Ethical Environment for Executive Leaders:

This course allows students to explore the relationship between healthcare policies, ethics, and law and how each impacts healthcare and clinical practices.

• Mount St. Joseph University:

The curriculum plan for the DNP Health Systems Leadership program is designed for master's prepared nurses. This MSN to DNP program addresses the eight DNP Essentials outlined by the AACN (American Association of Colleges of Nursing). The thirty-six-credit hour program includes the following required coursework.

◦ Biostatistics for Evidence-Based Practice:

This is a project-oriented overview of statistical techniques often used to resolve problems encountered within healthcare professions. Hypothesis testing, regression, analysis of variance and covariance, and nonparametric statistics are skills students learn in this course.

◦ Global Health Care Policy:

This course focuses on understanding how global justice and social determinants impact health outcomes. Students explore how programs, policies and practices affect the health of individuals, families, and communities.

• Grand Valley State University:

At Grand Valley State University, the online DNP-Health Systems Leadership programs are available in BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP formats. The BSN to DNP program includes seventy-five credit hours of course instruction, while students in the MSN to DNP pathway complete thirty-eight credit hours. Graduate and Leadership core classes allow BSN-prepared nurses to transition to their MSN while pursuing a doctorate degree.

Graduate Nursing Core Courses Include:

◦ Health Issues in Vulnerable Populations:

This course incorporates epidemiological methods to address health disparities affecting vulnerable populations. Content includes exploring health access issues, current trends in healthcare, and societal consequences among vulnerable populations.

◦ Healthcare Informatics:

Provides a broad introduction to information systems and technologies that support health care practices. Informatic issues and standards, including privacy and ethical concerns, are covered as well as tools and strategies for building and managing information system components.

Leadership Core Courses Include:

◦ Scholarly Inquiry in Nursing Practice:

This is a clinical immersive, scholarly experience that links scholarship and practice for the DNP student. This course includes three components completed in three consecutive semesters in preparation for completing the scholarly project.

◦ Health Services Financial Management:

Students achieve a detailed understanding of the financial framework of healthcare systems needed for decision-making. Topics include microcomputer applications, third-party reimbursement, cost containment, rate settings, and operating budgets.

Clinical Training

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has outlined DNP guidelines regarding clinical competencies. According to the AACN, DNP programs should provide a minimum of 1,000 post-baccalaureate clinical practice hours. Nursing schools that offer Post-Master's DNP programs are responsible for assessing how many graduate clinical hours from a master's program students can transfer to the DNP program. Generally, schools limit the number of clinical hours students receive credit for, typically up to five hundred. However, because each student's clinical experience may differ, as you research online DNP-Health Systems Leadership programs, it is essential to speak with a clinical advisor to determine the number of relevant hours you can transfer.

Prospective students who wish to enroll at the

University of Missouri

can choose from one of two accredited online DNP-Health Systems Leadership programs, depending on their current nursing degree. The BSN to DNP program includes 1,050 clinical practice hours, inclusive of the DNP Capstone Project. MSN to DNP students may apply previous MSN program practicum hours toward the 1,000 required clinical hours. Both BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP programs students participate in a DNP Clinical Scholarship Project that generates at least four hundred practicum hours.
The DNP with a Health Systems Leadership concentration at

Alvernia University

is tailored for master’s-prepared nurses. The program requires completion of thirty-five credits of coursework and clinical and leadership practicum experience sufficient to meet the goal of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing DNP Essentials, which is 1,000 post-baccalaureate clinical hours.

Barnes-Jewish College

, the Health Systems and Population Health Leadership DNP program is delivered in BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP pathways. As with other AACN-approved programs, students enrolled in the online DNP-Health Systems Leadership programs at Barnes-Jewish College must complete a minimum of 1,000 clinical contact hours. Up to five hundred clinical hours earned in a master's nursing program can be applied toward the clinical component.

Admission Requirements

There are general standards of admission that most DNP-Health Systems Leadership online programs follow. Standard admission criteria typically include that applicants submit or show proof of the following:

◦ Current, unencumbered license to practice as a registered nurse
◦ Resume or curriculum vitae
◦ Pass a state and federal criminal background check
◦ Pass a drug test
◦ Two or three letters of professional recommendation

Although general admission requirements are similar, each school or program has the right to establish its admission criteria. The school's website should have a page that lists admission requirements for its program. However, if you are uncertain whether you meet a requirement, it is a good idea to contact an admissions advisor. Some of the best online DNP-Health Systems Leadership programs featured in this article have the following admission criteria.

• University of Pittsburgh

◦ Submit complete official transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate education
◦ Official GRE Scores
◦ Personal essay describing the applicant’s philosophy of nursing, expectations of the DNP program, the reason for choosing the Health Systems Leadership concentration, and future career goals

• Grand Valley State University

◦ Have a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale for all undergraduate and graduate coursework
◦ Submit a written goal of statement that describes educational and professional goals
◦ Submit a scholarly writing exercise (guidelines are found in the online application)
◦ Participate in an interview with program faculty

• Alvernia University

◦ Completion of undergraduate statistics and research course with a grade of “C” or higher within the previous five years
◦ Official transcripts indicating the applicant has earned a BSN or MSN from a CCNE or ACEN accredited program
◦ Post-Master's Applicants must submit an official statement or letter validating the number of clinical hours completed in the master’s program from the institution that granted the degree

5 Must-Follow Tips to Get into Top DNP-Health Systems Leadership Programs

There may be few things as frustrating as applying for a coveted position and being told you didn't make the cut. It is safe to say the same thing applies when you decide to continue your education. No one wants to feel rejected or "wait-listed." If you are serious about being accepted into one of the best accredited online DNP-Health Systems Leadership programs, like the ones mentioned below, there are a few tips to improve your chances.

1. Let your experience work for you.

DNP programs usually require applicants to have at least one year of clinical nursing experience before admission into the program. Even if working full-time is not feasible for you right now, it can be very beneficial for you to continue in active nursing practice, at least until you begin the program.

2. Familiarize yourself with the role of DNPs in Health Systems Leadership.

It is common for DNP program applicants to be required to participate in an admission interview or submit a statement of purpose. Having a clear understanding of what a DNP in Health Systems Leadership does and how your role will impact nursing overall is essential. The old saying, "there is no impression like the first impression," will take on a personal meaning if you participate in an interview and cannot demonstrate an understanding of what your role in Health Systems Leadership will be.

3. Try to improve your grade point average if it is lacking.

Although some DNP programs offer provisional admission opportunities for applicants whose GPA is below the required admission level, it is not always in your best interest to rely on being granted that option. If your cumulative grade point average is not where it needs to be, consider retaking courses that you did not do well on or take other classes relevant to the DNP in Health Systems Leadership plan. Taking the initiative to improve your GPA is a great way to show admissions staff that you are serious about your education.

4. Master the art of both personal and professional action.

Admission staff love to review applications from prospective students who are active in their personal and professional lives. Why? Busy people know how to get things done. This does not mean you have to neglect personal or work responsibilities. Instead, use your responsibilities as an opportunity to show your dedication and learn new skills. Participate in additional training at work in your current job. Try volunteering in your community. Anything that shows you are willing to put forth the effort it takes to get the job done will make you a quick favorite among the staff who choose applicants to accept in the program.

5. Be yourself!

All too often, prospective students worry that they are not good enough for the role they want to pursue, which can lead to feeling unnecessary pressure to perform. Admission staff understand that most DNP students have not published medical research papers or participated in a study that has gained widespread attention. If you already knew everything there is to know about being a Health Systems Leadership DNP, you wouldn't need to apply to the program. Admission counselors want to see genuine applicants, people who have a passion for nursing and the many things that the role of a health systems leader can accomplish. So, relax, take a deep breath, and be yourself.

Following Are the 13 Best Online DNP-Health Systems Leadership Programs in the Nation for 2024

1. Emory University - Atlanta, GA

Programs Offered:

BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP

2. University of Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh, PA

Programs Offered:


3. University of Arizona - Tucson, AZ

Programs Offered:


4. University of Missouri - St. Louis, MO

Programs Offered:

BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP

5. Marquette University - Milwaukee, WI

Programs Offered:

BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP

6. Grand Valley State University - Grand Rapids, MI

Programs Offered:

BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP

7. Mount St. Joseph University - Cincinnati, OH

Programs Offered:


8. Barnes-Jewish College - St. Louis, MO

Programs Offered:

BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP

9. Cleveland State University - Cleveland, OH

Programs Offered:


10. University of Colorado Denver - Aurora, CO

Programs Offered:

BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP

11. Ashland University - Mansfield, OH

Programs Offered:

BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP

12. Elms College - Chicopee, MA

Programs Offered:


13. Alvernia University - Reading, PA

Programs Offered:



7 Benefits of Pursuing Online DNP-Health Systems Leadership Programs

If you are considering going back to school, you likely have several questions. One question that you may have is whether you will benefit from continuing your education. There are many benefits of pursuing a degree through one of the best online DNP-Health Systems Leadership programs covered in this article. The following are seven benefits to consider.

1. Keep Your Job:

DNP-Health Systems Leadership online programs offer nursing professionals a chance to earn a higher degree while remaining involved in active practice. DNP programs require dedication, including planned time that is commited to study and clinical assignments. However, with proper time management, it is possible to continue working and sharpening your skills as you learn.

2. Develop skills to help you succeed in senior leadership roles:

DNPs who specialize in Health Systems Leadership manage operational efficiencies, solve problems, improve access to care complexities, and increase patient safety in the healthcare delivery system. These skills make graduates of DNP-Health Systems Leadership programs online a perfect choice to fill senior leadership positions in nursing.

3. Increase Income Earning Potential:

According to payscale.com, the average annual salary for BSN-prepared nurses is $86,265, and nurses with an MSN earn approximately $95,651. After graduating with a DNP in Health Systems Leadership concentration, the average income is $103,591.

4. Be instrumental in improving health outcomes:

As a DNP in Health Systems Leadership, you will not only have the knowledge of health policy, organizational management and leadership, and clinical expertise but can influence the care given to individuals, families, and communities. In health systems leadership, you will implement creative planning and leverage resources to achieve optimal organizational outcomes that will improve health outcomes for clients.

5. Experience better job opportunities:

After earning a DNP in Health Systems Leadership, you will find opportunities that allow you to move into senior-level leadership roles. Some of the job opportunities you may find will be discussed later in this article.

6. The demand for doctorally-prepared nurses is high and expected to grow, especially in leadership positions, which increases job security.

The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties announced in 2018 that all entry-level nurse practitioner programs would be required to shift from MSN to DNP programs by 2025. Although nurses who have achieved a master's degree in nursing may not be required to follow up with a DNP, the choice to pursue a DNP now can give you the edge you need to secure a higher-level job, such as a position in Health Systems Leadership, which requires knowledgeable and well-prepared people to fulfill these roles.

7. Equip yourself with the skills needed to become an exceptional leader in the healthcare field.

The best DNP-Health Systems Leadership online programs prepare students to take on executive leadership and management roles within the healthcare industry. In one of these programs, you will learn the necessary skills to become instrumental in designing healthcare systems that are efficient to meet healthcare demands, which will make you a perfect candidate for leadership.

Career Opportunities After Graduating with This Degree

The field of nursing is diverse, with many opportunities for professional growth. Graduates from online DNP Health Systems Leadership programs are examples of the variety of options advanced education can bring. The following is a list of some career opportunities graduates with a DNP in Health Systems Leadership may find.

Chief Executive Officer:

This position is the highest-ranking executive in a company. In healthcare, DNPs with Health Systems Leadership specialty can fill the CEO's role in various healthcare delivery settings. They are actively involved in the planning and coordination of daily operations at the highest level of management. CEOs in healthcare systems are responsible for ensuring that hospitals and other delivery systems work efficiently and promote positive patient outcomes.

Chief Nursing Officer (CNO):

The chief nursing officer is the highest nursing management position. CNOs are the primary spokesperson for nursing staff. They coordinate all the daily operations of nursing staff.

Clinical Informatics Specialist:

Also referred to as clinical informaticians, clinical informatics specialists analyze, design, implement, and evaluate information and communication systems used to enhance individual and population health outcomes, improve methods of patient care and foster strong clinician-patient relationships.

Executive Director of Quality:

This position may also be referred to as a Quality Assurance Director. Individuals in this position are responsible for defining and promoting a mindset that supports the delivery of quality healthcare services. They are responsible for managing quality assurance issues, working with cross- and interdepartmental leadership in delivering the highest quality service possible.

Population Health Specialist:

To promote recovery from or manage chronic, often complex, health conditions, population health specialists develop, implement, and evaluate patient care plans to make sure appropriate medical care, training services, and therapies are offered.

Earning Potential for Graduates of This Degree

Like other careers, earning potential for DNP Health Systems Leadership program graduates varies from person to person. According to payscale.com, the average hourly wage for graduates with this degree is $49.80, equivalent to $8,630 monthly or $103,591 yearly. Some factors may impact a graduate's earning potential. For instance, previous work experience in management or leadership experience, years of experience as a nursing professional, and the position you are offered could result in being offered a higher wage.

Hourly $49.80
Monthly $8,630
Annual $103,591
(Source: payscale.com)

Job Outlook for Graduates of This Degree

The demand for healthcare administrators and other professionals with health systems leadership degrees is growing rapidly. With the anticipated shift of entry-level nurse practitioner programs moving from MSN to DNP-level formats by 2025, it is natural to expect that positions requiring health systems leadership degrees will be filled by DNP-prepared nurses. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states there will be a seventeen percent growth in job opportunities for people with this degree through the year 2024. These factors alone suggest the job outlook for DNPs who are Leaders in Health Systems Management is promising.

The Bottomline

This article discussed some of the best online DNP-Health Systems Leadership programs for 2024 and shared information about how you can obtain this degree. If you can see yourself working as a leader in healthcare delivery systems, impacting patient and population outcomes, and influencing the growth of nursing as a profession, this could be the perfect career move for you.

Frequently Asked Questions Answered by Our Expert

Are there financial aid options available for students enrolled in DNP Health Systems Leadership online programs?

There are several options for prospective students to receive financial assistance when pursuing this degree. You can apply for federally funded grants and student loans by filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Additionally, scholarships, employer-sponsored education plans, and personal loans are other options.

What is the most challenging part about becoming a DNP in a Health Systems Leadership role?

While any new role may come with challenges, everyone experiences change differently. For some, the transition to upper-level management or leadership is challenging because it takes a different mindset to lead large groups of people. However, the goal of these programs is to prepare DNPs for leadership roles. Graduates may need to adjust to the position but should feel confident that their success in the program is just the beginning of a successful career.

What is the most important thing I should look for when choosing a DNP in Health Systems Leadership program?

Hands down, the most important thing you should consider when choosing a program is accreditation. Accredited programs have met strict standards to ensure students receive a high-quality education from experienced, professional instructors.

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.