The DNP Essentials

The DNP Essentials

The DNP Essentials define the curricular elements that must be present in Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs. Required by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education for schools seeking accreditation for DNP programs, these Essentials outline the foundational competencies that are core to all advanced nursing practice roles, including the four nationally-recognized Advanced Practice Registered Nursing roles: nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives.

Each Essential has one or more outcomes associated with it. Those outcomes are what the student should use to develop the self directed learning objectives for DNP I, II, III and IV.

DNP Essentials Summary:

Essential I: Scientific Underpinnings for Practice 

The advent of nursing science, specifically middle-range nursing theories, expanded the discipline of nursing. Thorough understanding of nursing theory provides a solid foundation for advanced nursing practice. The DNP degree prepares graduates to integrate nursing science with organization, biophysical, psychological, and analytical sciences (AACN, 2006). Furthermore, this DNP essential underscores the importance of using science-based concepts to evaluate and enhance health care delivery and improve patient outcomes.


Essential II: Organizational and Systems Leadership for Quality Improvement 

DNP graduates uniquely contribute to nursing science by evaluating, translating, and disseminating research into practice. This essential emphasizes the DNP graduate’s role in assimilating nursing science and practice with the complex needs of humankind (AACN, 2006). Key skills include the development of clinical practice guidelines, designing evidence-based interventions, and evaluating practice outcomes.


Essential III: Clinical Scholarship and Analytical Methods for Evidence-Based Practice

Preparation in organizational leadership and systems level thinking enables DNP clinicians to create unique approaches to the complex issues facing modern health care. This DNP essential focuses on a DNP graduates role in assuring accountability of quality care and patient safety as well as critically examining ethical dilemmas inherent in patient care, health care organizations, and scientific research (AACN, 2006). Advanced education in systems leadership ensures that doctors of nursing practice possess the skills to facilitate meaningful organization-wide changes in health care delivery, and to interface with government officials to shape initiatives in the health care agenda.


Essential IV: Information Systems/Technology and Patient Care Technology for the Improvement and Transformation of Health Care

Technology is at the center of safe, efficient, patient-centered care. This essential prepares doctors of nursing practice to utilize information and patient care technologies to support practice leadership and clinical decision making. Deep understanding of technology places the DNP at the forefront of healthcare delivery and equips them with the skills to participate in technological innovation, evaluate the appropriateness of healthcare consumer information, and participate in resulting legal and ethical issues (AACN, 2006).


Essential V: Health Care Policy for Advocacy in Health Care

To engage actively in health care policy, the DNP graduate must learn to identify problems within the health care delivery system and to spearhead legislation through negotiating and consensus building (Dreher & Glasgow, 2010). This essential focuses on critically analyzing health policy with the goal of advocating for social justice and the nursing profession as a whole.


Essential VI: Inter-Professional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes

The IOM defends the necessity of team-based care for the safety and wellbeing of all patients (IOM, 2001). This essential prepares DNP graduates to lead inter-professional teams in the analysis of multifaceted practice and systems issues through effective communication and collaborative skills (AACN, 2006). Doctors of nursing practice take a leadership role in development and implementation of practice models, standards or care, and other scholarly projects.


Essential VII: Clinical Prevention and Population Health for Improving the Nation’s Health

 Nursing theory has its foundation in health promotion and risk reduction; however, the DNP degree further prepares graduates to evaluate and interpret epidemiological, biostatistical, occupational, and environmental information imperative to improving the health of both individuals and communities. This essential also equips doctors of nursing practice with the skills to synthesize the psychosocial dimensions and cultural impacts related to population health.


Essential VIII: Advanced Nursing Practice

With the goal of improving patient outcomes, the doctor of nursing practice demonstrates advanced levels of clinical judgment, systems thinking, and delivery of evidence-based care (AACN, 2006). This essential focuses on conducting comprehensive needs assessments, mentoring other nurses, and guiding patients through complex situational transitions. For the Post MS DNP student with an MS and national certification (APRN) then up to 600 hours may be applied to the DNP Program under Essential VIII Advanced Nursing Practice.