Doctor of Nursing Practice Programs in California

California has five DNP programs, but that number will soon be increasing. Governor Schwarzenegger signed a law in 2010 that removed some legislative barriers to the establishment of doctorate programs; this allowed the California State University system to offer a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. The AACN applauded the action, noting that it would allow future advanced practice nurses and future nursing faculty access to the education they need. (The nursing shortage has, after all, been fueled partly by a lack of qualified nurse educators.)

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Increased access will help California’s nurses achieve even higher levels of professionalism. It will also help California prepare for the AACN mandate; the AACN, which has more than 600 member schools, has urged that all colleges transition their advanced practice nursing courses to the doctorate level by 2015. While current master’s-trained nurse practitioners will retain their licensing and right to practice, those in training will be held to an even more rigorous standard. The CCNE standard includes 1,000 post-baccalaureate clinical practice hours as well as coursework in such areas as health systems and health leadership.

Advanced practice nurses who are already in the field have a choice about whether to pursue further education. They will now find it easier to enroll in DNP programs should they choose. Doctorate level programs have been around for a long time — a few of them, at least — and some professional nurses have enrolled simply to make themselves better health practitioners. Jeanne Stein, assistant professor at California State University, writes of her own decision to pursue a practice doctorate, a decision made several years before the AACN recommendations. Stein notes that she sought additional education to help her incorporate research into her work as a psychiatric clinical nurse specialist; she also wanted to prepare herself to educate the next generation of nurses. She noted that some parts of the curriculum, like computerized decision support systems, were challenging as well as broadening.

DNP Program Specializations and Program Entry Options?

There are several DNP program options available in California. Some are standard nurse practitioner specialties like pediatric care, adult care, and psychiatric/ mental health. Other programs focus on healthcare systems management. A student will find a slightly different emphasis from program to program. The Western University of Health Sciences, for instance, emphasizes disease prevention in vulnerable populations.

Nurses may enter programs with either a BSN or master’s. What of students who are already practicing as nurse practitioners? Will their education be shorter? It will indeed — as long as they choose to remain in the specialty track. There will be fewer courses in clinical competency and fewer hours of residency. It is generally expected that post-masters candidates have completed 500 of their clinical practice hours. The AACN notes in their timeline that during the transition years, a big focus will be on giving master’s level students the classes they are missing.

Some universities offer one track for students with a BSN, and another, termed a completion program, for those who have already completed nurse practitioner programs at the master’s level. Additional coursework includes biostatistics, informatics, and system management as well as advanced disease study. With the exception of clinical hours, coursework can often be completed online.

Universities vary in their admission standards during this transition time. Samuel Merrit University, for example, accepts mostly master’s trained nursing students, but considers, on a case by case basis, BSN students with a master’s in other fields.

Contact Information for DNP Programs in California

Learn about some of the schools offering Online DNP Programs in California.

Loma Linda University

Contact Information:
11262 Campus Street
Loma Linda, California 92350
PH: 909-558-4923


Samuel Merrit University

Contact Information:
3100 Summit Street
Oakland, CA 94609
PH: 510-869-8926


University of San Diego

Contact Information:
PH: 619-260-4600


University of San Fransisco – School of Nursing

Contact Information:
2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, California 94117-1080
PH: 415-422-6681


Western University of Health Sciences

Contact Information:
PH: 909-623-6116


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