Family nurse practitioners examine patient on table

Family Nurse Practitioner – Doctor of Nursing Practice Online Program

Samuel Merritt University is offering $10,000 scholarships to all first-time, full-time DNP-FNP applicants. See Scholarships expandable below for eligibility and details.


  • Online

Program Duration

  • Three Years (Nine Semesters)

Upcoming Deadlines

Fall Application

Spring Application

A New Level of Care

DNP-FNPs are quickly becoming the health provider of choice, providing care for more than 870 million patient visits every year. You'll practice in primary care and other settings, blending clinical expertise in diagnosing and treating health conditions across the lifespan with an added emphasis on disease prevention and health management.

DNP-FNPs, unlike some other health care providers, have a unique emphasis on the health and well-being of the whole person. With a focus on health promotion, disease prevention, and health education and counseling, our graduates guide patients in making smarter health and lifestyle choices, which can improve health outcomes and, in turn, lower health care system costs.

Independently and in collaboration with the health care team, DNP-FNPs provide a full range of primary health care services including:

  • Performing physical exams and assessing health conditions
  • Diagnosing and treating acute and chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, infections, and injuries
  • Ordering, performing, and interpreting diagnostic tests such as lab work and x-rays
  • Prescribing medications and other treatments
  • Managing patients' overall care
  • Counseling
  • Educating patients on disease prevention and positive health and lifestyle choices

The flexible mix of online classes and on-campus residencies was created with working RNs in mind.


If you’ve already earned your MSN and want to complete your clinical doctorate consider SMU’s traditional DNP program.

What We Look For

  • Bachelors-level nursing professionals seeking to advance in their career in an advanced practice specialty area
  • A commitment to improving health care outcomes via practice, policy change, and leadership

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Program Requirements & Info

Applications for the Doctor of Nursing Practice program are accepted using theCentral Application Service for Nursing Schools (NursingCAS). Students are admitted to this program for summer and fall terms.

The admission review process is fairly quick once all documents have been received and your application has been verified by NursingCAS. In general, once a complete application is verified by NursingCAS, you will be contacted for a phone interview. Upon successful completion of the interview, your admission will be processed and you will be notified within a week.

Apply Now 


  • An in-person or virtual interview is required to be selected for admission.  The Format of interview is at the discretion of the program’s admissions committee.
  • The selection of candidates for interviews is competitive and will be based on the following:
    • A holistic application review of the content submitted to NursingCAS
    • Professional behavior and communication throughout the admission process.
    • An informed understanding of the role of an FNP for the programs offered.
  • Not all qualified candidates may be interviewed
  • Not all interviewed candidates will be accepted.
  • The program’s admissions committee reserves the right to interview and accept qualified students at any time after the application deadline.

Take Advantage of our Advance Your Practice $10,000 Scholarship

Enroll in Fall 2022 and receive $10,000 toward your Online MSN FNP or DNP FNP degree.

This scholarship was created to help support nurses that are interested in advancing their practice and careers. Students who enroll in the Fall 2022 Online MSN FNP or DNP FNP program will be awarded this $10,000 scholarship.

The Advance Your Practice Scholarship is available to full-time students in the Online MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP programs. The scholarship is awarded evenly across each term of the program rather than as a lump sum.


The DNP-FNP program is designed for nurses who have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. To be considered for admission, applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (bachelors degrees in other fields will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.) 
  • Current unencumbered registered nurse (RN) license in state of residence.
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0 or higher in BSN coursework.
  • Two letters of reference from individuals who can attest to your clinical expertise and preparedness for graduate level study.
  • The need for a TOEFL will be assessed based on information provided by applicants on the application for admission. If required, a minimum score of 100 (Internet Based Test) must be achieved and official score results must be provided.

Students Educated Outside of the United States


The need for the TOEFL will be assessed based on information provided by the applicant on the application for admission. If the TOEFL is required, applicants must achieve a minimum score of 100 (Internet Based Test). Scores must be submitted during the application process.

International Transcript Evaluation Agencies

Students who have completed their degrees outside of the United States will have to have their degrees evaluated for United States baccalaureate equivalency, also known as a course-by-course/comprehensive evaluation. Please click here for more information related to international applicants.

Application Fees
Application fees are payable to Nursing’s Centralized Application Service (NursingCAS). Samuel Merritt University does not charge an additional admission fee.

Non-Refundable Deposits and Fees
Students offered admission pay a non-refundable tuition deposit of $350 to secure their seat in the class.

Application fees and tuition deposits are non-refundable, whether or not the student withdraws in the first week of the term.

Tuition Calculator
There is a tuition calculator that provides a detailed summary of annual tuition, all fees for the program, and a cost estimator for the entire program.

Tuition Calculator

Your nursing education at Samuel Merritt University is an important and valuable investment in your future.  Not only will you have the opportunity to pursue a rewarding career in health care, but Samuel Merritt University graduates have a loan default rate of less than one percent.  This means that students who borrowed to attend Samuel Merritt University have found employment in their chosen field that allows them to pay off their loans. 

Samuel Merritt University is proud to offer a variety of ways to assist in funding your education including scholarships, work study and student loans. The first step in applying for financial aid at SMU is to submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

SMU offers scholarships and an assortment of resources for funding opportunities outside of the program. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of financial need. A limited number are awarded for academic merit. Scholarships for Nurses include:

  • Sharon Clark Diaz
  • Employee Campaign
  • Marshall Steele, Jr.
  • Hitchcock Heydman
  • Henry & Bernice Bigge
  • Faculty Scholarship
  • Alumni Scholarship
  • Elks of the Year
  • William Breslin

In addition to the cost of tuition, books and fees, financial aid can also cover other indirect educational costs, so the total cost of attendance includes:

  • Books and Supplies
  • Room and Board
  • Transportation
  • Personal Expenses
  • Other fees as determined by program/college

Once you receive your financial aid package, check this budget against your actual living expenses and we can make necessary adjustments to meet your needs.

Detailed information about financial aid, budgeting, total cost and application processes are available on the webpage.

We realize that the financial aid process can be difficult and overwhelming.  We are here to help.  Financial Aid staff can assist with budgeting, understanding your awards and understanding the process.  The SMU staff is committed to each and every prospective student and enrolled student.  We have an open door policy and are available via phone or email. or 510-879-9200

Graduation and Employment Rates

Please refer to the university's Student Success Measures webpage for graduation rates, employment rates, and additional success indicators. 

FNP Degree Comparison

  • Semesters 
    • MSN Online
    • DNP
  • Months
    • 20 MSN Online
    • 36 DNP
  • Total Units
    • 49 MSN Online
    • 65 DNP
  • Tuition Per Unit
    • $1,387 MSN Online
    • $1,269 DNP
  • Total Tuition (without health insurance and fees)
    • $67,963 MSN Online
    • $82,485 DNP
  • Financial Aid
    • Eligible for Federal graduate loan programs MSN Online
    • Eligible for Federal graduate loan programs DNP
  • Start Dates
    • January, May, and September MSN Online

    • January, and September DNP
  • Location of Clinical Experiences
    • At clinics and hospitals near where you live. SMU offers contract assistance and management of clinical placements MSN Online
    • At clinics and hospitals near where you live. DNP practice hours are separate from FNP clinical hours. SMU offers contract assistance and management of clinical placements DNP
  • Instructional Delivery
    • Online with two face-to-face, on-campus learning experiences of three days each (6 total days) MSN Online
    • Online with 3 face-to-face on-campus learning experiences of three days each time (9 total days) DNP
  • Can One Work While in School
    • It is possible to work during semesters 1 & 2, but not while on clinical placements in semester 3, 4, & 5 MSN Online
    • It is possible to work during semesters 1 -6, but not while on clinical placements in semester 7 - 9 DNP

These frequently asked questions are general to the degree options to become an FNP, not specific to Samuel Merritt University.

Why is the profession changing to the DNP for Nurse Practitioners?
Nearly all health care professions that diagnose, manage and care for patients have clinical doctor degrees, for example physicians, dentists, physical therapists, and optometrists. The increasing complexity of the types of patients being cared for and the complexity of the health care system are demanding increased education and training for nurse practitioners. The profession is committed to ensuring that future nurse practitioners are well-prepared to excel and provide the care that people need and the profession has concluded that the doctoral degree is the best way to accomplish that. Currently within the accreditation bodies for FNP programs in the United States, there is 100% agreement about the DNP as the entering degree for all APRNs.  ((

How does the DNP curriculum differ from the MSN curriculum to prepare me for practice as an FNP? 
While the FNP coursework is the same for both degrees, the generalist classes are not.  The DNP Essentials ( and MSN Essentials ( differ in the following way: The focus in the DNP is towards utilizing evidence based practice to improve healthcare in practice sites as well as the nation overall.  The focus is on not only the patient but the population as a whole. 

Is a DNP required to become a Family Nurse Practitioner?
The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) has announced that by 2025 the DNP degree for nurse practitioners will be the terminal degree.

If I receive an MSN degree will I have to go back to school if the DNP becomes required?
While one cannot predict what states may require in the future, based on the experience of other professions that changed to the doctor degree, it is not likely states will require currently licensed FNPs with an MSN degree to return to school to obtain the DNP degree given the cost to the nurse practitioner and societal needs for access to care. That said, typically states do not provide the final determination of the professional degree.  It is the certification boards for APRNs and accreditation boards for SoN that drive this change. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners has stated that in the shift to DNP, “It is important, however, that the transition to clinical doctoral preparation for NPs continues to be conducted so that master’s-prepared NPs will not be disenfranchised in any way.”

What are my options to become an FNP if I already have my MSN?
Currently, an RN with an MSN degree can choose a DNP program to become an FNP, enter an MSN program as a certificate (non-degree) student, or obtain a second MSN degree in an FNP program. In contrast to the MSN degree to become an RN, the MSN FNP degree curriculum builds on the professional role, health policy role, and research role of the FNP. Therefore, the MSN FNP has a broader foundation in how an FNP can be relevant in FNP practice.   

What are my options to become an FNP if I am an RN with a BSN degree?
As an RN with a BSN degree, you can choose an MSN or a DNP degree path to become an FNP.

What are my options to become an FNP if I am an RN with an Associate degree?
You can complete an RN-to-BSN program (SMU RN to BSN Program) and then enter either an MSN or DNP program to become an FNP.  If you are an ADN with a non-nursing undergraduate degree and many years of practice you may be able to provide evidence of how you meet the AACN BSN Essentials through your work, scholarship, community service, and approach to care of the patient in all settings.  This approval is based on specific requirements of each university’s School of Nursing.

Are there any differences in practice opportunities or scope of practice for an MSN-prepared FNP compared with a DNP-prepared FNP? Are there changes known or under consideration in the future?

The AANP identified eight issues that need to be addressed for a smooth transition to the DNP for nurse practitioners. Included was, “Issues related to parity must be addressed to include providing reasonable methods for currently prepared NPs to obtain the DNP, if desired, and to prevent discrimination in reimbursement.”  (From: AANP Position Statement, 2013;

Are salaries different for FNPs based on the degree?
This depends on the employer.  For example, if you are an RN seeking advancement in your position to expand your professional capabilities, your employer will recognize your advanced degree as preferential thus an increase in income.  If a DNP FNP and a MSN FNP are new graduates from programs they most likely will be paid the same.

Does payment from Medicare, Medicaid/Medi-Cal, or private insurers differ based on the degree?
Not at this time. 

Samuel Merritt University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), 985 Atlantic Avenue, Suite 100, Alameda, CA 94501; 510.748.9001.

The doctor of nursing practice program at Samuel Merritt University is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, 655 K Street NW, Suite 750, Washington, DC 20001.

DNP Accreditation
Initial Accreditation Date: September 24, 2012
Most Recent Accreditation Date: September 25, 2017
Accreditation Term Expires: June 30, 2028
Last On-Site Evaluation: September 2017
Next On-Site Evaluation: Fall 2027

Doctor of Nursing Practice – Family Nurse Practitioner Program Technical Standards

The mission of Samuel Merritt University is to produce highly skilled and compassionate family nurse practitioners (FNP). Students are expected to develop a robust healthcare knowledge base and requisite clinical skills, with the ability to appropriately apply knowledge and skills, effectively interpret information, and contribute to patient-centered decisions cross a broad spectrum of clinical situations in all settings. The following technical standards, in conjunction with the academic standards, are requirements for admission, promotion, and graduation. The term “candidate” refers to candidates for admission to the FNP Program as well as current FNP students who are candidates for retention, promotion, or graduation.

These requirements may be achieved with or without reasonable accommodations, the cost of which will be borne by the institution. These standards should not serve as a deterrent to any candidate with disabilities who desires to pursue FNP education. Candidates with disabilities bring unique perspectives which contribute to the diversity of the student population and will create a diverse health care workforce of culturally competent practitioners who can meet the needs of their patients. Candidates with disabilities are encouraged to contact the Disability Resource Center immediately to begin a confidential conversation about possible accommodations necessary to meet these standards. Fulfillment of the technical standards for graduation from the FNP Program does not guarantee that a graduate will be able to fulfill the technical requirements of any specific clinical position.

Observational Skills
A candidate must acquire information as presented through demonstrations and experiences in foundational sciences. In addition, a candidate must be able to evaluate a patient accurately and assess relevant health, behavioral and medical information. Candidates must be able to obtain and interpret information through comprehensive bio-psycho-social assessment of patients, correctly interpret diagnostic representations of patient physiologic data, and accurately evaluate patient conditions and responses.

Communication Skills
Candidates must exhibit interpersonal skills to enable effective care and collaboration for patients, including the ability to communicate effectively in English with all members of a multidisciplinary health care team, patients and their families in person and in writing. Candidates must be able to clearly and accurately record information and accurately interpret verbal and non-verbal communication.

Patient Care Skills
Candidates must perform bio-psycho-social patient assessments. A candidate must be able to perform patient education related to the care coordination/discharge plan to enable a safe, effective, and patient centered transition. A candidate must be able to provide general care and emergency treatment required of a family nurse practitioner. Candidates must meet applicable safety standards for the environment and follow standard precaution procedures.

Intellectual-Conceptual, Integrative, and Cognitive Skills
Candidates must be able to learn through a variety of modalities, including but not limited to, classroom instruction; laboratory, including small group, team and collaborative activities; individual study; preparation and presentation of reports; and use of computer technology. A candidate must effectively interpret, assimilate and understand the complex information required to function within the FNP Program curriculum including, but not limited to, the ability to comprehend and effectively participate in individual, small group, and lecture learning modalities in the classroom, clinical and community settings; learn, participate, collaborate and contribute as a part of a team; synthesize information both in person and via remote technology; interpret causal connections and make accurate, fact-based conclusions based on available data and information; formulate a hypothesis, investigate the potential answers and outcomes; and reach appropriate and accurate conclusions. A candidate must be able to find sources of knowledge and acquire the knowledge through various modalities, and possess the ability to be a life-long learner.

Behavioral Attributes, Social Skills and Professional Expectations
A candidate must be able to exercise good judgment, promptly complete all responsibilities attendant to the care of patients, and develop mature, sensitive, and effective relationships with patients. The skills required to do so include the ability to effectively handle and manage heavy workloads, function effectively under stress, adapt to changing environments, to display flexibility, and to learn to function in the face of uncertainties inherent in the clinical problems of patients. Candidates are expected to exhibit professionalism, personal accountability, compassion, integrity, concern for others, and interpersonal skills including the ability to accept and apply feedback and to respect boundaries and care for all individuals in a respectful and effective manner regardless of gender identity, age, race, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or any other protected status. Candidates should understand, and function within, the legal and ethical aspects of FNP practice, including patient advocacy, and maintain and display ethical and moral behaviors commensurate with the role of a family nurse practitioner in all interactions with patients, faculty, staff, students and the public. Interest and motivation throughout the educational processes are expected of all candidates.

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