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Doctor of Nursing Practice Online Program

SMU’s Doctor of Nursing Practice is a clinical-focused doctorate designed to develop nurse leaders who will transform health care on a local and national scale.


  • Online

Program Duration

  • 24 Months (Six Semesters)

Upcoming Deadlines

Spring Application

Fall Application

Advance to the Highest Level in the Nursing Profession

In the mid-2000s, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing issued a position statement that included a goal of transitioning advanced practice nursing programs from the master’s degree to doctoral programs. In response to this vision, SMU established its Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

SMU’s post-MSN DNP program was developed for advanced practice nurses—such as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse midwives—as well as nurses in other advanced nursing roles such as organizational leadership.

Our DNP offers a flexible, online format intended to allow nurses to continue to work full- or part-time while earning their terminal degree.

Opportunities for DNP Graduates

As the health care field advances and populations diversify, nurses must keep up with new areas of knowledge, including genetics, biomedical science, health information systems, environmental health, global health, and chronic diseases. Our DNP program, which is grounded in patient-centered, evidence-based practice, prepares nursing professionals for leadership roles as:

  • Clinician
  • Chief nursing officer
  • Director of nursing
  • Nursing administrator
  • Nurse researcher

Post-Baccalaureate DNP Option

SMU also offers registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree the option to pursue their Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) master’s degree and DNP simultaneously. This 36-month program is offered through a combination of online and on-campus classes.

Learn More

What’s the Difference Between a Ph.D. and DNP?

Both the Ph.D. and DNP are terminal degrees in the discipline of nursing and can lead to advanced career opportunities. The difference lies in the desired outcome: research or application. Ph.D. programs typically are rooted in academic and clinical research and prepare students to work in nursing education. The DNP focuses on the real-world and complexities of clinical practice at the doctoral level.

What We Look For

  • A commitment to improving healthcare outcomes via practice, policy change, and leadership
  • An accredited master’s degree in nursing (other graduate degrees also considered if applicant demonstrates competency in American Association of Colleges of Nursing master’s essentials)
  • Residency in one of these states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Nevada, Texas or Virginia
  • Current RN license in their resident state
  • Proficiency with computers, including internet applications and document management and creation

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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 on a rolling basis until space is no longer available, and the program starts once per year in January.

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.

After admission, you will also have to provide the following:

  • Program orientation

  • Criminal background check

  • Proof of health insurance coverage

  • CPR certification

  • Completion of required student health forms

Where You Can Study With Us
Our online program is approved for nurses licensed and residing in:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Nevada
  • Texas*
  • Virginia

*Samuel Merritt University (SMU) is not regulated in Texas under Chapter 178 of the Texas Education Code; the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) approves and regulates SMU’s programs in California where the University is physically located and where it has legal authorization to operate; SMU’s student grievance policy, process, and procedures can be found on page 146 of the Student Handbook.

Due to clinical and state compliance requirements, authorization for offering this online program is being sought on a state by state basis. If the state you reside in is not on the previous list, it means authorization is not yet in place. Check back periodically for state approvals.

Apply Now 

To be considered for admission, applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • Master of Science in Nursing (master's degrees in other health-related fields along with a BSN 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 on MSN coursework.
  • 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.

A complete application will include the following:

  • Official transcripts from every school attended since high school (see information about Transcripts in the Application Process section).
  • A copy of your CV/Resume.
  • A copy of your nursing license.
  • Two letters of reference attesting to your academic and clinical expertise.
  • Responses to two personal statements. The first is a short example of academic scholarship and the second an elaboration on how the DNP degree will advance your professional goals (please see the NursingCAS application for more information).  
  • Certification of your clinical practice hours (please see the NursingCAS application for more information).

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 a list of international transcript evaluation agencies.

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 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
  • 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

Full-time DNP Sequential Course Curriculum     Course Descriptions

Part-time MSN-DNP Course Sequence (4 years)
Semester 1
Nursing and Healthcare Science for Advanced Nursing 3.0

Semester 2
Evidence-Based Translation for Advanced Nursing Practice 3.0

Semester 3
Policy and Advocacy for Advanced Nursing Practice 3.0

Semester 4
Leadership, Quality, Safety, and Improvement Science in Complex Healthcare Systems 3.0

Semester 5
Information Systems and Technology for Advanced Nursing Practice 3.0

Semester 6
Interprofessional Practice 3.0

Semester 7
Population Health and Clinical Prevention 3.0

Semester 8
Advanced Nursing Practice Project Conceptualization and Design 2.0

Semester 9
Advanced Nursing Practice Project Management 2.0

Semester 10 
Advanced Nursing Practice Residency 1 1.0

Semester 11 
Advanced Nursing Practice Residency 2 2.0

Semester 12
Advanced Nursing Practice Residency 3 2.0

Retention, Graduation, and Employment Rates

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

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

The mission of Samuel Merritt University’s DNP program is to produce highly skilled and compassionate nursing professionals. 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 across 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 DNP Program as well as current DNP students who are candidates for retention, progression, 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 DNP 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 DNP Program does not guarantee that a graduate will be able to fulfill the technical requirements of any specific clinical position.

Technical Standards

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 data, and accurately evaluate patient conditions and responses appropriate for one’s area of specialization. 

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, their families, faculty, and staff.  Candidates must be able to clearly and accurately communicate verbal and written information and accurately interpret verbal and non-verbal communication.

 Intellectual-Conceptual, Integrative, and Cognitive Skills

Candidates must be able to learn through a variety of modalities, including but not limited to: synchronous or asynchronous lecture; group or team and collaborative activities; individual study; preparation and presentation of scholarship; and use of computer technology.  A candidate must effectively interpret, assimilate and understand the complex information required to function within the DNP Program curriculum. The candidate must be able to 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 practice decisions. A candidate must be able to find sources of knowledge 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, faculty, and fellow students in the learning community. 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 clinical practice and academia.  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 the nursing practice, including patient advocacy, and maintain and display ethical and moral behaviors commensurate with the role of a nurse in advanced practice and a Samuel Merritt University student in all interactions with patients, faculty, staff, students and the public. Interest and motivation throughout the educational process are expected of all candidates.

Trained to Lead Change

Our DNP grads improve health care outcomes through clinical practice, policy change, and leadership.


Employed Within 6 Months

Our DNP graduates are in high demand.

1,000 Clinical Practice Hours

Students receive hands-on training in a supervised educational environment with expert mentors.


Median Salary for DNP Graduates

Nurse practitioners improve health systems care while also making a good living.



Cecily Reeves

PhD, FNP, PA-C Professor

Angelina Chau

DNP, FNP-C Assistant Professor

Mary Wyckoff

PhD, FNP-BC Professor

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