Doctor of Nursing Practice, Clinical Nurse Specialist

Doctor of Nursing Practice, Clinical Nurse Specialist


A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) comes with the confidence and authenticity needed for the highest levels of specialized practice. With this DNP, you’ll choose from three population-foci specialty tracks: Adult-Gerontology CNS, Pediatric CNS, and Adult-Gerontology CNS track with women’s health specialty.

Our fully online asynchronous program with optional synchronous sessions allows you to complete the DNP program with a CNS certificate on a timeline that works best for your life.

You are ambitious, seeking opportunities to progress in your career and practice as a nurse beyond acute care. Pursuing a DNP with a CNS certificate allows you to develop a specialty to provide expert-level clinical care to specific patient populations who need individualized care. PLNU values your calling, meeting it with leadership and practical skills you’ll need to grow into prominent roles within complex health systems.

A DNP from PLNU builds upon your expertise and your distinct point of view. Learn from experts in the field, perform evidence-based quality improvement projects catered to your preferences, and walk alongside a mentor throughout the process.

While a Ph.D. in Nursing is most suited for advancement in research and academia, a DNP, CNS is ideal for professionals who want to expand their expertise working chiefly in specialized clinical settings.

Certified Nurse Specialist Certificate

Through our DNP with CNS, you will earn your Doctor of Nurse Practitioner degree while simultaneously completing your Certified Nurse Specialist certificate. With your CNS certificate, you can work in a variety of healthcare settings:

  • Hospitals 
  • Private clinics 
  • Community clinics 
  • Long-term care facilities 
  • Private care practice 
  • And more

Our CNS programs are officially approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing. In addition, our Adult-Gerontology CNS with women’s health specialty is presently the only program of its kind in California.

A Strong Impact

When you become a Certified Nurse Specialist (CNS), you will be prepared to advance the standard of care in your area of specialization. When you earn your CNS from PLNU, you will focus on the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of nursing and your specialty, preparing you to make a big impact on patients’ holistic care.

A Healthy Future

The hands-on, evidence-based instruction, clinical hours, mentoring, and networking opportunities through an extensive alumni group, as well as PLNU’s strong nursing reputation set the stage for your continued career success after graduation.

Space to Fully Invest in Work and School

PLNU’s DNP is a fully online asynchronous program where you can pace yourself with online coursework and continue working as a nurse in your field. Our program is CCNE accredited and aligns with the core competencies of an AACN Essentials for Advanced Level Nursing Practice program.

Multiple entry points allow those at most degree levels to earn the DNP. Enter as BSN-prepared and have the option to finish with an MSN or use your MSN clinical work as credits toward the DNP.

Work that is Authentic and Sacred

Nursing as sacred work is a cornerstone value of PLNU’s nursing programs. Learn alongside faculty and colleagues who value it the same way. Any program can teach you skills and best practices; at PLNU seasoned professors serve as academic and professional mentors not only in class but in helping you discover your unique calling.

Which DNP is right for me?

PLNU offers three DNP programs including:

  • DNP Family Nurse Practitioner
  • DNP Healthcare Leadership
  • DNP Clinical Nurse Specialist

Each program is geared to equip you with skills needed for specific nursing roles. While FNPs perform primary care for patients, CNSs provide specialized clinical care for specific patient populations. A DNP in Healthcare Leadership will prepare you to effectively lead entire teams or departments of nurses.

Three female Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program members are discussing a patient's plans. They are all wearing white coats and are in a clinic.

How to Choose the Right Doctor of Nursing Program

It's crucial to know your future doctor of nursing program. Here you can look at three of PLNU's top programs and how they best fit you and your vocation.

When you complete the DNP program with an CNS certification, you will be able to:

  • Create dialogue and strategies supporting practice changes within the healthcare system

  • Appraise evidence for best practice implementation through the utilization of information technology

  • Synthesize evidence to implement change that affects client outcomes

  • Recommend standards for holistic care that meet the client needs

  • Analyze own self-care practices that advance optimal care of clients, nurses and organization(s)

  • Model graceful service through compassionate responses to patient, family, staff and organizational needs

  • Design an environment of advocacy for patient care that honors the diversity of patients/families, healthcare staff and organizations

  • Create opportunities to improve the quality of health within a community

  • Defend ethical care consistent with professional practice

  • Step into leadership, managerial, and nurse educator positions

  • Provide a higher level of care with increased professional responsibility and autonomy

  • Provide primary and/or preventative care

Two Pathways to Earn Your DNP with an CNS certification

BSN to DNP with CNS

If you already earned your Bachelor of Science in Nursing, you can enter our BSN to DNP with CNS track. This pathway is 76 units and can be completed in as little as 10 semesters.

Complete the program at your own pace through fully online asynchronous classes (with optional synchronous sessions) and in-person clinicals. You are required to complete 1000 clinical hours.

The School of Nursing will assist San Diego residents with clinical placements, however, out-of-state students or San Diego non-residents will need to find their own placements.

You have the flexibility to complete your required clinical or research based project catered to your preferences and passions. Based on your project, you will be able to select a mentor who will work alongside you.

Although an MSN degree is not earned through this pathway you will still earn a DNP degree with CNS certification in a shorter time period than it would take to earn an MSN and DNP separately. There is an MSN stop-out option if you do decide not to complete a DNP degree prior to the 3rd graduate semester. Students who elect to stop-out will receive an MSN degree.

MSN to DNP with CNS

If you have earned an MSN degree, you can complete your DNP with CNS certification in as little as 10 semesters. This fully asynchronous online program is 55-65 units – depending on the prerequisites you enter the program with.

You are required to complete 1000 clinical hours, including a minimum of 500 hours of direct patient care clinical hours and 500 hours related to the DNP project. 

The School of Nursing will assist San Diego residents with clinical placements, however, out-of-state students or San Diego non-residents will need to find their own placements.

You have the flexibility to complete your required clinical or research based project catered to your preferences and passions. Based on your project, you will be able to select a mentor who will work alongside you.

Compare the two different DNP with CNS pathways

Depending on where you are in your educational journey, there are different paths you can take to earn your DNP with CNS.

 BSN - DNP with CNSMSN - DNP with CNS
Who is it for?

Nurses with a BSN degree looking to earn a DNP with an CNS certification. 

Nurses with an MSN degree looking to earn a DNP with an CNS certification.

Number of Units

76 units

55 - 65 units depending on your prerequisites 

Completion Time

10 semesters (3.3 years) 

10 semesters (3.3 years) 

Program structure

Online asynchronous, optional synchronous courses and in-person clinicals

Online asynchronous, optional synchronous courses and in-person clinicals

Typical # of Students in Class

Classes are intentionally small. Most classes will generally have between 15 and 20 students.

Classes are intentionally small. Most classes will generally have between 15 and 20 students.

Degree Needed to Apply

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Masters of Science in Nursing 

Scholarships Available?YesYes

Speak with your admissions counselor to identify where you are at.

Apply Now

Schedule a Meeting with a Counselor

Professional Licensure or Certification

This program is approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing and meets the requirements for licensure or certification in the state of California, where Point Loma Nazarene University is physically located. PLNU cannot confirm whether or not specific programs meet out-of-state requirements for Professional Licensure or Certification. Information about out-of-state requirements in Nursing are available on the National Council of State Boards of Nursing website.

For more information on State Authorization and Program Licensure, please refer to our disclosures page.

The baccalaureate degree program in nursing, master's degree program in nursing, Doctor of Nursing Practice program, and post-graduate APRN certificate program at Point Loma Nazarene University are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

You will be eligible to take the CNS certification examination by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) upon completion of the program.

Many nurses are going back to earn their DNPs, pictured above is a nurse in scrubs and a DNP professional in their lab coat.

What is the Difference Between a Ph.D. and a DNP in Nursing?

There are two doctorates available for nurses looking to earn an advanced terminal degree – the DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) and the Ph.D. If you are currently working as a nurse or are considering enrolling in a nursing graduate program, it’s worth thinking about which terminal degree makes sense to further your career.

A female nurse with brown hair is holding a stethoscope to her patient's back.

FNP vs CNS - What's the Difference?

While the work settings, educational paths, and motivations for FNPs and CNSs might overlap, the actual work they do is different. 

Application Information

Program Start Date(s):

  • Fall 2024 —  September 2, 2024
  • Spring 2025 — January 13, 2025
  • Summer 2025 — May 12, 2025

Application Deadline(s):

  • Fall 2024 —  August 21, 2024
  • Spring 2025 — December 11, 2024
  • Summer 2025 — April 25, 2025

All applications submitted after this date will be reviewed based on availability of space.

Start Application

Application Checklist

Admission to the program is based on an overall appraisal of the applicant's ability to undertake doctoral study and their contributions to the discipline of nursing as evidenced by the following:

  1. Documentation of current RN license
  2. Current employment in nursing or at least 1 year of full-time practice in the last 5 years
  3. Online application for admissions (includes $50 non-refundable application fee)
    Fee waived if applicant is one of the following: PLNU alum, current or former military and their dependents, PLNU employee
  4. Submit official transcripts. (If you are a PLNU alumnus, please notify your counselor to have your transcripts retrieved. You do not need to request transcripts from the PLNU Office of Records.)

    Official transcripts must be sent to:
    Point Loma Nazarene University
    Office of Graduate Admissions
    3900 Lomaland Dr.
    San Diego, CA 92106

    Official electronic transcripts must be emailed to:
  5. Minimum grade point average of 3.200 (MSN)
  6. Curriculum Vitae or Resume
  7. Once you have submitted your admissions application, your two selected professional recommenders will automatically be sent the auto-generated document to complete on your behalf. If you'd like to include a written letter in addition to this required document, you may do so, but it's unnecessary.
  8. A personal essay of approximately 250 words identifying a change of practice issue related to your professional goals
  9. After all application materials are submitted, an interview with the School of nursing is scheduled

The Selection Process

The educational context at PLNU will challenge you to live a full life that integrates the pursuit of knowledge with beliefs, values, and actions. While acknowledging diverse perspectives and beliefs, Christian values and principles are woven into the educational experience. We understand your application is not only a reflection of you as a student; it’s a reflection of you as a person.

At PLNU, we holistically evaluate your academic history, work and life experience, background, and circumstances to determine admission into a graduate program. If you do not meet all of the above criteria, PLNU offers an exceptions policy. Speak with your admissions counselor for more information.

Career Opportunities

PLNU’s DNP with CNS will prepare you for the highest levels of nursing leadership and to engage on policy-level decisions regarding patient care. Some even pursue entrepreneurship and open their own nurse-run clinics.

The versatile set of skills you’ll develop by pursuing a degree in nursing from PLNU prepares you for nursing in a variety of settings. PLNU nursing alumni have held various positions in hospitals, clinics, medical missions, and public health institutions. PLNU cultivates passion, professionalism, and a values-driven approach to work in a context that intersects your intellect and faith, equipping you to become a trustworthy leader in your workplace.

PLNU’s DNP program will prepare you for leadership in a variety of fields. 

  • University Faculty Member
  • Nurse Manager
  • Director
  • Administrator
  • Practice Nurse
  • Entrepreneur

Different Career Outcomes for DNPs with CNS:

Clinical Nurse Manager
Average Salary: $84,690

A clinical nurse manager oversees and supervises one to two units in a clinical setting. You will provide support and a safe environment for your staff and patients. Part of your role also includes staffing, case management, discharge planning, scheduling, mentoring, and recruitment.

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Clinical Nurse Specialist
Average Salary: $98,240

As an ICU CNS, you play a vital role in effectively merging the needs of patients, your colleagues, and the organization you are working with. You support with patient and staff education and ensure you meet proper healthcare protocols to maintain safety for everyone. You may work in a variety of settings from pediatric ICU and beyond.

Financial Aid and Student Support

We take seriously the role of providing you with financial, academic, and career support so you have the tools you need to be successful at PLNU and beyond. That’s why we offer a holistic support system that focuses on your unique experiences, particular needs, and personal and professional goals — resulting from our deep concern for you, our student.

With a focus on authentic relationships and personalized attention, our goal is to help transform you so you can follow your calling in your own career and life.

Financial Aid and Student Support

Faculty Discounts

PLNU is proud to offer discounts to faculty members across higher education for all graduate nursing programs. Full time faculty at PLNU receive a 50% discount, adjunct/part time faculty at PLNU receive a 25% discount, and faculty members at another institution will receive a 20% discount. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is required to be admitted into this program?

To be admitted into PLNU's DNP with CNS program, you must either have a bachelor’s or master’s degree from a regionally accredited institution, as evidenced by an official transcript from an institution indicating the completion of an undergraduate or graduate degree. You must also have a current RN license and have held at least one year of full-time practice within the last five years.

Are clinical hours required?

1000 clinical hours are required including 500 hours of direct patient clinical hours and 500 hours related to the DNP project.

Do I need to find my own clinical placements?

The School of Nursing will secure clinical rotations for enrolled students, which are geographically accessible, in collaboration with each student. Students are also encouraged to seek out preferred clinical preceptors. PLNU will create a legal MOU with all placement sites in or outside of San Diego. Speak with your enrollment counselor for more information.

Can I work while completing the program?

Yes! This program is designed for working nurses. PLNU’s fully online asynchronous program offers optional synchronous online classes. 

What scholarship and financial aid opportunities are available to me?

You will have the option to apply for scholarships, grants, loans, and other special types of aid through Student Financial Services. Contact your enrollment counselor for more information.

How long does it take to complete the program?

Both the BSN-to-DNP with CNS track and the MSN-to-DNP with CNS track are expected to be completed in 10 semesters (3.3 years). 

How many days a week do classes meet?

Classes are completed online at your own schedule. You have the option to participate in optional synchronous sessions.

How large will the classes be?

Classes are intentionally small. Most classes will generally have between 15 and 20 students.

What is Your State Authorization Policy?

State authorization is a formal determination by a state or U.S. Territory that PLNU is approved to conduct activities regulated by that state or U.S. Territory. PLNU is not required to obtain state authorization in every state or U.S. Territory, and the university has opted at this time not to seek authorization in some states. Additionally, PLNU meets the criteria for exemption from authorization in certain states.

Visit our disclosures page to view our color-coded state authorized map to view your state’s authorization status. If you have questions, please contact your enrollment counselor. 

Authorizations in specific states and U.S. Territories may change periodically.

Are international students eligible to apply?

Unfortunately, international students are not eligible to apply for our online programs. You are only eligible if you reside in one of our authorized states. Visit our disclosures page to learn more.

If you are a military spouse or serving overseas, contact military services.

PLNU is a Christian university, but I am not a Christian. Would I feel out of place in this program?

We welcome and encourage people of all backgrounds as students in our programs. Issues that relate to faith may be discussed in some classes, and engaging in discussion with individuals with alternative points of view will be encouraged as learning opportunities. Students will work within a learning community that is supportive academically, spiritually, and emotionally.

What career opportunities are there for a DNP?

Management, leadership positions in nursing; policy and administration positions; nurse educator; entrepreneur, university faculty member, and more. The job outlook for nurse practitioners is expected to grow 52% by 2030.

Is this program CCNE accredited?

The baccalaureate degree program in nursing, master's degree program in nursing, Doctor of Nursing Practice program, and post-graduate APRN certificate program at Point Loma Nazarene University are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Why get a DNP rather than a PhD?

ObjectivePreparation for research and academic careers in healthcarePreparation for the highest nursing leadership levels
Clinical HoursNone1000 hours minimum
Scholarly ProjectNoYes
Employment OpportunitiesNurse scientist, health policy academicNursing management and leadership, nurse educator

Will I be able to reach out to someone for help when we're not meeting face-to-face?

Yes. You will be paired with a faculty mentor and will have regular check-ins to ensure support and guidance is always provided.

Course List

For information about the courses required for the Doctor of Nursing Practice, Clinical Nurse Specialist program, view the PLNU Catalog. 

Course Information