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Doctor of Nursing Practice Guide

Applying for a DNP degree shows a commitment to in-depth study in a specific area. All DNP programs required courses in research, as well as courses that focus on the subject area.

All DNP students complete a DNP scholarly project, with guidance from our experienced faculty. Our students also benefit from support given by our DNP Project Coordinator, who works with DNP students in all programs.    

The DNP Project Coordinator, along with Program Directors and Graduate Advisors, work as a team to ensure you complete your coursework. Contact our office at (803) 777-7412. Meet our staff and view their contact information below:

Dr. Laura Herbert, DNP Project Coordinator

Dr. Amy Dievendorf, Adult Gerontology, Acute Care Program Director

Dr. Shelli Gibbs, Family Nurse Practitioner Program Director

Dr. Beverly Baliko and Dr. Rachel Bush, Psychiatric Mental Health NP Program Co-Directors

Dr. Jackie Haverkamp, Clinical Expert and Executive Healthcare Leadership Program Director 

Mrs. Tawanie Pointer, Psychiatric Mental Health and Adult Gerontology, Acute Care Program Advisor

Mr. Trey Patty, Clinical Expert, Executive Healthcare Leadership, and Family Nurse Practitioner Program Advisor

Every student in a DNP program will participate in multiple clinical education experiences in conjunction with their didactic coursework. These experiences are designed to provide in-depth learning opportunities within the student's specialty area.

All DNP students are required to complete a minimum of 1,000 clinical hours.  Post-master's students will submit verification of clinical hours to determine how many remaining hours will be needed in the DNP program.

See the College of Nursing's Clinical Experiences website for more information and important resources.

The DNP scholarly project is a clinical evidence practice project intended to improve patient outcomes. It is completed under the guidance of the student's DNP comprehensive exam and project committee. Students complete their proposal paper and oral defense during course NURS 783  (NP students) or NURS 807 (Executive Healthcare Leadership students). Students who are successful with their proposal defense, will then move to the project implementation phase.

Student will enroll in NURS 897, DNP Project Preparation and Residency, as they implement their project. This is completed over two or three semesters depending on the program. During the final semester of NURS 897, students will complete the final DNP Project Scholarly Paper, and the oral final project defense. Upon successful completion of the oral defense, and approval of the DNP Scholarly Project Paper, students will have the opportunity to submit their paper for publication via USC Library's Scholar Common's Database. 

Use the DNP Master checklist and the guidelines below to help you stay on track with your DNP project.

Proposal Defense

Final Defense


The College of Nursing assigns each DNP student to a DNP mentor group. The mentor group is made up of two experienced and knowledgeable DNP-prepared faculty, and one to four students from the same cohort.  The purpose of the mentor group model is to allow students access to more than one faculty in order to discuss their project idea, consult on any potential roadblocks that may occur, and benefit from the various experiences and expertise of our faculty. Students also benefit from having other students in their DNP mentor group, so you can learn from one another as you begin navigating the ins and outs of implementing an evidence-based project in a health care setting.  You have a built in support network when you need it most.

The DNP Project Committee is made up of three members. Two members must be College of Nursing faculty members. The committee chair will be one of the faculty assigned to the student's mentor group. The other faculty member assigned to the group will serve as a second committee member. The third member must be an outside member.  An “outside” member for DNP student's project is defined as someone employed at the agency where the project will be implemented. This person's role is to advocate and support the student's project at the project site. The outside member must hold a terminal degree (DNP, PhD, MD, DO, PharmD, DPT). 

See "Required Documents" below for the necessary committee forms. 

All DNP students complete a written paper and an oral defense of their DNP scholarly project proposal while enrolled in either NURS 783 (NP students) or NURS 807 (EHL students). Your committee chair, who is one of two members of your mentor group, will provide feedback on your paper while you are enrolled in one of the two courses listed above.

The course faculty will work with you on scheduling your oral proposal defense. All members of your official doctoral committee must attend the oral proposal defense.

All DNP students complete a written paper and an oral final defense of their DNP scholarly project while enrolled in their final semester of NURS 897, DNP Project course. The student's doctoral committee chair will be the faculty of record for NURS 897 and will guide the student through the final phases of the project. 

Review the final defense procedures document for more information about the final defense.

A student will be dismissed from the College of Nursing if they receive two grades of 79.99% (C+) or lower in the same NURS or ITEC course or in any two NURS or ITEC courses. * 

Each student is required to complete a Program of Study (POS) [pdf]. The POS shows the courses that you plan to take in your program. If you have taken previous graduate course work that is not part of a completed degree, you should talk with your graduate advisor about possible transfer of courses before you complete the DPOS. There is a process for the approval of transfer courses. See the Transfer of course credit heading for more information. The graduate advisor will forward the POS to the Graduate School for review and approval. 

If students have taken graduate courses that are not part of a completed degree, up to 50% of the required hours may transfer if those courses meet degree requirements. The Graduate School requires that courses, including transfer courses, must be less than 10 years old at the time of graduation to be approved.

Student must submit a completed and signed Request for Transfer Credit G-RTC form for EACH course they wish to transfer, along with a syllabus for the course. A review of transfer credit requests will occur upon receipt of the form and syllabus, provided the student is officially admitted by the Graduate School. Please note an official transcript must be on file before the College of Nursing can consider any transfer request.

If you take nine credit hours in a semester, and do not have an assistantship, you will be considered full time. If you take six credit hours in a semester, and have an assistantship, you will be considered full time. You may qualify for financial aid if taking at least six credit hours. Taking less than six credit hours is considered part-time. Taking at least one credit hour of DNP Project Preparation each semester when you are completing your DNP scholarly project is required.

As a doctoral student, you will need to submit a variety of forms at different stages of your program. Your program advisor and your DNP project chair will ensure you know when and how to submit the forms. Please attend to all document form submission requests in a timely manner to ensure you are positioned for the next stage in your educational journey.  For your convenience, the forms are linked on this website.

First Semester Forms:

DNP Project Forms:

Final Semester Forms:


All College of Nursing doctoral programs require both qualifying and comprehensive exams. Both exams have a written and an oral component which must be successfully passed.  Once a DNP student successfully completes the oral defense of the DNP scholarly project proposal, and the student's paper is approved by the DNP Committee, the Qualifying exams and Comprehensive Exams are considered complete. Students in some DNP programs may also be required to take exams in preparation for future certification examinations, as part of their program. 

To successfully complete a DNP program and graduate, students must complete each of the following:

  • Have an approved program of study on file with the Graduate School

  • Earn an appropriate grade on all course work included in the program of study

  • Pass written and oral components of the qualifying and comprehensive exams

  • Form a dissertation committee (DNP Scholarly Project committee)

  • Complete an approved proposal of the DNP Scholarly Project 

  • Complete the DNP Scholarly Project

  • Successfully defend the DNP Scholarly Project

  • Apply for graduation

While not required for graduation, completion of the College of Nursing' Exit Survey provides important information for improving our services and program offerings for students.

Check out our FAQ page for more information.





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