Aims and objectives: The role of professional doctorates is receiving increased attention internationally. As part of building the rigour and scholarship of these programmes, we assessed projects undertaken as part of a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programme at Johns Hopkins University. Recommendations for programme development in professional doctorates are provided. Background: Past research has described the methodologic limitations and dissemination of DNP projects. However, few studies have provided recommendations for strengthening these projects and alternative strategies for achieving scale in larger student cohorts. Design: A descriptive study reported in accordance with STROBE guidelines. Methods: From 2009–2018, 191 final DNP project reports were obtained from the DNP programme administrator. Essential project characteristics from the papers were extracted, including use of theoretical framework, design, setting, sample and dissemination through publication. To determine whether the results of the projects had been published, the title and student’s name were searched in Google Scholar and Google. Results: Of the 191 projects, 83% focused on adults and 61% were conducted in the hospital setting. Sample sizes ranged from 7 to 24,702. Eighty per cent of the projects employed a pretest/post-test design, including both single and independent groups. The projects spanned six overarching themes, including process improvement, clinician development, patient safety, patient outcome improvement, access to care and workplace environment. Twenty-one per cent of the project findings were published in scholarly journals. Conclusions: Conducting a critical review of DNP projects has been useful in refining a strategy shifting from incremental to transformative changes in advanced practice. Relevance to clinical practice: Programme evaluation is critical in order to sufficiently prepare nurses in advanced nursing practice to influence healthcare outcomes at the individual or population level.