How did the recent push toward requiring the DNP rather than the MSN degree for nurse practitioners occur?  Who is in charge?  For those of us not in academia (and maybe some who are), this is a confusing topic as it seems there is not yet a cohesive plan for implementing the DNP requirement.

In 2004, the AACN published a document recommending that by 2015 nurse practitioner programs and state governments require the DNP rather than the MSN (currently required) for entry into nurse practitioner practice.  The DNP is intended to further nurse practitioner education on a practical, practice-based level rather than focus on research like the PhD.  Nursing organizations believe the DNP is necessary to establish nurse practitioners on a similar level to other health professions.  For example, audiologists, pharmacists and physical therapists all hold doctorate degrees.

Realistically, this transition will not occur by 2015.  First, schools must begin to offer DNP programs in larger numbers as there are currently not enough DNP programs to educate all nurse practitioner students.  Secondly, states must begin to require the DNP for legal practice as a nurse practitioner.  If states do not mandate the DNP, master’s prepared nurse practitioners will still be allowed to enter into practice.

What about current nurse practitioners?  When/If the DNP transition does occur, nurse practitioners currently practicing will not be required to return to school to obtain a DNP degree.  They will be allowed to continue to practice with their current level of education.  Could this affect your ability to obtain employment if you continue to practice with only a master’s degree?  Maybe.  In my experience, employers place a significant weight on experience.  If you have experience practicing as a nurse practitioner, I believe you will easily be able to find employment even without the DNP degree.

Overall, the DNP will likely be implemented as the required degree for practice as a nurse practitioner.  I do not believe this will happen by 2015 as there are too many changes that must occur on the university and state government level.  The good news for you as a prospective nurse practitioner student- you can still complete your nurse practitioner program with only a master’s degree.  This will save you time, money and allow you to start your nurse practitioner career more quickly.

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