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Not only are we seeing changes on the healthcare scene politically these days, educational options for nursing education are evolving as well.  The new Doctor of Nursing Practice, or DNP, degree is causing quite a stir among practicing and prospective NPs.  How is the DNP different from the traditional nursing doctorate, the PhD?  What real world advantages does it have to offer?  Lets take a look.

DNP vs PhD

The major difference between the DNP and PhD in nursing is that the PhD is more research oriented while the DNP is geared toward hands-on clinical practice.  A PhD qualifies nurses to participate in research studies and publish scholarly work.  Nurses holding a PhD are generally involved almost completely in the academic world rather than working directly with patients in the hospital or clinical setting.

Unlike the PhD, the DNP was created as an advanced educational option for students looking to better their skills and knowledge of hands-on patient care. The DNP is a clinical doctorate degree.  The goal of the DNP is to create nursing leaders and nurses who are prepared to integrate research into clinical practice.  While nurses with a DNP can certainly teach and work in the academic setting, the degree is not as focused on preparing students to work in the academic world.

Comparison of PhD and NP Programs 

The content of DNP and PhD programs varies according to the different goals of these two degrees.  PhD programs focus on teaching students to generate clinical data and research while DNP programs teach students to translate this research and incorporate it into clinical practice.

A PhD in nursing program requires a dissertation, often includes some teaching requirements and takes about four to five years to complete.  PhD programs do not require clinical hours where students provide patient care.  DNP programs do not require a dissertation, but rather a capstone project.  This project is based on practice; for example students may investigate a certain clinical intervention or modify nursing practice for a specific population.  Clinical hours involving patient care are required as part of a DNP program.  DNP programs take an average of two to three years to complete.

Should you advance your nursing degree?

If you want to teach and move your career in the direction of academia, a PhD may be a good option for you.  Universities are much more likely to hire you as part of their faculty with a PhD in nursing.  Also, if research is your passion, a PhD is the way to go.

If you want to work as a nurse practitioner in the traditional sense, diagnosing and treating patients in the clinic or hospital setting, you have the option to work with just an MSN degree or you may progress to the DNP.  While there is talk of making the DNP mandatory in the future, this has not yet become a requirement.  Nurse practitioners with a DNP degree currently have the same salaries as master’s prepared nurse practitioners and have the same real world job descriptions.  If you want the prestige that comes with holding a doctorate or want to integrate teaching or a more academic focus to your career, then consider getting your DNP.  If the focus of your career will be diagnosing and treating patients in the clinic or hospital setting, at this point sticking with an MSN will save you time and money.

Will you advance your nursing degree?  Which degree will you choose?

For more information on furthering your nursing education, visit the Utica College website.

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One thought on “DNP vs PhD in Nursing: What’s the Difference?”

  • Where I live, in Northwest Wisconsin, all the graduate level programs have transitioned to the DNP cirriculum for incoming students. I am in the process of completing my BSN, and will look to start my NP studies in a year from now. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) I will have to do an online MSN track as I am not willing to take three more years of study after completing my BSN. I have been out of school 14 years, and cannot afford to take myself out of the workforce completely for four years.

    One of the big reasons here for essentially mandating the DNP track, is that nursing schools need more qualified professors. Our local University just annouced that they are part of a 3.2 million dollar grant to recruit and train 40 new DNP professors over the next few years. I would be a great teacher, and am somewhat interested in the field, however I am not willing to take a nearly 40K a year pay cut to teach. DNP’s that go into the healthcare field will make around 90K to start, but local professors start at about 50K. Until Universities address and recognize that many who would be great teachers do not go into the field because of the huge pay discrepancy, I do not think the gap for educators will be filled. This hurts everyone. Here where I live both nursing programs have waitlists up to two years, and the BSN program is in such demand that only 40 students are accepted yearly and those students have an average GPA of 3.82.

    I am cautiously optimistic that I will be able to enroll in an online MSN program a year from now. If all else fails, I will reluctantly enroll in a DNP program, but will look for one that is as short as possible as three years of additional schooling is really quite a burden.

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