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A Doctor of Nursing Practice (or DNP) is a post master’s program developed to train and prepare nurses to become leaders in the field. A DNP is the highest degree available to nurses who want to focus on clinical practice, and it’s becoming more and more popular in the field.

DNP programs can help nurses reach the utmost level of nursing expertise and direct patient care skills. DNP students may study areas like organizational and systems leadership, healthcare policy, evidence-based practice, quality improvement, statistics and data analysis, informatics, and more. DNP graduates should be able to apply their advanced clinical skills and knowledge to address complex problems and disparities and improve healthcare outcomes.

DNP vs PhD: What are the Differences?

A DNP degree isn’t the only option for nurses looking to pursue a doctorate. Some nurses choose to pursue a PhD instead. Here’s a quick overview of the differences between the two.

1. Program Focus: PhD vs DNP

Nursing PhD programs are heavily focused on the scientific process of analyzing and conducting research. Nursing PhD students learn how to design, conduct, present, and publish research as well as how to seek and apply for grant funding.

DNP programs prepare nurses to become leaders and advanced clinicians working in interdisciplinary health care teams. In a DNP program, you still will learn how to examine and critically appraise scientific findings, with the focus primarily on how to effectively translate and implement that knowledge to improve real-world systems of care and patient outcomes.

2. Career Outcomes: PhD vs DNP

Nursing PhD programs are designed to produce nurse scientists and researchers who expand on the existing body of published research and knowledge. Nursing PhD graduates may also become faculty members at colleges and universities, where they may work as an educator and researcher.

DNP graduates are equipped to pursue nursing leadership and high-level administration roles in healthcare organizations of all sizes. They may focus on areas like nurse management, organizational leadership, health policy, and health informatics systems. Other DNP graduates choose to continue in an Advanced Practice Nursing position, providing advanced care to patients. In clinical practice, nurses with DNPs are expected to play larger roles in problem solving and team leadership, often working in close collaboration with other healthcare professionals. Some DNP graduates also take on teaching roles within organizations or universities with an emphasis on clinical practice.

3. Program Length and Requirements: PhD vs DNP

Entry requirements for both programs are similar. DNP program requirements include mentored practice experiences and scholarly quality improvement projects, but do not include a dissertation. PhD nursing programs do require a dissertation but no practice hours. DNP programs can generally be completed in less time than a PhD program.

Benefits of Earning a DNP

If you think a DNP is a better fit for you than a PhD, but you’re unsure whether earning a nursing doctorate is worth the time and expense, here are some of the ways a DNP might benefit you.

1. Expanded Career Opportunities

Earning a DNP can prepare nurses to qualify for and pursue a range of opportunities that can include:

  • Consulting
  • Teaching
  • Health informatics
  • Clinical practice
  • Entrepreneur
  • Leadership positions

Candidates with a DNP degree make competitive applicants for desirable positions, which may come with higher salaries. Nurses with DNP degrees may also be seen as qualified to join the boards of healthcare organizations and serve in leadership roles in professional groups.

2. Professional Growth as a Leader and Clinician

Patient care has become increasingly complex, and nurses are taking on more responsibilities than ever. In some areas, nurses face these challenges combined with a shortage of physicians and other care providers.

Leading and practicing as a nurse in this environment requires staying on top of an expanding library of medical and scientific knowledge and continually evolving best practices. Beyond being familiar with current information and practices, you must also evaluate new developments and findings for clinical applicability and develop plans for implementation where needed. Achieving success as a nurse leader requires integrating competencies in leadership, ethics, outcome measurement and clinical practice with consideration for psychosocial and public health issues. Using information technology and informatics to create scalable solutions to system problems is also vital.

Earning a DNP can prepare you to step up to take on these tasks as a stronger practitioner and leader. As a DNP-prepared nurse, your patients will benefit from your expert care. Plus, everyone on your team will benefit from your increased and highly skilled contributions.

3. Expertise in an Area of Nursing You’re Passionate About

Earning a DNP provides a chance for in-depth study and exploration of a clinical area of your choosing. This takes place largely through the program scholarly project but also can occur through the specialization opportunities that some DNP programs offer. You’ll move through the DNP program under the mentorship and guidance of program faculty, who themselves are also committed to advancing clinical practice and leadership.

As you complete the DNP curriculum, you can gain familiarity with the latest relevant research and publications, giving you insight into many different perspectives and approaches to your chosen topic. Through your final scholarly project, you can shape and add to the discussion around that clinical area as you contribute your own research findings and recommendations. You’ll also have the skills to continue independently exploring and contributing to this area as a DNP graduate.

4. Increased Influence on the Healthcare Industry and Nursing Profession

Nurses with a DNP are critical to transforming our healthcare system. DNP programs cover essential topics like organization and systems leadership, population health, health policy, clinical effectiveness, evidence-based practice, and resource utilization. After finishing their program, DNP graduates have skills and knowledge that are highly needed in our current healthcare system.

Additionally, when it comes to matters of importance to the nursing community, DNP graduates are equipped to give informed opinions and make their voices heard by policy makers and other healthcare professionals.

For all these reasons, DNP-prepared nurses are making a difference in the field by lobbying for improved policies, mentoring and educating new nurses, and creating and leading innovative and impactful evidence-based care programs. With a strong understanding of the history of nursing practice and policy, DNP-prepared nurses are uniquely equipped to lead this profession into the future.

Qualities that Make You a Good DNP Candidate

Nurses who do well in DNP programs are those who are passionate about the nursing field and who want to ensure that all patients get the best health care possible. Because doctoral programs are hard work, you must be willing to push yourself as a student and a professional. Be prepared to grow!

When it comes to the scholarly project, you will have a faculty mentor who will offer feedback and guidance, but a large amount of the work will be done on your own. This means you have to be motivated enough to do independent research, analysis, and learning. To get the most of the program, you’ll need to be committed to becoming the best leader and nurse that you can be.

If all those characteristics sound like you, you could be an ideal candidate for a DNP program!

Getting Started on Your DNP

If you want the opportunity to reach your full potential as an advanced practice nurse and leader, contact South University about our Doctor of Nursing Practice program. To offer maximum flexibility for working nurses, our DNP degree program is offered fully online. Specialization courses in Administration, Information Technology, Leadership, and Public Health offer students a broad range of possible electives drawn from our College of Business and College of Health Professions. Request information or call us at 888-444-3404 to learn more!