Nurses with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree who want to advance their careers even further may consider earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). Considered terminal degrees for advanced practice nurses, that is where most of the similarities end. A DNP focuses on clinical practice while a Ph.D. is research-oriented.
In this article, we will explore:
- What is a DNP in nursing?
- What is a Ph.D. in nursing?
- Similarities and differences between a DNP and a Ph.D.
- Choosing the right path between a DNP and Ph.D.
What is a DNP in nursing?
A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is one of the two highest degrees nurses can earn in their field. DNPs work best for nurses seeking an alternative to research-focused doctoral programs because of their desire to focus on clinical practice. Nurses with DNPs have the skills and training necessary to make them experts in their field and valuable additions to their workplace.
DNPs in nursing do not give those who hold them the same authority or practice privileges as medical doctors. Rather, the advanced degree simply denotes they have reached the pinnacle of their nursing education. Most DNPs work in administrative or other leadership roles within the healthcare industry. Others may use their degrees to pursue Nurse Practitioner (NP) specialties.
The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) recommends that all entry-level NP educational programs be transitioned from the MSN degree to the DNP degree. The American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA) will also be requiring the DNP (or DNAP-doctor of nurse anesthesia practice) degree for entry-level nurse anesthetist programs by the year 2025. The National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NACNS) will require the DNP as the required degree for CNS entry into practice by 2030. Nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists currently practicing with either an MSN or certificate will be grandfathered in and not be required to obtain a DNP.
What is a Ph.D. in nursing?
A Ph.D. in nursing focuses on research and scientific study and prepares nursing professionals for careers designed to advance the entire nursing profession. Nurses who have their Ph.D. do not hold clinical roles in healthcare facilities. They work in academia or in research facilities tasked with advancing the role of nursing in the healthcare industry. Ph.D. nurses affect positive change in quality of patient care and outcomes in their roles as nurse scientists. Their work can shape the next generation of nursing professionals.
Ph.D. nurse educators may have the following job responsibilities:
- Deliver lectures to undergraduate and graduate-level nursing students
- Grade nursing students’ classwork, clinical performance, and lab assignments
- Mentor nursing students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate degree programs
- Plan, prepare, and revise curriculum for nursing program.
- Supervise nursing students in a clinical or laboratory setting
Ph.D. nurse researchers may perform the following tasks:
- Collect and analyze scientific data and publish detailed reports on their findings
- Establish and maintain quality assurance programs that validate data findings
- Identify research questions and collaborate with other scientists from various fields
- Supervise or train laboratory staff and other nurse scientists
- Write grant and research proposals to fund their research
Similarities and differences between a DNP and Ph.D.
DNPs and Ph.D.s are considered terminal degrees for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), which is the only similarity between the two options. Let’s look at the education, licensure and certification, and continuing education requirements for each, plus the potential salary nurses can expect.
If spending less time in nursing school is an objective, then earning a DNP is a better choice. It takes nursing students twice as long to complete a Ph.D. in nursing than a DNP. When attending full-time, nurses can earn a DNP within a year, while Ph.D.s take a minimum of three years. Here is a breakdown of how most nursing students obtain each:
- ADN-to-DNP: 5-6 years
- BSN-to-DNP: 3-4 years
- MSN-to-DNP: 2 years
- BSN-to-Ph.D.: 5-10 years
- MSN to Ph.D.: 3-7 years
Licensure and certification
DNPs can earn specialized certifications for their respective fields. DNPs must renew their certifications every five years through either the examination process or via the completion of practice hours and continuing education. Ph.D. nurses do not have to earn certifications beyond their advanced practice requirements. Both DNPs and Ph.D.s must hold a valid RN licensure.
DNP or Ph.D.: Choosing the right path
Choosing the right path for a nursing career depends on several factors, including individual goals and interests. If teaching or researching are passions, then pursuing a Ph.D. makes the most sense. Nurses that want to use their advanced skills and expertise to deliver quality clinical care as part of a healthcare team should consider a DNP. Nurses that need more help sorting out the two options can seek advice from nurses who already hold these two degrees in the Incredible Health nursing community.
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