DNP Vs PhD in Nursing

Learn about the differences between a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) vs. a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Nursing, such as prerequisites, curriculum, length of study, and available careers, as well as salaries and job outlook. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

The Differences Between a DNP and a Ph.D. in Nursing

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

A doctor of nursing practice is a doctoral degree that trains students to practice nursing at the most advanced level in a specific field of clinical expertise, while also giving them skills to direct nursing staff or advocate for healthcare policy change. Program applicants must hold a bachelor's or master's degree in nursing, have maintained a 3.0 GPA or higher, and have an unencumbered RN license. DNP programs typically last two years if studying full time and common courses in DNP programs can include healthcare ethics, policy, and epidemiology; some courses will depend on if the individual chooses to specialize in a certain area, such as neonatal care or women's health. A few possible career options for those who obtain a DNP are Clinical Nurse Specialists and Nurse Anesthetists.

Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing

A doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing is a doctoral degree that trains students to hold scientific research positions that gives them the ability to improve and advance the science and practice of the healthcare system. Applicants must have a bachelor's or master's degree in nursing, have maintained a 3.0 GPA or higher, and an RN license in good standing. Some schools may require GRE test scores. Ph.D. nursing programs typically last three years if studying full time, and common courses include philosophy in science, quantitative research methods, and grant writing. An individual with a Ph.D. in Nursing may choose from careers such as Nurse Educators and Research Nurses.

Degree Program Program Length Program Requirements Related Careers
Doctor of Nursing Practice 2 years *BSN or MSN degree
*3.0 GPA
*RN license
*Clinical Nurse Specialist
*Nurse Anesthetist
Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing 3 years *BSN or MSN degree
*3.0 GPA
*RN license
*Nurse Educator
*Research Nurse

DNP vs. Ph.D. in Nursing Careers

Clinical Nurse Specialists

Clinical nurse specialists are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who specialize in a specific area of clinical expertise, such as neonatal care, adult health, psychiatric care, women's health, geriatrics, and pediatrics, among others. Clinical nurse specialists examine, diagnose, and treat patients specific to their specialty, and additionally provide knowledge and expertise for healthcare officials in creating, implementing, or changing healthcare policies, procedures, and standards of care. A Doctor of Nursing Practice qualifies an individual to work as clinical nurse specialists due to the advanced level of clinical care and/or specialty training they receive in the program.

Nurse Anesthetists

Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) are advanced practice registered nurses who are certified in anesthesia and can work in hospital operating rooms, outpatient and dermatological surgery centers, and dental offices. Nurse anesthetists perform many duties while on the job that include performing physical assessments on the patient, taking note of the patient's history, obtaining consent for the anesthesia, educating the patient on how the anesthesia will work, administering the anesthesia, and monitoring the patient during the procedure to ensure the patient's safety and well-being. A Doctor of Nursing Practice with a specialization in anesthesia will qualify an individual to become a nurse anesthetist due to the specialized training they will receive.

Nurse Educators

Nurse educators are nurses with advanced degrees who are qualified to instruct nursing students at colleges, universities, technical schools, and vocational schools, as well as teaching hospitals. Nurse educators design curriculum for nursing programs, teach it to their students, evaluate its effectiveness, and change it as necessary. A nurse educator must obtain an advanced nursing degree and an individual with a Ph.D. in nursing is qualified to teach, given that a Ph.D. focuses on the academic and research aspects of the nursing field.

Research Nurses

An individual with a Ph.D. in nursing should have advanced skills in research methods pertaining to the healthcare field, therefore, they should be qualified to become a research nurse. Research nurses conduct scientific research for a number of different organizations, including hospitals, universities, pharmaceutical companies, and medical research organizations. They may research illnesses, healthcare procedures, pharmaceuticals, and treatment options, among other areas within healthcare, in order to improve patient care; they typically report to nurses, doctors, and other medical researchers, and may sometimes administer care themselves.

Job Type Median Salary (2018)** Job Outlook (2018-2028)*
Clinical Nurse Specialists $88,520 26% (for careers classified as APRN)
Certified Nurse Anesthetists $147,286 26% (for careers classified as APRN)
Nurse Educators $74,642 11% (for careers classified as postsecondary teacher)
Research Nurses $74,424 8% (for careers classified as medical scientist)

Sources: *Bureau of Labor Statistics; **

The key difference between a DNP and a Ph.D. in nursing is that a Ph.D. qualifies an individual for independent scientific research; both programs require applicants to have completed a BSN or MSN with a minimum 3.0 GPA and have an RN license. Those with a DNP are qualified to pursue specialty nursing careers, such as nurse anesthetists and clinical nurse specialists, while those with a Ph.D. are qualified to pursue research and academic careers, such as research nurses and nurse educators.

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