MD Vs DNP: Comparison & Differences

Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs are two post-graduate degree options for medical professionals. While an MD is suited for students who want to start their careers as doctors, a DNP is designed for registered nurses looking to advance in their careers.

Comparing MD and DNP Degree Programs

Doctor of Medicine (MD)

An MD is a post-graduate degree that qualifies students to work as medical doctors. To apply students must have a bachelor's degree in a related field (biology, chemistry, psychology, or mathematics) and take the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). Most medical school programs are affiliated with nearby hospitals and/or clinics, so over the course of their studies, students observe doctors, volunteer or conduct research in real-world medical settings. These opportunities for hands-on practice allow students to experience a variety of medical settings first hand and choose a specialty that fits their unique affinities. Graduates are qualified to begin a 3-7 residency program working in their chosen field of expertise, the last step toward becoming a fully licensed professional doctor.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

A DNP is the highest degree available in the field of nursing. The program is designed for registered nurses who already have a BSN or master's degree. This 1-2 year program provides nurses with advanced medical knowledge and leadership skills to grow in their careers and potentially increase their salary. Most programs are designed to be completed while maintaining a full-time nursing job, thus there are flexible options like online classes and part-time tracks. Students choose their courses and develop a concentration like a nurse executive leadership, adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP), family nurse practitioner (FNP), or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP).

Degree Program Program Length Program Requirements Related Careers
MD 4-5 years Undergraduate degree Medical Doctor
Hospitalist
DNP 1-2 years Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BSN) Nurse Practitioner
Health Care Executive

Career paths for graduates of MD vs DNP degrees

Medical Doctor

An MD program prepares doctors to care for the long-term health of their patients and intervene in the case of medical emergencies. Depending on their specialization, a doctor might work in a clinic, hospital or lab setting. Some common specialties for doctors include immunology (the study of allergies, asthma, and other immune system disorders), anesthesiology (administering anesthesia and other drugs for pain relief), cardiology (the study of the heart), dermatology (the study of the skin), surgery, and family practice.

Medical Scientist

In addition to preparing students to practice medicine, an MD program can lead to positions in lab research. Medical scientists usually choose a specific field of specialties like pathology (the study of diseases), pharmacology (the study of the use, effect, and development of medical drugs), or oncology (the study of cancer treatment and prevention).

Advanced Practice Nurse

Advanced practice nurses hold more authority than registered nurses (RNs). Most advanced practice nurses have a chosen specialty like nurse anesthetist (support the safe use of anesthesia), midwife (assist in childbirth), or nurse practitioner (holds more responsibilities and management capabilities than a general registered nurse). Most DNP programs allow students to choose one concentration and enjoy the salary increase that comes with advancing from registered nurses (RN) to advanced practice registered nurses (APRN).

Professor of Nursing

If you are interested in moving out of patient care positions, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) includes the research and leadership skills necessary to teach at universities and nursing schools. Professors of nursing may work in a clinical or classroom setting. They demonstrate nursing best practices and ensure that their skills are passed down to the next generation of registered nurses.

Healthcare Executive

Because doctors and advanced practice nurses are respected professionals within a healthcare setting, they can grow into administrative and management roles. Both a medical degree and a DNP degree can lead to management positions in a hospital or clinic. Healthcare executives and managers work with staff, rather than with patients, to ensure that their clinic or hospital department runs safely and efficiently.

Job TitleMedian Salary (2018)*Projected Job Growth (2018-28)*
Medical Doctor $208,0007%
Medical Scientist $84,810 8%
Advanced Practice Nurse$113,93026%
Nursing Professor$73,49015% (2016-26)
Healthcare Executive/Manager$99,73018%

Sources: *US Bureau of Labor and Statistics

Both Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs are highly respected degrees that include classes in research, medical practice, and leadership. Whereas MD programs prepare students to kickstart their career as a medical doctor, DNP programs are designed to help registered nurses advance in their career.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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