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What Is the Difference Between a DNP and PhD in Nursing?

In 2010, the National Academy of Medicine, formerly the Institute of Medicine, called for the number of nurses with a doctoral degree to double by 2020. Historically, most nurses who sought a terminal degree enrolled in programs that offered a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Nursing, or its equivalent, the Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS or DNSc). However, in 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing called for the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) to become the new standard for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to enter practice.

Determining which type of doctoral degree to pursue depends on what best suits your interests and helps shape your nursing career.

Which Doctoral Nursing Program Is Right for You?

Focus of program DNP programs are geared toward advanced practice nurses who want to improve patient care outcomes by integrating research into nursing practice. In addition, these programs prepare nurse leaders at the highest level in order to influence and change healthcare policies that affect populations as a whole. DNP-prepared APRNs generally foster excellence in their practices and have a deep commitment to their practice careers. PhD programs focus on preparing nurse leaders who improve patient outcomes by performing research that translates into practice. These programs also develop nursing faculty. Nurses who have a PhD are committed to a research career and contribute to the betterment of healthcare by developing new nursing knowledge and scientific inquiry that lays the groundwork for the advancement of nursing science.
Applicant prerequisites Depending on program, Bachelor of Science in Nursing or Master of Science in Nursing -Advance Practice Registered Nurse is required. DNP programs may also require national certification as an APRN. Depending on program, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or Master of Science in Nursing is required.
Credit hours For those entering a DNP program with a BSN, 70 to 95 credit hours are usually required for degree completion. For those students who have already obtained an MSN, around 50 hours are required. PhD programs require around 60 credit hours, post master's degree, including dissertation hours.
Clinical work DNP programs can require up to 1,000 hours of clinicals. The clinical requirement for PhD programs is usually minimal.
Final project Students often have to complete a clinical paper, presentation or other practice-based project. PhD candidates must publish a dissertation that markedly contributes to the field of nursing.

Occupational Demand

According to the AACN, demand for nurses educated at the highest levels of practice is growing. Because DNP-prepared nurses are trained to provide leadership in nursing practice, they can find positions in healthcare policy, administration, the government and academia in practice-based nursing programs. PhD-prepared nurses can find work in health policy and leadership positions and as nursing researchers or faculty. For both DNP and PhD nurses, demand in academia is particularly high, because a large number of aging faculty are expected to retire soon and because nursing schools need more faculty in order to produce enough nurses to tackle the nationwide nursing shortage.

A 2014 survey from Advance Healthcare Network found that NPs with a DNP degree earned an average salary of $113,580 per year. Nurse practitioners with PhDs tend to make slightly less, with an average salary of $113,500 per year.

As the nursing community continues to push for more educational requirements across the board for nurses, there will be a growing need for nurses with doctoral degrees. These nurses will the leaders of tomorrow, helping to shape the healthcare landscape by improving patient outcomes and shaping healthcare policies. Earning a doctoral degree may be an excellent choice for furthering your knowledge, improving your practice, contributing to the field or nursing or leading to a fulfilling role as a nursing professor.

Learn about the UNF online DNP program.


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