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Market Snapshot: Doctor of Nursing Practice

As the healthcare landscape becomes more complex, the demand for more advanced leaders and practitioners rises. This is especially true in the nursing field. As early as 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) called for a higher level of preparation for nurses. The organization recommended that positions once requiring a master’s degree now require a doctorate-level education instead. Since AACN’s position paper was published, many institutions introduced a doctor of nursing practice degree, or DNP.

Elevating a Career: Advancing a Field Through Higher Education

For many years, the standard for advanced practice nurses (APRNs) is to hold master’s degrees. APRNs serve in four main subfields: nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetist, and nurse midwife.

DNP programs expand on material that was covered in master of science in nursing degrees (MSN) but have greater emphasis on areas such as:

  • Practice management
  • Quality improvement
  • Cost measurement
  • Risk management

DNP programs also often aim to bring nurse practitioners up to speed with the latest in information technology.
Another impetus for establishing the DNP is standardizing a degree type. At the master’s level, the degree names vary. AACN is careful to point out, though, that a DNP is not a role, but a degree; job titles will vary based on roles and responsibilities.

DNP vs. Ph.D.: What’s the Difference?

Before we continue into where a DNP can lead you, let’s cover one of the most common questions we’ve seen: What’s the difference between a Ph.D. and a DNP?

A doctor of nursing practice (DNP) is considered a terminal degree, or the highest education credential in a specific field. A Ph.D. also is a terminal degree. So what’s the difference between these two advanced options?

Traditionally, Ph.D.s are academic degrees, rooted in teaching and scholarly research. Other terminal degrees, such as a DNP, MBA, or MFA, are more practice-oriented. Choosing one over the other depends on career goals. A Ph.D. may be the best choice for those interested in tenure-track positions in higher education. However, many institutions also accept other terminal degrees for adjunct, visiting, and—in some cases—even tenure-track teaching positions.

The work is a bit different as well. A Ph.D. candidate must complete and defend a dissertation, whereas other terminal-degree students demonstrate proficiency in other, practical ways. For a DNP student, this could be completing a clinical experience. While DNPs may also participate in research, their findings may directly influence their facility and practice rather, whereas the goal in Ph.D. research is often journal publication.

Demand for DNP Recipients: A Career Outlook

There’s a clear demand for job candidates with DNPs.  According to AACN, in 2016, many nursing schools experienced a shortage of qualified faculty. Along with that, the Health Resources and Services Administration reports that more than one million registered nurses will retire in the next decade. These signs point to a growing need for nurses with advanced skills and higher-level training to teach, lead, and practice.

A DNP helps develop nurse-leaders who not only have the ability to manage individual patients, but also to improve care at the clinic level and measure outcomes. DNP graduates can work in administration, health policy, public health, education, and health information.

According to the BLS, nurse practitioners earn $117,670 per year, and the field is in high demand. The number of positions is projected to grow 45 percent by 2030, which is much faster than average career. Additionally, an Advance Healthcare Network report showed DNP-prepared nurse practitioners earned $8,000 more than their master’s-prepared counterparts.

If you’re looking to advance your nursing career, either in practice or to move into administration or education, consider ACU Online’s DNP program. You can earn your degree while continuing to do what you do best.