Nursing education does not stop when you get your master’s. However, sometimes the path forward is unclear. Maybe you reached a point where you’re a bit lost, and don’t know where to go next. This is very common.
Many nurses who experience this roadblock might choose to keep studying, to get their doctorate, which is a terminal degree. You might have considered it yourself, but it’s okay if you’re not sure. Why should you get a DNP anyway?
In this post we’ll give you some reasons why that might be a good choice. We’ll also dive a little into what a DNP actually is, and how you can get one. But let’s start at the beginning.
What is a DNP?
When you go to college, normally, the first degree you can get is an undergraduate degree. This is the basic 4-year diploma that allows you to become a professional. After this, there are post-graduate degrees that you can choose to pursue.
The most common path for anyone that goes to college is getting their undergraduate degree, then a master’s degree, and then a doctorate degree, or PhD. For nursing students, this can be a little different. Nurses have two types of terminal degrees that they can get:
- A DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice)
- A PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in Nursing
Though they might look similar, they are not the same. The main difference is this: A DNP prepares you to practice at the highest level of nursing education. This is the primary focus. A PhD, on the other hand, prepares you not for practice, but (usually) for academic research.
We should say that there is some overlap between the two degrees. You can do research with a DNP as well.
The path of the PhD student is very important. After all, academic research helps us to provide better patient care. However, in this article we’ll focus on the DNP, since that degree tends to be the one most students have questions about.
So, after reading this, you might be wondering. Which one is better? Can I get both?
The short answer is that neither is better than the other. It depends on what you want to do as a nurse. And yes, you can get both titles if you choose to do so (which is very ambitious, so kudos to you!)
If you want to learn more about the differences between a Nursing PhD and a DNP degree, check out this article by the School of Nursing at Duke University.
Who can get a DNP?
As we wrote above, a doctoral degree is a terminal degree that people get once they have completed their master’s degree. It’s usually a three-step process. However, for nurses, the path to a doctoral degree is a bit different.
Any nurse who has a bachelor’s degree has the opportunity to get a DNP, even if they don’t have their master’s degree. There are some programs out there that will lead you straight into the DNP title.
This is why many nurses ask themselves: which degree should I get? An MSN or a DNP? And is it worth it to get a DNP if i’m already a nurse practitioner with a master’s degree?
To answer this, it’s important to know the difference between the two, so let’s talk more about what exactly you can get with a doctorate in nursing.
What are the benefits of getting a DNP?
Higher salary: Nurses who choose to pursue a DNP earn more than nurses with just a master’s degree. The difference is not really that much, but it can pay off. According to most online sources, DNP nurses earn about $8,000 more per year.
More job opportunities: Some hospitals look for nurses with a DNP because having them on board can help them achieve Magnet status, which ends up giving them more recognition, more patients, and more revenue. Pursuing a DNP also prepares you for leadership and managerial positions, such as:
- Chief Nursing Officer
- Nurse Educator
- College Professor
- CEO at a Healthcare Organization
- Director of Nursing Services
- Chief Nurse Anesthetist
We cover some of these positions in previous articles we have written, such as:
- The highest paying nurse practitioner specialties in 2020
- 7 unconventional nursing jobs that might interest you
Job security and independence: Becoming a DNP makes you a better qualified nurse in many respects, which means that you might become even more important for your employer. At the same time, having a doctoral degree might help you become more independent in your career. It’s a real good choice if you’re thinking of opening your own practice.
These are only three examples of where a DNP can take you. For you to see the bigger picture, we need to tell you about the differences between the MSN and the DNP.
The DNP vs the MSN
At this point, you might be thinking: “that sounds great, but it seems I can already get some of these jobs with just my MSN,” and you might be a little right. There are some similarities between the two, the main one being your practice as an NP.
Both the MSN and the DNP will allow you to practice at a high level as an NP, no matter what specialization you end up choosing. However, the DNP will give you some skills that many nurses with an MSN don’t have.
Some of these skills are:
- Preparation for leadership and academic positions
- Training in healthcare policy
- Interprofessional collaboration skills
- Training in healthcare systems
- Education in evidence-based practice
These skills are some of the reasons why some organizations are pushing for all advanced-practice nurses to get a DNP. Right now, an MSN is the entry-level degree you need to get to become an APRN, but there is an intention and motivation to raise this standard to the doctoral level.
This doesn’t mean that your job title is going to become obsolete, don’t be afraid. You will still be able to practice as an NP with your master’s degree.
You might not know this, but 10 years ago, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) wanted to phase out MSN programs by 2015. They set some guidelines intended to push nurses to earn a DNP instead of just sticking with the MSN. However, as you can see, that didn’t really work out. So don’t worry.
The best reason for getting a DNP right now is to get to a more advanced type of healthcare position. One that leaves patient work a little behind and trains you to enter other aspects of the healthcare process, such as the ones we explained earlier.
What do you need to get a DNP?
If you are reading this, you are most likely an NP student. That means you are already on the way to getting your advanced degree. Most likely an MSN.
After you get your master’s, you can enter a DNP program with no further requirements. Nowadays, there are many options, including online programs (now more relevant than ever). A doctoral study program will take you about two years to complete, in most cases.
According to Online FNP Programs, there are two types of concentrations for a DNP program: clinical practice and leadership. Their curriculums are usually similar. They might differ in only one or two subjects.
To get your DNP, you will need to complete at least 1000 clinical practice hours, but you can reduce this number by applying some of the hours that you completed in your previous MSN degree. According to some online sources, you can apply up to 500 hours.
What will you learn in the DNP program?
The AACN has a set of essential curricular elements that all DNP programs must have. Again, some subjects might vary depending on where you are studying, but you can be sure that you will learn the following eight core competencies:
- Scientific Underpinnings for Practice
- Organizational and Systems Leadership for Quality Improvement and Systems Thinking
- Clinical Scholarship and Analytical Methods for Evidence-Based Practice
- Information Systems/Technology and Patient Care Technology for the Improvement and Transformation of Health Care
- Health Care Policy for Advocacy in Health Care
- Interprofessional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes
- Clinical Prevention and Population Health for Improving the Nation’s Health
- Advanced Nursing Practice
The titles of these competencies might seem a little complicated, but there is an easy way to look at them. The keywords here are leadership, advocacy, innovation, and improvement of healthcare systems. That’s what a DNP degree is all about.
Take a moment to look at these competencies, and the job positions we wrote about earlier. Then you should be ready to decide if the DNP is right for you.
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