JAANUU » Learn All About Nursing Doctorates: DNP vs. PhD

Learn All About Nursing Doctorates: DNP vs. PhD

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It’s common knowledge that doctors and nurses are two different types of medical professionals. Yes, there’s a difference between physicians and nurse practitioners, but nurses can also be doctors. 

There are two doctorate degrees in nursing: a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) and a PhD. Both are advanced degrees, and those who hold either have access to high-level, specialized nursing roles. So, if you love furthering your education and have already earned your master’s degree, you may consider going back to school for a doctorate. You’ll open yourself to a broader scope of nursing careers by doing so (and we’ll be there to support you every step of the way!). 

But before you enroll in a doctoral program, it’s wise to spend some time researching which role would be best for your skills and goals. Below, we’ll break down the differences between the two degrees and explain what you can do with each.


Discerning nursing doctorates: DNP vs. PhD

While both are doctorates, DNPs and PhDs are pretty different. DNP graduates usually continue to work in clinical environments, while PhD holders tend to work in academic or research settings. The time it takes to get each degree is also a major differentiator. A DNP program takes around two years, while PhD coursework will take four to seven.   

What is a DNP?

A Doctorate in Nursing Practice permits you to hold more advanced roles in your field. By enrolling in a DNP degree program, you would undergo training to become an accredited nurse leader (and earn a higher salary). Earning a DNP can open many doors if you want to specialize and work as a nurse anesthetist, family nurse practitioner, nurse-midwife or another advanced practice.

So what can you do with a doctorate in nursing? Once you have this degree, you’ll be able to specialize in any of the following:

  • Psychiatric mental health
  • Family health
  • Adult gerontology
  • Neonatal nurses
  • Primary care
  • Pediatric care
  • Clinical research
  • Teaching 
  • Healthcare strategy 
  • Lobbying

Another surprising fact about DNPs? In 23 states, nurses who’ve completed a doctor of nursing practice program can run their own clinics without the supervision of a physician. So, if you like being in charge, you may be cut out for this degree.

Where do DNPs work? 

Nurses who’ve earned their DNP often work in high-responsibility healthcare environments and roles thanks to their specialized and advanced knowledge. Some common workplaces include:

  • Specialty and internal medicine practices 
  • Their own practices
  • Colleges, universities, and other educational settings
  • Administrative settings 
  • Hospitals 
  • Advocacy organizations 

What’s the job outlook for Doctors of Nursing Practice?

If you’re almost convinced to go back to school for your DNP but need a final push, the excellent career outlook and attractive salary may help. This role is in high demand, and DNP jobs often pay extremely well. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the average DNP salary to be more than $120,000 annually. 

Why should you become a Doctor of Nursing Practice?

Becoming a DNP means you’re passionate about nursing and want to further your knowledge. But the perks don’t hurt either. Here are a few: 

  • Your salary and career outlook: As mentioned above, DNPs often earn six figures and have no trouble finding work. 
  • Your work is hands-on: Unlike nurses who hold a PhD and often work in more academic settings, DNPs continue to practice in the field and interact with patients.
  • You get to specialize: DNPs have access to more nuanced, high-level work.  
  • You can become a leader: DNPs can work creating health policies or as high-level employees in healthcare organizations. 

What is a PhD in Nursing?

A PhD in Nursing is an advanced degree focused on research and science. PhD programs prepare nurses for work in investigative and academic environments.


Where do PhDs in Nursing work? 

As this role has a strong academic and research-based foundation, nurses with PhDs usually work in educational or policy-making environments. Here are a few:

  • Colleges 
  • Healthcare organizations 
  • The government 
  • Research centers 

What’s the job outlook for a PhDs in Nursing?

Nurses with PhDs are high earners, much like their DNP counterparts. They earn 14% more than nurses who hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), with the average PhD in nursing salary in the United States being around $100,000 annually. 

Why should you pursue a PhD in Nursing?

Going back to school for your PhD in Nursing implies hitting the books for another four to seven years, so make sure you’re passionate about getting this degree first. Here are some reasons why other nurses love this role: 

  • You get to pursue research: A PhD in Nursing allows you to learn more about topics that interest you in your field and make a difference through your research. 
  • You gain access to new areas of practice: Nurses with PhDs can hold impactful teaching or leadership roles in academic or policy-making spaces. 
  • You can make a big difference: The work of PhD holders can affect policy that makes widespread changes in healthcare systems and, in turn, positively affects the quality of patient care.

Which doctorate in nursing is best for you?

The best way to answer this question is with another question. Do you prefer a hands-on, clinical practice that affects patients directly or research and academic work outside of the hospital that helps effectuate change? 

Both DNP and PhD holders have a significant impact on patient outcomes. What are your natural abilities and best qualities? If you have strong interpersonal skills and love the rush of the hospital environment, lean toward a DNP. If you’re analytical and enjoy teaching and researching, consider a PhD.

As you reach the highest heights of your nursing education, we’ll have your back with support and great scrubs.

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