JAANUU » What Is a DNP? Is it Worth it? How Can You Get One?

What Is a DNP? Is it Worth it? How Can You Get One?

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If you’re a nurse, you’re a go-getter. You work hard and give your all to your patients. And, if you’ve been in the same role for a while, you may be inclined to push your career a bit further and consider adding “doctor” to your resume (and your stationery).

A DNP is one of the doctorate-level nursing degrees that allows dedicated healthcare professionals to further their knowledge and become even better at the work they are already great at. And, since you’re not just good but in fact great at what you do, this degree may be worth pursuing. 

Below, we’ll unpack the question, “What does a DNP do?” and help you decide if this degree is right for you. 

What is a DNP in the medical field? 

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We all love a punchy acronym, but what is the meaning of DNP? These three little letters stand for a big degree: a Doctorate in Nursing Practice. It is the terminal degree in nursing education, so it is the highest level of schooling in the field. In other words, this degree is for all you overachievers out there. 

In all seriousness, though, the DNP degree pushes your career one step further in the best way possible. You become an expert, a leader and someone who influences patient care and policy.

Is getting a DNP worth it?

Of course this kind of question is subjective, but there are a wealth of good reasons to get this nursing degree. Here are some top motivators:

  • Great income: DNP jobs often pay 6-figure salaries. The data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows an average DNP salary of more than $120,000 annually. 
  • This job is in high demand: Having job opportunities, especially in a tough economy, is a major selling point. And, not only are there many employment opportunities, there are different kinds of them. 
  • The work is hands-on: Even if you like hitting the books, you probably like interacting with patients more. Unlike earning a Ph.D., which involves more research-based work, a DNP requires a lot of practice in the field and experience with patients.
  • You get to specialize: DNPs can work in the area of medicine they wish and get closer to more nuanced, high-level work.  
  • You have the opportunity to work in leadership roles: DNPs can find jobs in organizations that create health policies, and they can also become high-level employees in healthcare organizations. 

What should you consider before pursuing a DNP?

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Now it’s time for the tough questions. As with anything in life, there are some fine points to consider before earning your Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. Here are some of our top considerations:

  • Remember, this is a degree and not a job (though there are plenty of opportunities out there for people who hold this degree). 
  • You will hold a doctorate degree but not be a physician.
  • A DNP is a degree, not a certification, so you may have to do additional testing to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) or hold similar roles.  

What can you do with a doctoral degree in nursing? 

If you’re wondering what you can do with a DNP, we’d say it’s a fair question from anyone considering spending another couple of years in school. 

Remember, one of the greatest benefits of this type of work is being able to specialize and work in niche parts of the industry. 

With your doctor of nursing practice degree, you could potentially specialize in one of the following:

  • Psychiatric mental health
  • Family health
  • Adult gerontology
  • Neonatal nurses
  • Primary care
  • Pediatric care

In 23 states, nurses with a DNP can even operate their own clinics, and this means exactly what you think it does: you could practice without a doctor’s supervision. 

Finally, there are some less traditional healthcare roles that you could you also consider once you have your DNP, including but not limited to:

  • Healthcare executive (individuals that work on healthcare strategies at a faculty level) 
  • Nursing faculty 
  • Clinical researcher
  • Lobbyist 

How do you get a DNP?

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To start, you’ll need to get a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) and a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN), so strap in for the long but rewarding educational haul. Then you can enter a doctorate-level program, many of which take two years. Some, you can even do online. So, while you may have a lot of studying in your future, at least you can do some of it in your pajamas or favorite loungewear

You’ll also need to do 1,000 clinical practice hours, though you may be able to apply some of the ones you’ve already completed during your Master’s degree toward the total. Either way, that med-athleisure fashion will come in handy when you want to go from studying at home to getting clinical hours in at the hospital. We can’t say the same for pajamas

Where do DNPs work?

Because DNPs have such a high level of education, they often work in high-pressure settings. The following are some of the most common environments in which DNPs work:

  • Specialty and internal medicine practices 
  • Their own practices (a.k.a. autonomous practices) 
  • Colleges and other educational settings
  • Administrative settings 
  • Hospitals 
  • Advocacy organizations 

Nurse practitioner vs. doctor, what’s the difference?

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So, if a DNP can have their own practice and call themselves “doc” but is not actually a doctor, what gives? What is it that stands between being a nurse practitioner and a doctor? 

Aside from the divergent educational paths that one must take to obtain these two careers, there are some differences in practice, too (that’s “practice” as in “skills,” not as in “place of work”).  

Doctors can prescribe medication, while DNPs may need to do so with supervision. And “with supervision” is often the operative term when it comes to the differences between a nurse practitioner’s and a physician’s work. Doctors will have to supervise certain procedures and tasks, too.

All of our support to every nurse out there who decides to go the extra mile to earn that cherished DNP!

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