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DNP vs PhD in Nursing: What's the Difference?

Nursing qualifications

Are you thinking about advancing your nursing career beyond a Master’s degree? Do you want to learn more about the difference between a DNP and a PH.D. in nursing?

You came to the right place.

As a frontline healthcare worker, it’s always a good thing to expand your knowledge and advance your practice. Nurses have two paths ahead of them: getting a Ph.D. or DNP. In this guide, we’ll teach you about the differences between DNP vs Ph.D. in nursing.

1. Focuses and Purposes of Ph.D. in Nursing vs. DNP

The two doctoral degrees in nursing have different focuses. When you decide between the two, you must keep your goals and ambitions in mind. Choosing one between DNP vs Ph.D. will open doors for you as well as improve certain aspects of your practice.

A doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing is a research-focused doctorate. Like in other fields, this is the traditional academic research-centered degree. This is the degree that focuses on sharing and generating new nursing knowledge.

It’s the choice for nurses who are willing to commit their lifetimes to create and test nursing theories. It’s also the degree to pick if you want to become a nurse educator or professor. It’s perfect for theory-based research that gets shared through publications and presentations.

The DNP degree is for nurses who have a passion for clinical practice. DNP focuses less on research and more on clinical expertise. If you want to move up as an advanced practice provider and clinical care expert, take this doctorate.

Here, you focus on applying cutting-edge nursing science to clinical practice. It’s the choice for nurses who want more comprehensive skills in their discipline. It's the pick for those who want to improve healthcare without commitment to research.

2. Difference in Education

We’ve discussed one of the major differences between each terminal degree in nursing. Let’s move on to how different they are when it comes to advanced education and practice. We’ll begin with a Ph.D. in nursing.

Education in Ph.D. in Nursing
As it’s a research-focused degree, healthcare work experience isn’t a necessity to get into a Ph.D. program. You can get accepted as a prospective Ph.D. student while you’re still in a baccalaureate nursing program. The important thing about this is that you have an original research theory to focus on in the program.

It’s typical to get assigned to a research advisor during the admission. This research advisor will help you convert investigation ideas into original research. They’ll also act as your guide in the research program.

When you take the Ph.D. program, you may get extensive curricular requirements. You’ll get coursework on the philosophy of science, theoretical, and research foundations. By the end, you’re expected to give an oral and written defense of your research investigation.

Education in DNP
As it’s focused more on clinical practice, finishing a DNP program is also work-focused. Instead of finishing a dissertation and oral defense, you use the time to complete a final project. The final project is what others refer to as a capstone or quality improvement project.

As a note, your capstone may take longer to complete. It may take up time beyond the course completion. The DNP program also prepares you to use the nursing science developed by Ph.D. nurse scholars.

The coursework will include studies in systems leadership, clinical scholarship, and life sciences. You also get work on healthcare advocacy and technology and population health.

3. DNP vs Ph.D. - Career and Employment Options

Career options are a major consideration when applying for a nursing doctoral degree. When you have a Ph.D. in nursing, higher positions become open to you. That includes faculty positions, government facilities, and research centers.

Nurses with Ph.D. in nursing degrees qualify as educators and mentors. You can go far within an academic setting in teaching and service. You also help in advancing the original research of younger nurses taking Ph.D. programs.

DNP graduates can move up as advanced practice nurses in various settings. You can be a CNO in a long-term care facility or an executive director of the healthcare system. You can also become a clinical nurse educator in universities and colleges.

As a DNP graduate, you take lead nurses who are conducting original research. You can also have advanced practice foci in psychiatry, geriatrics, and more.

4. Advantages and Disadvantages of Ph.D. vs. DNP

Why get a Ph.D. instead of a DNP? Let’s dive into their respective pros and cons to fully understand why people choose one over the other:

Pros and Cons of Ph.D. in Nursing
People see having a Ph.D. in nursing as a gold standard. It’s also more recognized around the world as a form of academic achievement.

A lot of institutions also look for PhD-prepared nurses who can mentor nursing students who’re taking Ph.D. nursing programs. Working in institutions can also give you free or low-cost tuition. You can also use this advantage to help family members who go to the same institution.

However, finishing a Ph.D. may take a long time, especially with postdoctoral research work. It can also be difficult to access enhanced research environments. Some areas of interest needed for research are difficult to reach and access.

Pros and Cons of DNP
An advantage of finishing a DNP degree is that there’s an expected increase in salaries. However, for many, finishing a DNP degree doesn’t have the same effect as holding a Ph.D. degree. Yet, you can finish a DNP degree half the time it’d take you to complete a Ph.D. degree.

DNP degree holders may not experience as much support from key groups. That includes insurers, patients, administrators, and legislators. Also, DNPs need to renew their certification every five years.

5. Salary

Yet another difference between DNP and Ph.D. graduates lie in the salaries. DNPs get an average of $125,000 to $150,000 per year. Meanwhile, Ph.D. educators have a median pay of $81,350 while nurse researchers earn an annual average of $81,500.

Remember that the mean salary is different for each state. For example, in 2018, California nurses earned $106,950 per year on average. Meanwhile, nurses in South Dakota earned $58,340 in the same year on average.

Pay increases will also differ by state. Nurses in North Dakota had the highest salary increase from 2013 to 2018, going up by 17.3%. Compare this to the salary increase for nurses in California, which was 10.3% only.

Pick the Terminal Degree in Nursing That Best Suits You

That’s it for our quick guide on the differences between DNP vs Ph.D. in nursing. We hope this guide helps you decide which doctorate is the best choice for you. Remember, this choice will define your future in the discipline.

Don’t stop learning here. If you want to more about nursing courses, check out our other guides now. We may have the content you need right here!


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