DNP vs NP: What's the Difference and Which Degree Should You Pursue?

Understanding the difference between a DNP vs NP means understanding your goals upon earning your degree. While both can help you kick-start your career, each leads you down a different path with different responsibilities.

Comprehending these paths, and these differences, can help you decide between a master of science in nursing (MSN) with one of many nurse practitioner concentrations or a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and may help you become a nurse practitioner.

Nurse practitioner careers

What is a Doctor of Nursing Practice?

The Doctor of Nursing Practice, or DNP, is a terminal doctorate in nursing, academically equivalent to the PhD. Usually, DNP degrees take about two years to complete and are designed for students who have full-time jobs.

Programs also have a clinical requirement that range between 400 and 500 clinical hours. However, some programs expect that you have completed a total of 1,000 post-baccalaureate practice hours when you graduate.

Did You Know?

From 2015 to 2016, the number of students enrolled in DNP programs increased from 21,995 to 25,289.

What Is the Difference Between a DNP and an NP?

Nurse practitioners and nurses with a Doctorate of Nursing Practice both deliver advanced primary, acute, and specialized healthcare to patients in clinical settings. Either may work in administrative, clinical, or leadership roles.

Both DNP's and NP's have training in advanced practices that may allow them to provide patients with healthcare interventions that are more similar to the care administered by physicians.

The primary difference between a DNP vs NP is that DNPs work to generate new scientific, clinical, and structural knowledge about nursing and the industry. In other words, they apply their knowledge to practice.

Therefore, those with a DNP degree essentially work as scientists and nurses in academic and clinical settings. On the other hand, NPs primarily practice in clinical settings and focus their energy on treating and diagnosing patients as opposed to scientific and academic research.

Plus, earning a DNP may help you influence health policy through preparing you for advanced clinical practice, leadership, and management positions.

Nurse Practitioner Masters Programs

Designed to help nurses develop their clinical skills and how to apply science to a variety of nurse practitioner (NP) roles, nurse practitioner programs serve the holistic health needs of the patient.

Nurse practitioner master’s degree programs build on your education and experience you might have as an RN or while earning your BSN. Typically, this is through a curriculum that teaches new medical skills beyond bedside care.

Check out some of the sponsored listings below to learn more about individual programs.

South University

As a private academic institution dedicated to accelerating the development of a diverse student population, South University uses a broad-based curriculum that promotes critical thinking, effective communication, and skills for life-long learning.

The nursing programs at South University are focused on developing your skills, knowledge, clinical proficiency and experience outside of the classroom. This helps you become a more confident, caring health care professional.

Some of the nurse practitioner programs include:

Frontier Nursing University

Founded in 1939 with a vision of improving the health care of women and families in rural America, Frontier Nursing University has grown into one of the largest non-for-profit universities in the United States for advanced nursing.

As a nursing school, FNU has specialty tracks for nurses looking to advance their career. Two of the nurse practitioner programs include:

University of Pittsburgh

The University of Pittsburgh is a state-related research university that boasts more than 36,000 students. Founded in 1787, it is also one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the United States.

By preparing nurses to deliver the highest quality care, the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing strives to change the face of nursing practice. One of many nursing degrees offered at the university is the:

University of North Dakota

The University of North Dakota is the state’s oldest and largest university and has nearly 15,000 students and more than 200 fields of study. Plus, in 2018 the University of North Dakota was recognized as one of the Most Innovative Schools by U.S. News and World Report.

Educating nurses for more than 100 years, the Department of Nursing at UND continues to produce some of the finest graduates in the nation. Some of their NP programs are:

Wilkes University

Lectures and study groups are important parts of learning, but the faculty at Wilkes University wants you to put that learning to good use. The quality of people, including students, faculty, and staff, are committed to your success in and out of the classroom.

The Passan School of Nursing at Wilkes University offers an array of concentrations for graduate students. With faculty and staff dedicated to providing personalized attention with a strong commitment to the professional practice of nursing, one of the NP programs at Wilkes is:

Educational Requirements: DNP vs NP

In order to prepare you for the different responsibilities mentioned above, there are educational differences as well.

To become an NP, you need a master of science in nursing (MSN) and a DNP is a doctoral degree is a doctorate. These degrees have different prerequisites, focus on different aspects of the field, and may prepare you for different roles.

Nurse Practitioner Education Requirements

To pursue potential career opportunities as a Nurse Practitioner, you typically earn a 4-year bachelor’s degree and then a 2-year master’s degree.

For instance, one potential educational path might be to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in one of the NP options.

Some of the available concentrations for nurse practitioners include:

  • Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner – Acute Care
  • Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Acute Care
  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

NP's also need a nursing license in the state and field in which they wish to practice. For instance, there are different types of licenses for different types of nurse practitioner roles.

While you’re probably licensed as a registered nurse (RN), be sure to check with your school and state to see which you need for your specific NP role.

Institutions granting degrees and certification must be accredited by the American Board of Nursing Specialtiesi or the National Commission for Certification Agencies.

DNP Education Essentials

To earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, the most common path is:

  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN - 4-year degree)
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN - 2-year degree)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP - 2-year degree)

There are other options, including direct entry nursing programs that allow students to go from a BSN to DNP. Some of these programs award an MSN as well, while others don’t.

DNPs are also required to earn certification through an accredited body to practice.ii Therefore, be sure to check with a variety of schools to see how many hours each requires.

Doctor of Nursing Practice Programs

Grounded in applied research and clinical practice, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs often assess the latest scientific data, work to improve systems of care, and enhance the quality of care.

Typically, DNP students are required to complete about 500 practice experience hours while earning the degree, though the exact number varies from school to school.

Click on some of the sponsored DNP programs below to learn more about individual programs.

Kaplan University

The programs at Kaplan University foster student learning with opportunities to launch, enhance, or change careers in today’s diverse global society. The school is committed to being your lifelong partner for career improvement by delivering best-in-class educational experiences.

Kaplan understands that it takes an exceptional person to be a nurse. It also takes a dedicated school to stand by you throughout your career. Kaplan evaluates its nursing programs and courses regularly to stay current with new technology, treatments, and research, including their NP program:

University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences

The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences strives to develop professional health care practitioners through innovative, individualized, and quality classroom and clinical experiences.

With four campuses, St. Augustine offers a variety of programs in the health care field, including the DNP programs:

Andrews University

Founded in 1874, Andrews University has always placed serious scholarship, quality research, and a strong focus on practical Christianity on the list of important reasons to attend the school. That’s why the school has become the best-known Adventist educational institute in the world.

Designed to improve systems of care, patient outcomes, and quality and safety in the health care field, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program at Andrews increases your knowledge and clinical skills.

Chatham University

Throughout its history, Chatham University has been innovative and entrepreneurial. This had led to its growth from a small women’s college 145 years ago into the dynamic, coeducational university it is today.

The highly competitive School of Health Sciences at Chatham approaches learning differently than other schools. For instance, students learn in a close-knit atmosphere that allows for interprofessional education.

In this format, the Doctor of Nursing (DNP) at Chatham teaches students through problem-based learning in order to foster critical thinking skills.

Grand Canyon University

As the premier private Christian university in Arizona, Grand Canyon University is committed to their Christian worldview of unity. GCU strives to help students become global citizens, critical thinkers, effective communicators, and responsible leaders.

The College of Nursing and Health Care Professions at GCU offers a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) that prepares nurse leaders to design and implement evidence-based strategies. This program is designed for MSN-prepared nurses who want to deepen their knowledge and build upon their skillsets.

What They Study: Doctorate of Nursing Practice vs Nurse Practitioner

Nurse Practitioners commonly study the following subjects which may help them prepare for advanced work in clinical settings and leadership roles:

  • Physiology and pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physcial assessment
  • Clinical decision-making
  • Family and organizaitonal systems
  • Clinical management
  • Research methods and evidence-based practice

In addition, NPs complete practicum training in general nursing and focus on their specialization.

Students in Doctor of Nursing Practice programs follow a different curriculum. They prepare to pursue advanced work in academia, leadership, and clinical settings by focusing on these subjects:

  • Healthcare economics
  • Informatics and healthcare systems
  • Public policy initiatives
  • Grant writing
  • Clinical leadership and inter-professional collaboration
  • Professional ethics
  • Statistics and biostatistics
  • Clinical issues in genetics and genomics
  • Epidemiology
  • Therapeutics
  • Research methods and evidence-based practice

Keep in Mind:

Many DNP programs also have clinical requirements, so be sure to check the requirements for each school before applying.

Nurse Practitioner Job Responsibilities: DNP vs NP

Just as the educational requirements of DNP and NP programs differ, so too do the roles of DNP and NP professionals in the field.

NP programs may prepare nurses to pursue careers in clinical settings and leadership capacities, with responsibilities that may include:

  • Direct medical care by diagnosing and treating patients
  • Providing aftercare and follow up examinations
  • Write prescriptions
  • Perform minor medical procedures

On the other hand, DNP programs may prepare nurses to pursue careers in academic, administrative, and leadership, as well as clinical roles. They emphasize increasing quality of care through careful, evidence-based research and practice.

Professionals with a Doctorate of Nursing Practice may act as NPs, but they also provide leadership in healthcare organizations, guide initiatives, and discover and promote best-practices for providing quality care.

One of the keys to success throughout your career is learning how to effectively write and improve your nursing resume.

DNP vs NP: You Decide

So, which NP program is right for you? Think about your goals, and educational background. Then start your search right here.

Continue reading to learn more about individual MSN and DNP programs to help you choose between a DNP vs NP.

Find the Perfect Nursing Program for You!

If none of the programs listed above grab your interest, complete the form on the top of the page to get matched to a number of nursing programs. Or, check out our nursing resource center for all the answers to your nursing education questions or read our interview with a nurse practitioner.


[i] nursingcertification.org/ [ii] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm#tab-4