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

what is a nurse practitioner program

What is a Doctor of Nursing Practice?

Nurses moving through their careers might marvel at the options, and with these choices might wonder if they have to become doctors to earn a Doctorate of Nursing Practice, abbreviated DNP. In fact, the Doctor of Nursing Practice is a terminal doctorate degree in nursing, similar academically to the PhD.  However, if you are interested in taking your nursing career to the next level by earning an advanced degree, you might want to carefully consider your options. Which academic path is right for you?  Let's explore the differences between a Nurse Practitioner Program and a DNP Program.

Should I Earn an MSN or a DNP?

Throughout history, Registered Nurses (RNs) have played a critical role in providing patients with quality healthcare and services. Many nurses begin their careers by earning an associates or bachelors degree in nursing and securing state- and board-certification to work as nurses. Some nurses might then choose to earn a Master’s of Science degree in the field to become Nurse Practitioners (NPs) or Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (ARPNs). Other nurses might choose to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). The important thing to keep in mind is that:

All nurses, whether advanced practice or not, dedicate their careers to caring for others.

What is the Difference between a DNP and an NP?

Nurses with a Doctorate of Nursing Practice and Nurse Practitioners 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.

There is a primary difference between NPs and DNPs: DNPs work to generate new scientific, clinical, and structural knowledge about nursing and the industry. They apply their knowledge to practice. DNPs essentially work as scientists and nurses in academic and clinical settings. NPs, on the other hand, primarily practice in clinical settings and do not emphasize scientific and academic research in their practices.

Another difference between the two is that a DNP may help prepare nurses to pursue “advanced clinical practice, leadership, management of health care delivery systems, and to influence health policy[i].” While NPs may also work in leadership and management positions or to influence healthcare policy, they typically focus on providing advanced care directly to patients.

Educational Requirements: DNP vs NP

To pursue potential career opportunities as a Nurse Practitioner, one typically earns a 4-year bachelor’s degree and a 2-year master’s degree (one potential educational path might be to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Master of Science in Nursing). Also NP's typically earn a nursing license in the state in which they wish to practice. In the majority of employment and certification cases, each of the institutions granting degrees and certification must be accredited by the American Board of Nursing Specialties[ii] or the National Commission for Certification Agencies[iii].

To pursue potential career opportunities as a Doctor of Nursing Practice, one might earn the following degrees:

  • 4-year nursing degree (BSN)
  •  2-year master’s degree (MSN)
  • 1- to 2-year post-master’s degree all from accredited institutions

Alternatively, DNPs may earn a 4-year nursing degree and a 3- to 4-year degree in a specialized DNP program from an accredited institution[iv]. DNPs are also typically required earn certification through an accredited body to practice[v].

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
  • Physical assessment
  • Clinical decision-making
  • Family and organizational systems
  • Clinical management
  • Research methods and evidence-based practice

In addition, NPs complete practicum training in general nursing. And often NPs focus on a specialization such as pediatric, acute, oncological, or psychiatric nursing.

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

NP programs may prepare nurses to pursue careers in clinical settings and leadership capacities. Whereas DNP programs may prepare nurses to pursue careers in academic, administrative, leadership, and clinical roles.

When considering DNP vs. NP, consider this: do you want to emphasize clinical care or research and administration? 

Job Responsibilities: DNP vs NP

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

Nurse Practitioners provide direct medical care by diagnosing, treating, and providing aftercare to patients. NPs can also write prescriptions and perform minor medical procedures[vi].

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[vii].They emphasize increasing quality of care through careful, evidence-based research and practice.

 


Sources: [i] nursingworld.org/DNPFAQ | [ii] nursingcertification.org/ | [iii] credentialingexcellence.org/ncca | [iv] nursingworld.org/DNPFAQ | [v] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm#tab-4 | [vi] aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/dnp | [vii] aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/dnp