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DNP Versus Ph.D. in Nursing

Nursing professionals are pursuing Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees in unprecedented numbers. In fact, U.S. colleges offer more DNP programs than nursing Ph.D. programs. There are several reasons for this trend.

How the DNP and Ph.D. Degree Differ

Both degrees build nursing expertise, but there are substantial differences. The DNP degree is focused on clinical practice. The Ph.D. is focused on research.

A nurse with a Ph.D. will typically perform independent research that can be generalized across multiple practice environments. A nurse with a DNP implements evidence-based research in a clinical setting. Both Ph.D. and DNP graduates may disseminate their findings as journal articles or presentations.

Choosing between degrees depends on career preference. Those who want to practice and pursue evidence-based implementation or quality improvement in an advanced clinical role should consider a DNP program.

Growing Demand

Nurses with a DNP are on the cutting-edge of nursing science. They are clinical care experts who are well versed in areas such as healthcare technology, healthcare advocacy and advanced nursing practice. DNP-prepared nurses play a key role in improving patient outcomes.

DNP graduates work in a variety of clinical settings and often hold leadership roles. Healthcare executives value nurses with a DNP degree, and many hold DNPs themselves. They serve as CNOs (chief nursing officers) or they work as executive directors or quality directors in healthcare systems.

Colleges across the country have increased their DNP offerings to meet growing demand. The number of students enrolled in DNP programs jumped from approximately 29,000 to nearly 33,000 between 2017 and 2018 alone. The number of graduates grew from roughly 6,100 to more than 7,000 during the same time period.

What to Expect

Nurses pursuing a DNP gain expertise in several subject areas, profoundly impacting the quality of care. The list below offers a few examples:

  • Advocating for ethical healthcare policies
  • Applying leadership skills in clinical practice and healthcare delivery
  • Evaluating healthcare policy and organizational systems
  • Analyzing scientific evidence to develop and improve effective methods for clinical practice
  • Assessing current and future trends in healthcare technologies
  • Analyzing complex healthcare issues to provide improved care
  • Building an efficient evidence-based practice

Nurses with a DNP improve delivery of care, ultimately advancing their profession. In other words, DNP graduates shape the future of nursing.

Learn more about UTA's online Doctor of Nursing Practice program.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing: DNP Fact Sheet

Nursing2020: Choosing a Pathway: Ph.D. or DNP?

RegisteredNursing.Org: What's the Difference Between a Ph.D. and DNP in Nursing?

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