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The Difference Between a Ph.D. and a DNP

For nurses who want to move up in their careers and boost their income, there are two doctoral degree options. Both the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and the Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D.) degrees are the highest level of education nurses can obtain. The degrees however are different, so nursing students should carefully consider the direction they want to pursue in the nursing profession.

What Is the Difference Between a DNP and a Ph.D. Degree?

An easy way to identify the dissimilarities between the two doctoral degrees is to think of a DNP-prepared nurse as the one who applies the research generated by the person with the Ph.D. In addition, clinical data compiled by a DNP-prepared nurse may be incorporated into research.

A DNP is a clinical degree. Nurses who enroll in a DNP degree program want to practice nursing. The DNP program prepares them for using scientific, evidence-based research and translating it to patient care.

When nurses enter a Ph.D. program, they want to work in research or become an academic. Though some nurses with Ph.D.’s do work in clinical settings, many become scientific researchers or educators.

Why Was the DNP Degree Created?

An aging population, concern for the quality of patient care, changing healthcare policy and complicated medical technologies have together created a need for nurses to be highly prepared to meet the challenges in healthcare.

That is why the Institute of Medicine (IOM), now named the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) as of 2015, called for doubling the number of nurses with a doctoral degree by 2020 in its report The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health published in 2010.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) agrees with the IOM recommendation and is supporting the need for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to complete DNP degree programs. That means the DNP may become the required degree for APRNs such as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and nurses midwives, instead of the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

How Many DNP Programs Exist?

According to a June 2017 update to the AACN DNP Fact Sheet, the number of DNP degree programs has been growing since 2006. All 50 states plus the District of Columbia offer DNP programs, with 303 programs enrolling students at nursing schools around the country. States with more than 10 programs include:

  • California.
  • Florida.
  • Illinois.
  • Massachusetts.
  • Minnesota.
  • New York.
  • Ohio.
  • Pennsylvania.
  • Texas.

Enrollment in DNP programs is increasing. In 2015 there were 4,100 graduates, and in 2016, the number rose to 4,855.

What Is a Ph.D. in Nursing?

Ph.D. degree programs do not require students to complete clinical hours or interact with patients. With a Ph.D. in nursing, nurses can work in research, clinical, or academic positions.

In a Ph.D. program, nursing students focus on learning methodologies and theories of research so they can pinpoint knowledge that is applicable to patient care. A Ph.D.-prepared nurse has to understand the nursing practice in order to produce serviceable research.

The demand for nurse educators remains high due to the shortage created partly by retiring professors of nursing, so nurses with a Ph.D. will have many job opportunities.

What Do You Need to Enroll in a DNP Degree Program?

One of the DNP programs offered in Texas is at the University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

The on-campus DNP program integrates online, traditional classroom and intensive/immersion formats.

The accelerated online DNP program is offered to Texas residents only. The requirements for admittance to the online program are:

  • An APRN or MSN Administration degree from an accredited program.
  • Master’s coursework Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.5.
  • Current vita.
  • Unencumbered RN license from any U.S. state or territory.
  • Completion of graduate-level statistics course with a grade of B or better.

The DNP program totals 36 semester credit hours. Most students complete the online program in approximately two and a half years.

What Is the Online DNP Program Curriculum?

The UTA online DNP program curriculum consist of leadership, translation of evidence into clinical practice, health policy, epidemiology and specialized clinical practice. The program includes a course focused on project proposal development, as well as two DNP practicum courses in which students evaluate evidence-based solutions.

How Do You Complete a Ph.D. Degree Program?

UTA offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to Ph.D. degree program, offered on campus. With the assistance of an advisor, nursing students accepted into the program develop a plan based on their career goals and research interests. Students complete 12 hours of core master’s coursework and an additional 10-18 hours of master’s coursework based on their area of focus, before beginning their Ph.D. requirements.

The Ph.D. portion of the degree program requires students to complete core courses, research tools curricula and a dissertation. These are some of the courses you will take in the UTA Ph.D. program:

  • Theoretical Evolution in Science.
  • Issues in Studying the Health of Culturally Diverse and Vulnerable Populations.
  • Qualitative Research.
  • Research Design.
  • Epidemiology.

Which doctoral degree program you choose will depend on what you want to achieve in your nursing career. If you enjoy the hands-on job of caring for patients, the DNP degree program may be right for you. The Ph.D. is a good fit for nurses who want to teach or delve into nursing research. Each degree option is rewarding because either will enable you to contribute to the delivery of quality patient care.

Learn more about Doctor of Nursing Practice Online.

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American Association of Colleges of Nursing: DNP Fact Sheet

Nurse Practitioner Schools: DNP vs PhD in Nursing: What’s the Difference?

Wolters Kluwer: Choosing a Pathway: PhD or DNP?

National Academy of Sciences: The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health – Report Recommendations

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