Nurses today must attain higher levels of education to meet the needs of a diverse patient population and experience new career opportunities. A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree can be a logical next step for those interested in leadership positions or expanding their scope of practice.
This is particularly timely, as industry associations, including the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), now call for the minimum level of education for advanced nursing practice to be raised from the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) to the DNP. With an emphasis on translating research into training and improving patient outcomes through evidence-based care delivery, a DNP degree readies nurses to become change-makers in the modern healthcare system.
What Is a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree?
An online DNP program like the one from The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) seeks to enhance knowledge and leadership skills for MSN-prepared nurses. The accelerated program includes coursework in healthcare system leadership, policy development, epidemiology, research and quality improvement.
The program culminates with a project where students apply their learning to address a real-world healthcare issue. UTA students are taught and supported by doctoral-prepared faculty and, upon graduation, are prepared to enter clinical practice, consultative or policy-setting careers.
What Are the Differences Between DNP and Ph.D. in Nursing Programs?
The DNP and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Nursing are both higher-level nursing degrees, but they differ significantly in focus, purpose and career outcomes.
A DNP program generally concentrates on developing advanced expertise and administrative and leadership capabilities to improve healthcare systems. Graduates use research and evidence-based practice to refine care delivery and boost outcomes. Students typically pursue specialized roles in direct patient care or leadership positions in clinical practice, policy development or healthcare administration.
However, a Ph.D. in Nursing program maintains a research focus, emphasizing research methodology, theory development and scholarly writing, with the goal of making new nursing science discoveries and publishing original research. The degree prepares nurses for academic careers and roles in designing and conducting independent research.
Career Opportunities for Nurses With a DNP
DNP-prepared nurses can pursue a wide range of careers across many settings. However, UTA’s online DNP program emphasizes scholarship and experience in driving evidence-based practices, while a Master’s program, such as an MSN, emphasizes advanced clinical experiences and skills. Students in UTA’s online DNP program use their knowledge gained from such Master’s programs to create and complete a scholarly doctoral project. DNPs graduate ready to apply their skills in research, leadership and policy in various health institutions, including hospital, government and private practice environments.
DNPs can combine their leadership skills, scholarship and expertise on policy with the clinical knowledge and training gained in Master’s programs to pursue such roles as:
- Nurse Manager
Nurse managers provide leadership and guidance to nursing staff and handle administrative tasks, such as performance evaluations and staff development. They must set the tone and workplace culture within their department and unit, fostering a supportive and productive environment and addressing operational challenges as they arise. They may oversee patient care, quality improvement initiatives, budgets and resource allocation.
- Clinical Nurse Specialist
A clinical nurse specialist is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) with expertise in a specific area of nursing practice, such as pediatrics, oncology or mental health. They possess sophisticated clinical skills and knowledge, often serving as clinical experts and consultants within their specialty area and providing direct patient care, education and evidence-based practice support.
- Health Policy Analyst
A health policy analyst examines healthcare policies, regulations and their impact on patient care delivery and health outcomes. Nurses in this role conduct research and analyze data to inform policy recommendations that advocate for more equitable and patient-centered guidelines. They may work for hospitals and nonprofit entities, regularly collaborating with policymakers and community and government organizations to contribute their expertise and implement these changes.
The DNP degree equips nurses with leadership abilities and the expertise to drive evidence-based practice in a variety of health institutions. The degree offers diverse career opportunities in clinical practice, leadership, advocacy and policymaking.
Learn more about UTA’s online DNP program.