What is a Doctor of Nursing?

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Updated March 25, 2021

A Doctor of Nursing, also known as a DNP, is a terminal degree for experienced nurses who would like to pursue positions in advanced practice. If you are currently pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in nursing and you want to see what different career tracks you can take following graduation. A professional DNP degree is not for all professionals in the field, but it is a terminal degree in nursing that those who want to be involved in leadership or advanced clinical roles must complete. Read on, and learn more about the terminal DNP and what makes a nurse with a DNP different from one with a Ph.D. or even a master's.

What Will you Learn in a Doctor of Nursing Program?

The is a great deal of diversity in the nursing population. There are licensed practitioners who have associate's degrees and those with doctoral degrees. If you want to move past a master's degree and you are trying to decide between a post-graduate DNP or a Ph.D, it can be helpful to learn about the content of a DNP program and where the emphasis lies.

If you are studying for a DNP degree, the program will help you gain critical skills that are needed to apply evidence-based care methods into practice. You will be prepared to be a leader in nursing or a clinical expert who is able to contribute in improving the systems of care while measuring care outcomes. Some of the coursework you will complete to become a DNP graduate include:

  • Informatics
  • Healthcare Financing
  • Systems in Healthcare Engineering
  • Evidence-based Practice
  • Health Policy
  • Applied Biostatistics
  • Residency in Healthcare Policy and Public Health Practice

How Does a DNP Differ From a Ph.D or Master's?

When you study for your bachelor's, you know that you are learning general nursing curriculum. After you take this program, you need to decide which track to take. Earning a master's degree in nursing will prepare you to take on mid-to-upper level careers or to earn certifications in specialty areas. While you cover advanced curriculum, the curriculum of a MS program does not always focus on practice competencies like a DNP program does, according to the Michigan Center for Nursing. If you earn your Ph.D in Nursing, you will study to perform academic research and the program will not focus on practice. This is where the DNP and Ph.D differ.

Who is the DNP Degree Right For?

The DNP is a degree and not a role. Graduates with this degree will be prepared and qualified for several different roles in the nursing field. A majority of students who graduate from this terminal and practice-focused program will sit for the national exam to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse. While not a doctor, an APRN is a specialized nursing role where you have the power to diagnose and treat some ailments and illnesses. It is more of an independent role for those who have specialized training. You will also be prepared to be a nursing manager in a competitive environment or the head educator in nursing with this advanced professional degree.

Related Resource: Master's of Nursing Jobs

While an undergraduate degree will help you enter the field of nursing, there are several different paths that you can take after you gain clinical experience. If you want to become a leader in practice, a Doctor of Nursing could be the right degree for you to pursue with or without a master's.

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