Nursing DNP vs. Ph.D.: How do they Differ?

When considering one of the online doctoral nursing programs (DNP) or a Ph.D. in nursing, people are often confused about the differences. Which one is applicable to your career in nursing now and your future plans or specializations?

Let’s look at how the DNP differs from a Ph.D. in nursing, how they take your career in two very different directions and try to determine which is best.

Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D.)

The doctor of philosophy in nursing (Ph.D.) is focused more on medical research as opposed to becoming a nursing practitioner. So much so that as a Ph.D.-qualified nurse, he or she will require an additional certificate just to work as a nurse practitioner. Therefore, for anyone who currently works in nursing on the wards dealing with patients and enjoys that aspect of their job, unless they have a serious interest in medical research from an academic standpoint, the career path is more restrictive.

When studying for a Ph.D., the coursework is also quite different. There is much less focus on experience within nursing and using patient case studies as a learning tool. Students produce original pieces of research and detail the methodology that they used in conducting their research and reaching their conclusions. Also, with their last project, they have to produce a dissertation and be ready to defend their research, methodology, and conclusions drawn.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

The doctor of nurse practitioner programs focuses on qualifying a nurse to transition to a nurse practitioner role. The best DNP programs prepare students to perform well in a leadership role, perform research based on medical evidence, manage other personnel, and create improved policies as best practices. Other areas like financial management and budgeting form a strong basis to cover any financial requirements in their future role too. The clinical study alone is usually over 900 hours (with a Ph.D., the requirement for clinical time is very low).

Salary Expectations

For nurses who are qualified with a DNP degree, their salary average is just under $97,000 (measured in 2012 by Advance). With a Ph.D. instead of a DNP degree, surprisingly, the salary average was lower at under $96,000, making a DNP qualification slightly more remunerative than a Ph.D.

Salaries will, of course, vary depending on age, experience, location, the type of job and the healthcare establishment, but it certainly is a good indicator that a DNP offers both a slightly better salary and a wider range of career roles to choose from when compared to a Ph.D.

The question of whether to study for a DNP or a Ph.D. in Nursing is one that most nurses mull over before they make a final decision. For nurses who are already qualified with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, the DNP clearly makes the most sense; most applicants have a bachelor’s under their belt already. Only nurses who are clearly far more analytical and research led will find career satisfaction in pursuing a Ph.D. and a related career that will take them far away from any direct patient contact.