Choosing the right doctorate will be key to your career. But should it be a DNP or PhD? To help you make your decision, we’ve broken down each degree into a handy comparison chart. Here you can decide whether you’re a research-focused guru or a data-driven clinician.
Choosing Your Doctoral Degree
Defining the Difference
The DNP and PhD in Nursing are both terminal degrees – the highest you can go in your education. The main difference between the two is focus:
- The DNP is a practice degree designed for nurses who want to use evidence-based ideas in their clinical and administrative work. DNP students spend a lot of time applying existing research to healthcare settings on a day-to-day basis.
- The PhD is a research degree aimed at nurses who wish to explore areas of knowledge that could improve patient health and/or the delivery of healthcare. PhD students generate the new research that DNP students put into effect.
Some people think of the DNP as the nursing equivalent of the MD or DDS – a degree intended for the working professional.
DNP vs. PhD Comparison Chart
|The DNP||The PhD|
|Typical Entrance Requirements||BSN or MSN||BSN, MSN, or a related master’s degree|
|Program Length||Variable. 1-2 years for MSN-holders; 3-4 years for BSN-holders.||4-5 years|
|Degree Objective||Prepare students for high-level clinical, administrative, and academic careers.||Prepare students for research and academic careers in public or private healthcare sectors.|
|Curriculum Focus||The application of existing research/knowledge.||The creation of original research/knowledge.|
|Daily Tasks||Students lead interdisciplinary care teams, measure health-related outcomes of patients and communities, and translate evidence-based research into real-life practice.||Students design, conduct, and manage an independent research project on a new field of inquiry. Their primary aim is to make significant advances in nursing science or practice.|
|Typical Clinical Requirements||1000 post-bachelor’s degree practicum hours||None|
||DNP capstone project||Dissertation + oral defense|
Note: If you’re a keen researcher, you may also wish to consider a dual doctorate. Similar in structure to a MD/PhD program, the DNP/PhD option allows you to combine leadership training in advanced clinical practice with the study of nursing science.
Want to learn more about the DNP? Head over to our DNP degree guide, where we discuss its history, how it works, and what the future holds for DNP programs.