Why Become A Doctor Of Nursing Practice?

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Many advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who strive for the highest level of clinical practice, advanced leadership positions, and active roles to implement improvements in the future of healthcare are turning to Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees.

Nurse educator speaking to a group of medical professionals

Some DNPs are educators who focus on the next generation of nurses and medical professionals. Others fill policy roles, shaping the future of healthcare administration. Others still establish private practices to focus on patient care. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing said DNP graduates are prepared for a wide variety of advanced nursing practice roles.

Duquesne University’s online DNP degree program allows nurses to build on their master’s degrees and provides an alternative to a research-focused doctoral program, such as a nursing Ph.D. in Nursing. Graduates are prepared to utilize evidence-based research for clinical practice to improve healthcare systems and outcomes.

What is a Doctor of Nursing Degree?

In 2004, the AACN and member schools approved the DNP degree as the “preferred preparation for specialty nursing practice.” Unlike the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree program, which focuses on research and academia, the DNP focuses on “improving outcomes of patient care and population health.”

A DNP degree prepares nursing professionals with the necessary skills to implement evidence-based interventions and improve health outcomes in the general population.

The degree also prepares graduates to work in the following roles:

  • Education – The DNP prepares graduates for teaching roles in academic settings. Additional skills are needed, including “preparation in teaching methodologies, curriculum design and development, and program evaluation,” the AACN said.
  • Healthcare Policy Development – DNP programs provide content for graduates to focus on local, state, and federal policies and how they impact healthcare policy and advocacy.
  • Leadership Role – DNP graduates are prepared to serve as nursing managers and lawmakers to advance the quality of professional nursing. Graduates are able to lead changes that provide better access to quality healthcare services.

Differences Between DNP and Ph.D. program studies

A notable difference between a DNP and Ph.D. in Nursing is the final outcome. A DNP focuses on improving health outcomes for patients through data-driven decision making, while a Ph.D. in Nursing focuses on research-driven results to advance nursing.

Other differences include the following:


  • Clinical-practice-driven nursing
  • Students are focused on improving health outcomes for patients
  • Program faculty has expertise in academia and general practice
  • The overall program outcome is focused on improving healthcare for the general population via policy change and clinical practice
  • Nurses required to complete practice hours and clinical residency

Ph.D. in Nursing:

  • Research-driven nursing
  • Students are focused on advancing research in the field of nursing
  • Program faculty has expertise in expanding the study of nursing science
  • The overall program outcome prepares graduates for improving scholarly work in research fields to contribute to the advancement of professional nursing

DNP coursework also covers statistics, analysis and diagnosis, administration, budget and spending management, healthcare policy, and the changes in healthcare framework. In addition, many DNP programs focus on information technology as a component of overall education programs. Such advances in technology, from patient record keeping to life-saving techniques, improve patient healthcare outcomes.

The DNP degree is a terminal degree in the practice of clinical nursing. The AACN designated the program as a way to guide APRNs who have a greater interest in clinical disease progression and practical care.

Expectations Of DNP Graduates

The DNP prepares nurses for advanced clinical roles as practitioners and healthcare-policy leaders. Graduates understand the importance of inter-professional collaboration to incorporate clinical expertise into real-world practice. DNP graduates turn research into practice to improve healthcare results on a large-scale basis. According to the AACN, the program is focused to “provide preparation within distinct specialties that require expertise, advanced nursing knowledge, and mastery in one area of nursing practice.” The scientific foundations for DNP graduates include an understanding of physiology, biology, ethics, psychology, and nursing.

About Duquesne University’s Online DNP Program

Duquesne University’s top-ranked DNP program is recognized by the National League for Nursing (NLN) as a Center of Excellence for creating environments that enhance student learning and professional development. The online academic DNP program provides the opportunity for APRN professionals with master’s degrees to complete advanced coursework through evidence-based programs. For more information, visit DU’s online DNP program website.