Why Get a DNP Degree?

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Nursing students studying to get a DNP take notes in a classroom.Many advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) are choosing to earn Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees. These are individuals who strive for the highest level of clinical practice, advanced leadership positions, and active roles to implement improvements in the future of health care.

Some DNPs are educators who focus on the next generation of nurses and medical professionals. Others fill policy roles that are shaping the future of health care administration. Still, others establish private practices to focus on patient care. Regardless of how they answered the question, “Why get a DNP?” these nurses can rest assured they will make a noticeable impact on health care.

Pursuing an 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 Ph.D. in nursing. Graduates are prepared to use evidence-based research for clinical practice to improve health care systems and outcomes.

What Is a Doctor of Nursing Practice?

A DNP degree is a terminal degree designed to prepare nursing professionals with the skills to implement evidence-based interventions and improve health outcomes in the general population. The DNP program focuses on developing strategies that improve patient outcomes and health. The degree also prepares graduates to work in the following roles:

  • Education – A 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, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).
  • Health Care Policy Development – DNP programs provide content for graduates to focus on local, state, and federal policies and how they impact health care policy and advocacy.
  • Leadership Roles – DNP graduates are prepared to serve as nursing managers and lawmakers to advance the quality of professional nursing. Graduates can lead changes that provide better access to quality health care services.

A DNP serves as an endorsed distinction, attesting to a nurse professional having reached the apex of nursing education. In 2004, the members of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) validated the DNP degree as the preferred level of preparation for specialty nursing practice. Other groups, such as the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF), share this endorsement.

The nursing field is working to change the future of the DNP degree into a requirement for people seeking advanced practice nursing roles. For instance, NONPF is engaged in ongoing efforts to make the DNP degree the benchmark by 2025. However, individuals who obtain a DNP prior to this benchmark shift — whenever it may come — will still have the unique opportunity to stand out in a competitive field.

Differences Between DNP and Ph.D. Programs

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 as a profession.

The difference in focus is not the only distinction between a DNP and Ph.D. in Nursing. Nurse professionals should take the following elements of each degree into account.


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

Ph.D. in Nursing

  • It is a research-driven nursing degree.
  • Students are focused on advancing research in the field of nursing.
  • Program faculty have 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, health care policy and the changes in health care framework. In addition, many DNP programs focus on information technology as a component of overall education programs. Such advances in technology, from patient recordkeeping to life-saving techniques, improve patient health care 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.

Tips for Earning a DNP Degree

The rapid changes to the health care sector across the United States, from an ongoing nursing shortage to evolving technical innovations, are driving BSN- and MSN-trained nurses to pursue advanced degrees. Programs that bridge the gap to MSN degrees mean graduates can take on advanced roles in all types of health care settings.

The following tips can make the transition from BSN or MSN to DNP easier and more effective.

Learn by Watching and Doing

The key to success as an APRN is an education that delivers the right training and experience. Leading DNP programs allow RNs to explore their educational opportunities through classroom, online and clinical experiences. Online DNP programs offer ample opportunities for hands-on, in-person practice as well.

Focus on Leadership

A primary component of a DNP degree involves developing leadership expertise. APRNs are considered leaders in all health care settings because of their advanced education and experience. Nurse practitioners (NPs), for example, are filling the roles of primary health care providers. NPs in states with full practice and full prescriptive authority are legally allowed to run health clinics and provide services similar to family doctors.

Develop Business Acumen

Medical facilities are not just in the business of making sick people well. They are, in fact, also in the business of treating more patients while driving down costs to deliver better financial outcomes. APRNs are expected to be mindful of the business approach to medicine in addition to clinical outcomes.

Foster Relationships

An APRN’s role is not just to collaborate with other health care providers but also to reach out to patients. Strong relationships with other health care professionals can lead to the development and application of cohesive, collaborative strategies that potentially improve patient outcomes. In the context of the patient/provider dynamic, this relationship can strengthen patients’ trust in their health care providers, making it easier for care professionals to guide patients in making smart choices that can ultimately benefit their health.

Accept Technology as the Future

Technological advances have transformed health care in a multitude of ways, including nurse education. As concepts such as big data and other technical innovations such as telehealth become increasingly ingrained in health care, it is up to nurse leaders to prepare the next generation of nurses to embrace tech.

Adopt a Mindset for Lifelong Learning

APRN education does not end with a graduation ceremony and a certificate. Working as an effective APRN calls for lifelong education and learning. APRNs must keep pace with the quick-changing health care landscape, advances in technology, and developments in medical research to ensure patient health and well-being.

Transitioning from a BSN or MSN degree to a DNP degree also requires support from a leader in nursing education.

Benefits of Earning a DNP

Earning a DNP can allow nurses to experience several potential benefits that make the degree a worthwhile pursuit. For example, the DNP can prepare nurses for advanced clinical roles as practitioners and health care policy leaders. This can allow graduates to shape the future of health care on a large scale.

The degree can also allow nurses to focus their careers on a specialized care role: toward a specific demographic such as elderly patients, or a specific element of care delivery such as research. Having this capacity to concentrate on an element of health care that is relevant to an individual’s interest can add an extra level of career satisfaction.

Finally, regardless of what a DNP’s career path may look like, chances are they will be well-compensated. The average DNP salary is about $107,000 annually, according to the payroll data aggregate website PayScale.

Advance Your Career with a DNP Degree

The Duquesne University online DNP program is designed to create intuitive online learning environments that enhance student learning and professional development. The program provides the opportunity for nursing professionals to complete advanced coursework through evidence-based programs.

Duquesne University’s DNP degree offers two different tracks for students to explore nurse leadership. The Clinical Leadership track prepares students to influence patient outcomes and improve care quality through evidence-based practice. The Executive Nurse Leadership and Health Care Management track readies students to work with health care leaders in other disciplines to identify and resolve deficiencies in the health care system.

Learn how our program can help you grow your career.

Recommended Reading

How DNPs Develop Situational Awareness in Healthcare

MSN vs. DNP: Degree Options for a Family Nurse Practitioner

Nine Leadership Qualities in Nursing


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, DNP Education

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, State Practice Environment

American Nurses Credentialing Center, ANCC Certification FAQs

Association of American Medical Colleges, “Hospitals Innovate Amid Dire Nursing Shortage”

HealthTech, “The Impact of Technology in Nursing: Easing Day-to-Day Duties”

Incredible Health, “What’s a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree?”

Medscape, “Health Policy and the DNP Student”

PayScale, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners