Reach the Top with a DNP

Learn about how to achieve a doctorate of nursing practice.

About a doctoral degree in nursing

Completing a doctoral degree in nursing (DNP) program will take anywhere from three to five years and has the ability to propel you further in your career.

While it's not required for all advanced nursing jobs, a DNP can help you move into nurse leadership roles. Different from a nursing PhD, which is necessary for teaching and research, a DNP can advance your career on the clinical side.

If your career plans include working at a manager or executive level, a DNP will help get you there.

There are four different types of nursing doctorate degrees to choose from and each one is specific to a certain path in the nursing field. 

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): Emphasis on clinical practice-oriented leadership training.
  • Doctor of Nursing (ND): Focus is on developing advanced specialist skills.
  • Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc): Focus is on investigative and research skills.
  • Doctor of Nursing Philosophy (PhD): Emphasizes scholarly research and inquiry.

Less common, but also available, are joint programs for students who have a bachelor's in nursing (BSN) but have not achieved their master's (MSN) yet. Prospective students for these programs must be highly qualified and meet a program's strict prerequisites. Potential joint programs include:

  • MSN/PhD: This degree combines a master's and doctorate in an accelerated program.
  • BSN-PhD: Focus is on BSN-holders with plans to become researchers or teachers of nursing.

It's important to point out that the DNP is a practice doctorate. You'll use research to influence your practice in a clinical setting, while a PhD is a research doctorate, where you'll conduct independent research and report on your findings.

Why should I earn a doctorate?

Nurses who have earned doctorate degrees are expected to be in high demand through the rest of the decade. With an aging population and health care issues in the headlines, there's a growing need for highly-trained nurses. Enrolling in a DNP program now will make you more marketable in the coming years. 

With an advanced degree generally comes better pay, which is another reason you might consider earning a doctorate. It's important to remember that a DNP program will be incredibly challenging and take several years to complete, so you'll certainly earn that higher salary down the road.

Finally, one of the biggest reasons nurses earn a doctorate is so they can positively impact their local community and the medical field.

How long does my program take to complete?

A doctorate in nursing degree takes, on average, four to six years to complete. You will spend a great deal of time focusing on an area of research that you choose.

For students who have the time and resources, there is the chance to finish your program sooner. This requires a lot of self-discipline and motivation. 

Am I a good fit for this program?

Doctorate programs in nursing are generally not large in size. Because of the advanced level of education and the level of commitment required, only a select few earn their DNP each year. 

Deciding if you're a good fit for this program means looking at a variety of angles, including:

  • Career goals
  • Personality traits, like ability to manage stress and self-motivation
  • Finances
  • Time

For some students, taking classes on campus is the best way to learn because it gives them peer interaction. On the other hand, students with restrictions on their time or finances may be better suited for an online DNP program. 

What will I learn in my degree program?

As you work toward earning your doctorate, you'll extend your skills beyond practical, hands-on nursing and into the scholarly and research arena. The specifics of your program will depend on which doctorate degree you pursue.

Each of the four degrees mentioned above offer a different focus, but courses that are common across all programs include:

  • Research methods
  • Statistics and data analysis
  • Evidence-based practice
  • The history and philosophy of nursing science
  • Leadership skills

The DNP is the preferred degree for nursing executives and courses in a DNP program will emphasize clinical practice-oriented leadership. The focus is largely on extending your clinical knowledge to further your research skills and analytical thought process. A nurse with a DNP strives to improve health care systems and work with patients, different populations and within the community. 

See if online programs are available for doctorate degree-level programs.

                                                 Next: Doctorate Career Paths>