Reach the Pinnacle with a Doctorate in Nursing: DNP Career Paths
Discover career options for nurses who have earned their doctorate degrees.
What can I do once I earn a DNP?
Once you hold a Doctor of Nursing Practice, many of your career opportunities won’t necessarily have to do with hands-on nursing. The type of doctorate you earn will also factor in to the work you do. For example, a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) might work as a nurse executive in a hospital or clinic, while a doctor of nursing philosophy (PhD) usually focuses on scholarly research. Here’s a primer on some of the DNP career paths you can take.
If you do work in a hospital or clinic after receiving your doctorate, you can expect some or all of the following responsibilities:
- Managing other nurses and staff
- Leadership roles in providing patient care
- Development of policies and procedures
- Conducting research
- Educating patients and the public on health care issues
Where can I work?
After you’ve earned your doctorate, you’ll have a greater duty to your workplace and to the general public when it comes to educating and problem-solving. Common workplaces include:
- General medical and surgical hospitals: Working in a hospital with a doctorate in nursing means playing a bigger role in influencing patient treatment plans. Many nurses conduct research and help to create new policies for better health care in the hospital.
- Public health offices: Many doctorate-level nurses become experts in public health, which is a great place to put your expertise to work. You’ll be able to influence policymakers and health officials and help craft smart, research-based solutions to health issues.
- Research facilities: If you choose to earn your PhD in nursing, you might find work conducting research on health issues facing people today. Nurses with PhDs research causes behind modern medical issues or work to find cures for current health problems.
- Independent practice: Starting your own practice is no easy task, but as an advanced practice nurse holding a doctorate degree, it’s entirely possible. The benefit to launching your own practice is that you can dictate your own hours and decide what type of treatment you want to deliver.
- Physicians’ offices: If launching your own practice isn’t for you, but you like the idea of working in a smaller office, a doctorate in nursing makes you eligible for higher-paying management roles in another physician’s office.
Will I need more certification or continuing education units to continue in practice?
Once you’ve earned your doctorate in nursing, you’re at the top of the degree ladder. DNP and PhD degrees are both “terminal degrees,” meaning they’re the highest degree available in the field.
At this point in your career, it’s unlikely that you’re not already a registered nurse (RN), so you’ve already taken the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN. The only reason you would ever need to retake the NCLEX is if you decide to practice nursing in a different state.
If you earn your doctorate and specialize in a certain area of nursing, such as midwifery, you’ll need to keep your certification up to date with the appropriate certifying body.
Continuing education is a way for nurses to stay current on the latest medical trends and skills. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all requirement when it comes to continuing education. Some states require a certain amount of continuing education units, while others won’t require any. It’s best to check with your state board of nursing for the latest requirements.
How do I advance in my career? What are my next steps?
As a nurse with a doctoral degree, you’ve reached the top in regards to your education. The best way to advance in your career is to seek out a position that truly excites you, whether it’s a nursing executive position, educator position, research position or a different opportunity. Once you’ve achieved your DNP or other doctorate degree, you’re well equipped to educate patients and the general public about health care as well as work in advocacy and policy-making.
Nurses with doctoral degrees are expected to be in high demand in the coming years, so whatever type of DNP career path you choose, there’s likely to be an important role for you to fill.