DNP vs PhD: What is the difference between a DNP or PhD in nursing???

DNP vs PhD DNP vs. PhD (2)DNP vs PhD in Nursing: What is the Difference? And should I go for my DNP or Phd in nursing?

The question for many Masters Prepared Nurses when thinking about pursuing their “doctorate” is what is the difference between a DNP vs PhD in nursing.  It is actually a relatively new phenomenon in nursing to have two doctoral options within the same profession, the PhD being the traditional path for a doctorate in nursing, until recent years when the DNP was created in an effort to encourage more Master’s Prepared Nurses to pursue their Doctorate. Surprisingly (or not), there is quite a significant difference between a DNP vs PhD, from the area of focus, the length of education/schooling and honestly, the career expectations of one who obtains a DNP vs PhD.

Here is the basics between a DNP vs. PhD in nursing:

The DNP (Doctorate of Nursing Practice) degree is a practice doctorate – meaning it focuses on the practice of nursing at the highest level of the nursing license as it applies to patient outcomes.  Whereas, a PhD ( Doctor of Philosophy) is a research doctorate, focused on the science of nursing. Graduates of PhD programs are prepared to conduct independent research, while DNP graduates use research in their practice to influence better patient outcomes.

Further, the focus, objectives and length of schooling:

DNP vs PhD Focus:

DNP = Focused on commitment to a “practice career”.

PhD = is committed to a “research career”.


DNP vs PhD Objectives:  The primary difference in the objectives lies in “Practice/Outcomes vs. Research/Science”

DNP Objectives = To prepare nurse leaders at the highest level of nursing practice, to improve patient outcomes and translate research into practice.

PhD Objectives = To prepare nurses at the highest level of nursing science to conduct research (either quantitative or qualitative research) that will be used to advance the science of nursing.

***  The major difference here is that as a DNP you “translate research” as it relates to practice to improve patient outcomes, and as  PhD you “conduct research” to elevate nursing science and practice.

Education – length of time in school:

DNP =  can be completed in one to two years full-time, but averages between three to four years part-time.

PhD = A doctorate in nursing degree takes, on average, four to six years to complete.

So in simplest terms, the biggest difference, outside of the the length of time for schooling, is that a DNP prepares you for a career in clinical practice, whereas the PhD prepares you for a career in research.

Career Options: 

Both DNP and PhD prepared nurses practice at the top of the nursing chain of opportunities, including Dean’s of Nursing Schools & Chief Nursing Officer positions.

However, it should be mentioned, that as the DNP is a newer “doctorate” it continues to struggle to gain the same “prestige” of those with a PhD.  Candidates that have a PhD, tend to “outrank” DNPs for positions within Colleges/Universities or Hospitals.  However, more and more Master’s Prepared Nurses chose the DNP path due to the flexibility, shorter length of schooling and focus on clinical practice vs. research.

The ultimate choice is up to you – as a Nurse considering a DNP vs. PhD – consider why you are pursuing your Doctorate – and decide for yourself, which degree will make you happy and get you to the position you hope to achieve in your career.

DNP vs PhD in Nursing.



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