What Is the Difference Between a DNP vs. PhD?

Choosing which degree to enroll in when attending graduate school can be a personally difficult choice to make. Many candidates for graduate programs need to balance financial, personal, and professional responsibilities, all while finding a program that will accept them as students. This is especially true with nursing programs.

Nursing Graduate Programs

Nursing graduate programs provide excellent opportunities to expand one’s professional standing in the nursing community. However, these graduate programs take immense amounts of time and money to invest in. Family-life balances, existing professional responsibilities such as working as a nurse, and the new work-load that comes from graduate work can be a lot to ask from people. Nevertheless, many nurses head further into their academic career by enrolling a graduate program in nursing. The two main nursing graduate programs include a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and the Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D.).

DNP Program

Many potential nursing students may wonder what is the different between these two degree programs. According to many graduate programs, a DNP is the highest degree one can attain in the practice of nursing. A DNP program combines clinical practice workshops along with research-intensive seminars. Courses are more focused on improving the clinical practice environment. Since nurses entering a DNP program will have years of nursing experience behind them, the DNP curriculum prepares them to engage in new subject matters related to clinical care. Students preparing for a DNP program should at least have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Many programs do not require a student hold a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). At the same time, DNP programs try to cater to students since many of them will be working as nurses. That is why many DNP programs may have online or distance education classes. DNP programs may take up to three years to complete, but it depends on the particular program and how many graduate or work credits the student may be able to use to cut down on their time in the program.

PHD Program

The DNP program is in contrast with the Ph.D. program. A Ph.D. program is a very research-intensive curriculum where the student learns how to become a researcher and scientist in the nursing field. Instead of learning about subjects related to clinical practice, a Ph.D. program stresses learning how to research, publish, and defend work. Career-wise, Ph.D. programs prepare nursing students to become nursing professors or researchers in the nursing field for organizations, non-profits, or the government. Ph.D. students need to conduct research in the form of a dissertation that they defend to other faculty. Most, if not all, Ph.D. programs last six years and are typically full-time programs.

Making the Right Choice

Nursing graduate programs offer unique opportunities to become professionally enriched. However, depending on what one wants professionally and personally, a DNP or Ph.D. might make more sense. If the person wants to further work in nursing by offering the latest clinical research to patients while catering the program to their schedules, a DNP might be best. If the person wants to advance into a research-intensive field beyond the clinical environment, a Ph.D. might be best. Finding the best path is up to each student.