PhD and DNP: What's the Difference?
Here at the DNP Answers blog we take your questions about the DNP and
answer them as best we can. This post is written by blogger Mai Kung,
NP, a recent DNP graduate.
Q: A Why would a master's-prepared NP seeks a DNP degree
over a PhD? The PhD is the end degree in nursing and addresses the same
concerns, healthcare policy, population health, evidence-based practice, etc.
A: I agree with you that both DNP and PhD programs
ultimately address the same healthcare issues you mentioned. The main
difference between the PhD and DNP is that the PhD is grounded in research to
discover new knowledge, and the DNP emphasizes clinical practice and the
application of research (evidence-based practice). Comparing the curriculum
requirements for the post-master's PhD and DNP programs at the University of Florida (my Alma Mater), you will find
the PhD curriculum heavily emphasizes the research component, requiring 18
credit hours versus 3 for the DNP. The PhD also requires more theory and
statistics courses, and requires more credit hours in order to graduate (62
versus 48). On the other hand, the DNP program requires more practice-oriented
courses, such as epidemiology, pharmacology, diagnostic reasoning, health
policy, health behaviors, informatics, leadership ... This is not to say that a
PhD cannot also be clinically oriented or that a DNP cannot participate in
research activities. Rather the emphasis for each program is different.
I see the choice between a DNP and PhD as a personal one. It
is dependent upon one's interests, goals, aspirations, and available
resources/funding. Those who choose the DNP may be more interested in practical
content rather than the intensive research-focused PhD curriculum. One may
choose the DNP because she/he is more interested in pursuing a career in
clinical practice as there is a significant physician shortage, especially in
primary care. The U.S.
healthcare system is in dire need of leaders who will help to improve quality,
safety and cost-effectiveness of interdisciplinary healthcare. The DNP
curriculum is aimed at developing leaders in policy, administration and practice.
There is also a significant nursing shortage that is related
to a shortage in nurse educators. Even though many universities may not offer
tenure track positions to DNPs, DNPs are natural educators to teach clinical
contents. Additionally, with the explosive increase in the number of DNP
programs and students enrolled in these programs, DNPs will no doubt be needed
One may choose to pursue a DNP degree because it generally
requires less time to complete than a PhD. However, PhD students may receive
better funding opportunities in educational scholarship/fellowship awards. A
PhD degree is also more prestigious, especially in academia, but both degrees
are considered terminal degrees in nursing.
Choosing between pursuing a DNP or PhD may not be an easy
task. For me, it took some research and I consulted many experts and mentors. Their
first questions for me were "What are your interests?" "What would you like to
do with this degree?" I weighed in on the pros and cons and I feel I made the
right decision. No matter what the final decision is for an NP, any doctoral
education will better prepare nurses to be "at the table" with other healthcare
providers to improve patient care on an individual and on a population level. More
education will also promote nursing as a profession and improve the nursing image.
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