DNP or PhD: That is the Question


Ah, the scholarly nurse’s dilemma: to go DNP or PhD. Some of you might be saying, “well, it depends.” And it does depend on what you want. The PhD is research-focused and the DNP is practice focused. Do research and practice overlap? Absolutely. But you’re going to be spending time (multiple years) and money (multiple thousands) on this degree. You should decide which focus will keep you engaged and committed to succeeding in the chosen path.

Reasons to go DNP

  • You’re a master’s prepared APN and have a passion for translating the evidence into practice. Rationale: The practice-focused DNP is right up your alley. In addition, a post-master’s DNP program may not take as long as a PhD, since these programs are built on the foundation of advanced practice education.
  • You have a BSN or non-advanced practice MSN and desire both a doctorate degree and advanced practice certification. Rationale: You can get both going the DNP route.
  • The idea of implementing an evidence-based project sounds much more appealing than performing original research. Rationale: The DNP program culminates in a scholarly project, whereas a PhD requires a dissertation.

Reasons to go PhD

  • You have a BSN or MSN and want to pursue a career in nursing research or education. Rationale: PhD programs prepare students to conduct research and hold nurse faculty positions.
  • You’re an RN or APN and have burning “why” and “how” questions from your clinical practice. Rationale: You can begin a lifelong career of inquiry with a PhD.
  • The prospect of conducting original research to advance nursing science invigorates you. Rationale: In a PhD program, you will dive into the theoretical foundations of nursing, conduct research, and disseminate new knowledge.

Those are some “textbook” reasons to go one way or the other. But this is real life. PhD prepared nurses practice clinically, and DNP prepared nurses teach and conduct research. I don’t believe in limiting the roles and functions of these degrees. In fact, I am a DNP candidate who teaches full time and identifies as a nurse educator. Let’s not box ourselves (or our colleagues) in because of a chosen educational path. Instead, let’s work together toward our common overarching goals: improving healthcare outcomes and sustaining the nursing profession.