Comparing PhD and DNP Degrees

Both DNP and PhD degrees are considered the highest level of nursing education, which demonstrates that a nurse is a clinical expert in her or his field. However, there are crucial differences between the two rooted in the focus of studies. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN, n.d.), a DNP degree is committed to practice career, while a PhD degree is characterized by a commitment to nursing research. Therefore, DNP nurses have an immersive clinical practicum to complete together with a capstone project focused on identifying an issue in healthcare and proposing an evidence-based solution (AACN, n.d.).

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PhD degree is oriented on research; therefore, PhD programs do not include patient care clinical hours (AACN, n.d.). According to Udlis and Mancuso (2015), DNP-prepared nurses improve healthcare outcomes through “the roles of leadership in health organizations, policy, interprofessionalism, and translation of evidence into practice” (p. 274). However, despite a growing number of DNP programs in the US and globally, confusion and disagreement about DNP roles is a widely discussed issue.

In order to appreciate the roles of DNP-prepared nurses, it is beneficial to overview the career paths opened for them. AACN (n.d.) states that graduates of DNP programs can serve as advanced practice registered nurses, nurse educators, nurse administrators, public health nurses, and nurse informaticists. According to Tyczkowski and Reilly (2017), DNP-prepared nurses are especially valuable in leadership positions. In addition to improving patient outcomes through the delivery of top-quality care, they can also help to fill the nursing faculty shortage by taking mentor roles in academic settings (Tyczkowski & Reilly, 2017). Even though PhD-prepared nurses are more prepared for working as educators, graduates of DNP programs may contribute to the field.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (n.d.). DNP education. Web.

Tyczkowski, B. L., & Reilly, J. (2017). DNP-prepared nurse leaders: part of the solution to the growing faculty shortage. JONA: The Journal of Nursing Administration, 47(7/8), 359-360.

Udlis, K. A., & Mancuso, J. M. (2015). Perceptions of the role of the doctor of nursing practice-prepared nurse: Clarity or confusion. Journal of Professional Nursing, 31(4), 274–283. Web.

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