To anyone outside of academia, the distinctions between various degree types are unclear at best. While most people can distinguish between associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, when we enter the realm of terminal degrees, the waters get a little muddier.


Nowhere is that more apparent than when evaluating the two options for a terminal degree in the nursing field. Nurses who wish to reach the pinnacle of education have two options: a Doctor of Nursing Practice or a Ph.D. in Nursing. While the two degrees have many similarities, and both will open doors to a wide array of career options and greater earning potential, there are some significant differences that potential students should understand before deciding which path to take.

Ph.D. in Nursing Overview

The Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing, or Ph.D. in Nursing, is largely a research-based track. Nursing is largely an evidence-based field, and experienced researchers are necessary in order to locate that evidence and develop best practices. Earning a Ph.D. in nursing prepares you for the important work of designing, conducting and evaluating original research that will inform the practice of nursing going forward. Doctoral level nurses are integral to improving the overall quality of care for patients worldwide, and for expanding the overall body of knowledge within the profession.
Coursework in programs that lead to a Ph.D. in Nursing is largely research focused. Students study research methods, quantitative analysis, ethics and theory and policy development among other topics, and complete a dissertation in order to earn their degree. The dissertation must contribute new knowledge the study and practice of nursing, and involves undertaking a significant research project.

Doctor of Nursing Practice Overview

The Doctor of Nursing Practice, or DPN, is more practice-based than the Ph.D. in Nursing. Instead of focusing on conducting research to determine new best practices, DPN’s learn how to best apply that knowledge in leadership roles. Coursework in a DPN program focuses on leadership, collaboration, management and evidence-based practice.Rather than completing a traditional dissertation, DPN candidates conduct a final project demonstrating the application of research in the clinical environment.

In an era when health care is being called upon to improve quality and shift toward more patient-centered care, the DPN degree offers a solid foundation in best practices and allows nurse leaders to take a more active role in meeting expectations. Also, earning a DPN is one of the two acceptable pathways to achieving the Advanced Practice Nurse designation. Unlike nurses who hold only a master’s degree, who have additional coursework and experience requirements to meet in order to earn the APN designation, nurses with DPN degrees only need to achieve the appropriate specialty certification to earn that designation. In fact, by 2015, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing will require doctorate level degrees for all APNs.

Comparing Your Options

In many ways, the decision of whether to pursue a Ph.D. in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice comes down to your own personal career goals and preference. Are you more interested in research than providing day-to-day clinical care or serving in a leadership position? The Ph.D. may be a better choice. Likewise, if you aren’t interested in research, the DPN might be a better choice.
Salary-wise, the Ph.D. or DNP designations are comparable. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a nurse with a terminal degree is $81,500 annually. It’s not uncommon for nurses in high-level research, leadership or advanced practice to earn well into the six figure range.

One area that presents significant opportunities for both DPNs and Ph.Ds is nurse education. In 2012, nearly 80,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing education programs in large part because there simply is not enough nursing faculty. The shortage of qualified nurse educators is often cited as cause of the overall nursing shortage in the U.S., a problem that is only expected to worsen as more Americans gain access to health care and the population ages. Many experts believe that encouraging nurses to seek advanced degrees in the field and to prepare for careers in academia will go a long way toward creating more openings in nurse preparation programs and reducing the nurse shortage.

Both the Ph.D. in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees share a commitment to advancing the practice of nursing and to using scholarly approaches to improving patient care. No matter which path you choose, you are guaranteed to be on the forefront of the exciting world of modern health care.

Ramnivas KushvahaAuthor:
Ramnivas Kushvaha
About Author
hold an engineering degree in chemical but his area of interest is blogging. Ramnivas authors the site where he writes about health and fitness related topics

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Posted on: 02.12.2014 02:11

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