If you have a desire to advance your nursing career as far as it can go, you will probably want to consider getting a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). The DNP is considered the terminal degree in the nursing profession, meaning that there is no higher degree that you can obtain. It is a relatively new degree in nursing, slowly replacing the masters level degrees that used to be considered the degrees of choice for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). While many APRNs still get those master’s degrees, over time more of them are seeking entrance into DNP programs, which are becoming the standard of excellence for nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists.

High Professional Standards

Registered nurses have always had high professional standards and contributed in important, key ways to the healthcare delivery. The four kinds of nurses mentioned above, all of whom are considered advanced practice nurses, spend a long time in committed training to obtain their masters degrees. Many of those degree programs are equal, in terms of credit, to other professional healthcare degrees, including some such as pharmacy, dentistry, and physical therapy that award doctorates for that same level of training and education. So it makes sense that advanced practice nurses should be recognized professionally with a similar level of degree since they are putting in the same amount of challenging academic and clinical work.

As the challenges of caring for patients grows even more challenging in the demanding healthcare environment of the U.S., having nurses rigorously trained and fully recognized for their professional expertise is a good step.

Difference in DNP and Research Doctorates

It should be noted that nurses can receive other doctorates such as the Doctor of Nursing Science degree (DNSc) or the PhD. Both of those doctorates, however, are academic degrees that lead to jobs and roles in research. The DNP is the highest practice related degree that an RN can get. A nurse who has a DNP will likely build on the scientific research that the research-based nurses have helped to gather. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), it was in 2005 that the nursing profession recognized that it was important to develop a clinical practice doctorate for nurses, so they could use medical knowledge to help serve patients. The transition to the DNP program started pretty quickly, and now there are over 18,000 nursing students working on DNP degrees.

The transition to DNP programs continues, with 264 active programs and about 60 more in the pipeline. Many excellent APRNs still obtain masters degrees, but the contribution of DNP graduates has been so appreciated that nurse practitioners who have the doctorate have been out-earning those with masters degrees by several thousand dollars per year. If that trend continues, and if other healthcare professionals appreciate the worth and expertise of doctorate prepared nurses, then it is likely that more nurses will seek out the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree as they advance their career as clinical practitioners.

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