There’s been a great deal of controversy over the DNP and how is that different from an MSN program or even a PhD.

Do you introduce yourself as a doctor? What’s the role in the unit? If you get your DNP does that mean you are committed/interested in administration or teaching?

The answer? It depends.

Going back to school for your NNP is intimidating enough, let alone choosing whether to apply for an MSN program or DNP program.

You’ll likely hear arguments for and against both sides. If you do choose the DNP and start the program, you may begin to wonder, is it worth it? Did I make the right decision?

Again, the answer: It depends.

Confused yet? If you are, you’re not alone. In this post, I’ll cover what the DNP is and share guidance for deciding if it’s right for you.

What is a DNP?

In simple terms, a DNP, or Doctor of Nursing Practice, is a terminal degree in nursing. The alternative the Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing.

Both are terminal degrees and focus on a scholarly approach to the discipline with a deep commitment to the advancement of the profession.

However, the PhD is a research-focused degree that prepares professionals to perform original research to help elevate the nursing profession. The DNP is a practice-focused degree dedicated to innovation and evidence-based application of goals and quality improvement methods.

In short, the PhD asks a question, then proves it. The DNP implements it into practice. Both are critically important in the advancement of the nursing profession for the betterment of our patients.

Can’t I do that with an MSN?

This is a common question/argument that promotes the MSN vs the DNP. A master’s prepared NNP can look at articles and evaluate policies and practices and can implement changes within the unit.

In fact, many are very good at it!

But think of this: In 2003 the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council of National Academics called for all nursing education that prepares individuals for practice that involves all interdisciplinary team members as well as collaboration with information systems, quality improvement techniques and emphasis, and experts in patient safety and management.

A year later, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing published an analysis of programs that addressed those requirements and any changes that needed to be made.

They found that most all programs had already implemented those methods/classes/education into their programs.

Unfortunately, many of those pieces weren’t going into the depth that is optimal or if it was the credit hours offered for the time and effort weren’t accurate of the workload.

Many were doing part of the work for the DNP, but they weren’t getting the credit and degree for it.

Increasingly complex healthcare

We all know that healthcare is rapidly changing and becoming a more complex environment.  And, while the use of interplaying informatics systems has helped to make the world smaller, costs are increasing, medical conditions are more complex, and many hospitals are trying to find ways to keep themselves in the black.

With the adoption of the Affordable Care Act, the Triple Aim framework was developed by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. The three core principles are reduced costs, improved population health, and improved patient experiences.  Regardless of political views, the core principles will remain for any healthcare agency.

Where does the DNP fit in?

We’ve seen that the education is needed and most were offering it but not getting the credit for it and the need is there with the healthcare environment but how much can just one person do?  The AACN developed a task force that helped identify exactly what marks a DNP education. From that, the 8 DNP Essentials were created:

1. Scientific underpinnings: The core of the advanced practice degree. The nursing process, disease processes, and healthcare environments.

2. Organizational and systems leadership for quality improvement and systems thinking: Healthcare isn’t just a person’s health, it involves issues at the unit, hospital, community, local, state, national, international level.  Quality improvement doesn’t involve just one component, it’s small pieces that make up a whole.

3. Clinical scholarship and analytical methods for evidence-based practice: The pursuit of knowledge and beyond implementing evidence-based policies.

4. Information systems/technology and patient care technology for the improvement and transformation of healthcare: IT, budgets, knowledge tools, productivity tools, interventions.

5. Healthcare policy for advocacy in healthcare: Policy is everywhere. Whether it is at the organizational, local, state, or national level, nurses must be aware of the processes and be willing to implement change.

6. Interprofessional collaboration for improving patient and population health outcomes: Each member has a meaningful contribution to the team.  Nurses must be able to collaborate with all disciplines.

7. Clinical prevention and population health for Improving the nation’s health: Taking recommendations from the CDC or other governing bodies and implementing change and improvements.

8. Advanced nursing practice: Preparation for the advanced practice nurse to be an expert in the field.

Is the DNP worth it?

With the 8 Essentials, the DNP is prepared to implement change on many levels.  As an advanced practice nurse, you are the bridge between nursing and medicine. But as a doctorally prepared advanced practice nurse, you become the bridge between nursing, the patient, and every other aspect of healthcare.

As a nurse, you are on the frontline of helping that patient and their family work toward health.  And, as an advanced practice nurse, you’re on the frontline of helping that patient on all levels of care providing your expertise.

As a doctorally prepared advanced practice nurse, you are on the frontline of the patient, the family, the health system, and the local, state, national, and international arena.

So, is the DNP worth it?


If you’re going to do the work anyway, get credit. If you see problems, learn how to change them. Yes, you are one person, but one person can change the world.

Have questions about the DNP? Leave them in the comments below!

nnp career consultation