Comparing the PhD & DNP

PhD or DNP?

Comparison of the Nursing Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs and degrees


Doctor of Nursing Practice

PhD in Nursing


Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), major in Nursing

Program objective

Prepares nurse specialists at the highest level of advanced nursing practice

Prepares researchers to build the science and knowledge base for nursing practice

Focus of graduate

Engages in  advanced nursing practice;
Translates and integrates research into practice;
Improves quality of health for individuals, populations and systems;
Leads innovations in health care and health care delivery;
Engages in the development of social and health policy

Advances the body of nursing knowledge through conducting and disseminating research;
Provides leadership in nursing and health care organizations;
Engages in the development of social and health care policy

Curricular focus

Advanced clinical/specialty practice;
Implementation science, evidence-based practice, innovation, and systems change;
Quality and safety;
Technology and informatics used in practice;
Policy and leadership;
Clinical scholarship

Methods and theories to guide research;
philosophy of science, research traditions and methodologies;
Statistical and analytical methods;
Technology and informatics used in research;
Faculty and scholarly role development;
Policy and leadership



See AACN Essentials of the DNP (2006)

See Indicators of Quality in Research-focused Doctoral Programs in Nursing (2001)

Program faculty

Practice doctorate and/or expertise in specialty area;
Leadership experience in area of specialty practice.

Research doctorate in nursing or related field;
Leadership experience in area of sustained research funding;
High level of expertise in research congruent with focus of academic program.

Program requirements

Graduate level coursework; clinical/specialty competencies in advanced nursing practice; writing scholarly project (~35-45 credits with MS degree; ~55-90 with BSN or equivalent).1000 clinical hour requirement (included in credits)

Graduate level coursework, preliminary exams, writing dissertation (~60-70 credits including ~20 dissertation credits). No clinical hour requirements.

Major scholarly project  product

Development and implementation of evidence-based project to advance organizational or systems level change

Original research project (dissertation) that makes a significant contribution to the science of nursing.

Types of positions after graduation

Advanced practice nurse in a variety of health care settings;
Leadership positions in health care organizations, industry, and government agencies;
Academic faculty positions which includes practice, education and service roles.

Research scientist in a variety of settings;
Academic faculty position which includes research, education and service roles;
Leadership positions in health care organizations, industry, and government agencies.