Most nurses enter their profession because they wish to provide direct care to patients and play a substantive role in developing and implementing their clinical treatment plans. However, they may be surprised by the sheer number of available career paths. Nurses not only practice in many different care environments and seek different levels of accreditation, but also face a number of educational options.
At the top of the field is the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). This is the most advanced degree available to those in the nursing profession and signifies the highest level of professional preparation. But you may be wondering, is a DNP worth it? Let’s consider what the degree involves and how it can help you in your career.
What is a DNP?
Most nurses begin their careers with either a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing. Nursing diplomas are another viable option, though these programs are not as prevalent as they once were.
Following the completion of one of these degree programs, you sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), receive certification as a registered nurse (RN), and begin practicing. Some nurses choose to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), which can qualify you for nursing leadership positions. This can mean more responsibility and higher pay.
Those who earn an MSN but want to further advance their understanding of the nursing profession can then pursue a DNP, which represents the terminal degree for nurses. The typical DNP program requires 1,000 post-Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) clinical practice hours; this number can include any clinical practice hours obtained in an MSN program. As such, completing a BSN to DNP program may take three to four years, while an MSN to DNP program may take just two.
What sets the DNP apart?
The DNP is distinct for its advanced status and practice-oriented focus.
Associate and bachelor’s degrees typically focus on clinical practice and the basics of patient care, while MSN degrees branch into nurse leadership. A DNP provides insight into health care at an even higher level, addressing such areas as systems and process improvement, integration of information systems and other technology, and overall quality of care. A DNP creates foundational skills for nurses who wish to take on system-level administrative positions and to focus not only on treating individual patients but also on enhancing the delivery of care across the board. Also, DNPs have broad privileges for prescribing medication, unlike RNs or other nurse leaders.
What will I learn in a DNP program?
One way of assessing whether a DNP is worth it is to take a closer look at the typical curriculum. This will give some insight into the skills you can hone and the perspectives you can develop in a doctoral-level nursing program.
While DNP curriculums vary by program, some building blocks include the following:
● Mastery of the most advanced nursing principles, including how they can improve patient care
● Development of system-level leadership, including strategies for designing and evaluating clinical care models
● Cultivation of research skills, including the use of scientific evidence to guide quality improvement initiatives
● Formation of leadership and communication skills, resulting in the ability to lead interdisciplinary teams and to advocate for health care policy changes
Areas of specialization
Health care and nursing specialists from many different fields ultimately transition to DNP practice. Some common examples include nurse-midwives, nurse anesthetists, and clinical nursing specialists. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) has advocated for all nurse practitioner education programs to shift focus from the MSN to the DNP, a sign of this degree’s rising stature and popularity.
The pros and cons of getting a DNP
There are notable benefits but also some potential drawbacks to pursuing a DNP.
Pros of getting a DNP
The main reasons to consider a DNP include the following:
● A DNP can qualify you for more advanced positions, including director- and executive-level roles in hospitals and health care advocacy organizations.
● Enrolling in a DNP program can help you stay on top of the latest developments in evidence-based clinical practice.
● In pursuing a DNP, you can focus your study on areas of nursing you are truly passionate about, transforming your enthusiasm into true expertise.
● Armed with a DNP, you will be better positioned to influence health care policy in an organization and even to influence nursing practice in general.
● In many organizations, an advanced nursing degree qualifies you for higher salaries.
Cons of getting a DNP
That said, potential downsides include the following:
● Earning a DNP will require anywhere from one to four additional years of education, depending on whether you have an MSN, choose a dedicated MSN to DNP program, and other factors.
● The additional years of academic training will also increase the costs of your nursing school tuition.
Considering the merits of a DNP?
Is a DNP worth it? That depends on your career goals and what you hope to accomplish in your nursing career. For those who are seeking the highest levels of influence over nursing as a vocation and over health care policies, pursuing a DNP can be a challenging but fulfilling path.