Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) are increasingly choosing to go back to school to pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) to advance their nursing education to the doctoral level.
While a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) remains the minimum requirement for many specialty advanced practice nursing roles, the field of nursing is maturing. At the highest levels in leadership positions, nursing is evolving to demand doctoral-level knowledge and skills.
With change rapidly approaching, earning a DNP is increasingly becoming the standard for nurses eager to take the reins and steer nursing towards a brighter future.
Discover the benefits of earning a DNP. Here are 7 primary reasons why advanced practice nurses are earning DNPs—and why it’s worth it.
1. Reach the height of the nursing profession
A doctorate in nursing represents a terminal degree, meaning the highest degree you can earn in the field of nursing. Earn a DNP and you can potentially meet the highest minimum education requirements for positions as a clinical owner, entrepreneur, manager, or leader.
Doctorate programs expand on advanced practice topics previously explored in a master’s degree program, emphasizing leadership, interdisciplinary knowledge, quality improvement, informatics, continuous quality improvement, and evidence-based practice.
Rather than prepare you for a specialty job in nursing, getting a DNP degree expands your personal growth in the field and potentially opens doors to many different job opportunities in advanced nursing practice.
By furthering your education to the doctorate level, you can also raise the ceiling on your salary potential. According to the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey, registered nurses whose highest education was a DNP reported a median salary of about $100,000, 11% higher than the $90,000 median for those who had earned as much as a master’s degree. Medscape’s 2021 APRN Compensation Report indicates nurse practitioners with a doctorate make about 5% more than those with a master’s degree.1
Climb the ladder to the highest precipice of nursing and begin making a significant impact in how nursing is done. Become addressed as “Dr.” and make a real impact to the profession as your work contributes to nursing practice.
2. Advance your skills regardless of specialty
The DNP curriculum expands the skillset of APRNs, nurse educators, and nurse leaders alike. What you learn in a DNP program potentially applies to any role in nursing leadership or clinical practice across all potential specialties.
Many MSN programs are designed with specific concentrations to prepare you for the certification exam you need to pass in order to practice. For instance, to become a certified Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), you need to graduate from a master’s degree program with an FNP concentration.
DNP degree programs are not designed to expand your scope of practice in any specific kind of clinical care. The advanced concepts you learn translate across all specialties and disciplines.
You’ll be prepared to practice at the highest level no matter where your career takes you in the future (additional certification/specialization still may require earning a post master’s certificate).
3. Prepare for future APRN requirements
In October of 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) endorsed the Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing, which recommended moving the current level of preparation needed for advanced nursing practice from the master’s to doctorate level.
The AACN set an initial goal to phase out master’s level prep for APRNs and transition fully to DNP by 2015. That deadline has come and gone, and a master’s level education remains the minimum requirement to practice as an APRN (additional requirements vary per certification).
However, the transition has been discussed for many years—and not only by AACN. The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) set a goal of 2025 to move all entry-level nurse practitioner education to the DNP degree.
While enrollment in DNP programs has increased continuously for 20 years running as of the AACN’s most recent Annual Survey, a DNP has not yet become required to practice as an APRN.
However, the landscape is changing and the DNP is trending towards becoming the standard for APRNs at the highest level.
4. Doctorally-prepared nurses are needed to translate evidence and research
The Doctor of Nursing Practice isn’t designed to be a research-focused degree like a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD) or Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS). However, DNP nurses participate in a crucial part of the practice process—through continuous process improvement based upon the evidence.
While researchers with a PhD or DNS design and conduct research studies to disseminate knowledge for nursing, APRNs with a DNP are qualified to put those studies into practice.
DNP nurses can implement evidence-based research, analyze outcomes, and determine how to make appropriate changes given the knowledge gained.
By earning a DNP you can actively discover better ways to deliver nursing care.
5. Earn a key role in improvement science
Improvement science and quality improvement are important components in a DNP curriculum.
Successfully implementing meaningful change requires a cycle of careful, data-driven experimentation, observation, and evaluation. Doctoral-level coursework in improvement science teaches you to develop strategic systems-based approaches for improving outcomes of care.
You’ll learn to analyze quality and safety initiatives, employ change theory and improvement science processes to design and implement evidence-based interventions.
With a DNP you can directly facilitate change and improvement rather than react to it.
6. Become a better educator
Nursing needs educators active in nursing practice to bring best practices into the classroom. As a DNP-prepared nurse educator, you can do just that—and potentially compete for more teaching jobs in both clinical and academic settings.
Earning a DNP can help you qualify for teaching positions where you’ll be able to teach both MSN and DNP students. Pair an MSN or post master’s certificate in nursing education with a DNP, and you’ll be in a great position to compete for a variety of teaching positions.
According to the AACN, nurses who want to teach at a four-year college or university should pursue a doctoral degree. Clinical expertise remains a key component of becoming nursing faculty. You’ll want to be strong in your specialty as well as overall teaching skills to succeed at the highest levels in nursing education.
Becoming a nurse educator at the highest levels requires continually advancing your education, responding swiftly to innovations in the science of nursing, and embracing your role as a thought leader.
A DNP curriculum complements your prior education and developed skills in clinical practice to make you a well-rounded leader capable of training the next generation of nurses.
7. The healthcare system needs you
Nursing is an essential aspect of healthcare. It requires leaders like you to advance nursing practice and push the industry to new levels of proficiency and legitimacy. Earning a DNP puts you in the driver’s seat to facilitate the push.
The doctorate in nursing practice has far surpassed the doctor of philosophy (PhD) in nursing in terms of overall recipients from 2010-2020, according to data from Campaign for Action:
- 49,429 DNPs earned vs. 7,753 PhDs: 6+ times more DNPs than PhDs earned.
- 9,158 DNPs earned in 2020 vs. 1,282 in 2010: a 614% increase, compared to a 43% increase in PhDs over the same time period.
DNPs are poised to assume the leadership of nursing, especially where that leadership involves practice.
Change is on the horizon. A growing number of nurses are earning DNPs and positioning themselves as change agents, doers, improvers—and the voice of nursing for the future.
Take the next step to become the future of nursing.
1. Hurt, A. (2021, December 3). Average income for advanced practice nurses continued to increase during pandemic: Survey. Medscape. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/964081
* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2021. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.