As the healthcare system evolves, nurses are playing a greater role in shaping policy, overseeing patient outcomes, and filling gaps in advanced healthcare practice. While nurse practitioners (NPs) are at the forefront of this changing environment, those with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) are best equipped to advance their career.
A DNP may seem unnecessary to seasoned nurse practitioners who already have a master’s degree, but healthcare institutions have a growing demand for NPs with organizational leadership skills an advanced degree develops. No matter where you are in your nursing career, here are five reasons a DNP degree is worth pursuing.
A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and a DNP are both advanced degrees that train you to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). However, a DNP education allows for further specialization required for academic, clinical, and executive leadership.
A DNP degree provides practice-based training from a systemic perspective, helping nurses of all experience levels build on their clinical and leadership skills. While other terminal degrees, such as a PhD and a doctor of nursing science (DNSc) focus on research skills and scholarly inquiry, a DNP equips you to manage the many institutional mechanisms involved in delivering quality patient care.
Through experiential learning, nurses can develop a wide range of valuable skills, including:
These skills are important because they make nursing professionals better care providers. “From an individual development perspective, DNP graduates are better able to analyze and implement best practices in nursing and healthcare. You're better able to understand what we call ‘evidence-based practice,’” says Dr. Donna Barry, director of the DNP on-campus programs at Regis College.
Earning a DNP doesn’t just allow nurses to move up; it gives them the versatility to pursue (or even develop) specialized roles. “One of the main reasons for getting a DNP is expanding what it is that you can do with your career,” Dr. Barry says. Its wide breadth curriculum and specialization aspect makes a DNP the best method of opening the door to more opportunities in nursing. The added expertise and authority it provides allows nursing professionals with a DNP to make a greater impact on nursing education, policy, and healthcare. Common career paths include:
One of the most common reasons nursing professionals obtain a DNP degree is to increase their knowledge and move up to executive roles. APRNs in leadership roles have more power to decide how healthcare institutions operate.
Nurse leaders and nurse managers must have proficiency in:
Therefore, these positions require more knowledge, multidisciplinary skills, and dedication to improving the field.
Reputable DNP programs train nursing professionals to be better educators, analytical thinkers, and diagnosticians more so than typical MSN programs. “What we haven't done a good job of in nursing and nursing education is focus on an ability to analyze, assess, and interpret research,” says Dr. Barry. “You get that with a DNP.”
A DNP program exposes you to the most up-to-date techniques and provides in-depth, industry-specific information. As a result, graduates are in a better position to educate other professionals in a number of ways, including a nurse educator and a managing nurse. Even experienced nurse practitioners can benefit from refining their competency as instructors, mentors, and clinical experts.
If you’re more interested in conducting studies that influence care models and industry policies, Dr. Barry recommends obtaining a doctoral degree to work in competitive research roles. “Many of these positions are specially open to individuals with a terminal degree, such as a JD, MD, PhD, and now slowly, DNP. If you don’t have a doctoral degree, you can’t even apply. I think a lot of government jobs are like that (e.g., CDC and NIH). If you send an application with three master's degrees and no doctorate, forget it!”
Knowledge is power, and that’s especially true in the medical field. Informatics has become a core pillar of healthcare design, delivery, management, and reform. While nurse practitioners don’t have to be advanced data analysts, they do need to understand informatics and how to apply relevant insights to produce better outcomes. A typical DNP curriculum includes informatics and data analytics, helping nursing professionals use IT solutions to enhance clinical and proactive care for patients.
Just as you’d expect, seniority in nursing comes with higher pay and growth potential. According to a government report, nurses in leadership roles earn a median annual salary of $124,800. Leadership professionals keep the wheels turning in high-stakes, high-impact healthcare settings, making them invaluable to their organizations. By earning a doctoral degree and moving up to more specialized positions, you’ll have the power to command a better salary.
As a current or prospective nursing professional, consider enrolling in a DNP program to stay ahead of industry trends. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that demand for nurses with a master’s degree and higher will increase by 40 percent from 2021 to 2031—a considerably high growth rate.
In addition, since 2004 the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has advocated for industry leaders to adopt a DNP as the standard education for nurse practitioners. In a 2022 report on the state of DNP education, the AACN found that academic employers typically require a doctoral degree for nursing faculty positions and hospital employers prefer this education level for executive and leadership roles. All of these trends indicate that more and more healthcare facilities will require nurses to receive advanced education.
Another key factor is the unique position postgraduate-level nurses hold within the health ecosystem. Nurse practitioners are licensed to perform many of the same functions as a physician, and, depending on their state, they can run a completely independent practice. With the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicting a shortage of 37,000 to 124,000 physicians by 2034, nurse practitioners are primed to fill this gap.
Whether you plan to start a practice or work for a healthcare institution, earning a DNP may be required in the near future to help you stay ahead of the curve.
Leadership roles often equal more autonomy, authority, and recognition of your work. Employers and other medical professionals are aware that doctoral programs offer advanced training and leadership development. Many nurse practitioners already have years of clinical experience under their belt, but this enhanced qualification can further distinguish them as knowledgeable experts. A DNP degree holds prestige in the field, so earning it instantly provides a boost in professional credibility.
While a DNP isn’t for everyone, it’s important to weigh your professional interests and long-term career goals before determining if it’s the right fit for you. Nurses who are passionate about influencing the state of healthcare are best suited for this degree because it provides a clear roadmap to nursing leadership and developing industry skills needed to drive change.
At Regis College, we offer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to DNP and Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) to DNP programs to help you transition from an undergraduate or graduate education. Both programs give you the opportunity to specialize in high-demand practice fields with experiential learning that address critical issues in healthcare today.