A career in nursing is very rewarding, no matter what level of education you complete.
With nursing, you can join the workforce with no more than an associate’s degree and your license, though many nurses choose to go on to earn their bachelor’s degree or even their master’s.
If you really want to move your nursing career forward, completing a doctoral degree is even possible.
More and more nurses are choosing to complete a nursing degree with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing citing an increase of 8.9%.
Thanks to the increase in doctoral nursing programs between 2007 and 2019, more schools are able to accommodate prospective doctoral students.
But why should you bother earning your doctorate if it isn’t necessary? What exactly does a DNP degree do and how can it help your career?
What is a DNP?
DNP stands for Doctorate in Nursing Practice and is a doctoral degree that furthers a nurse’s understanding of healthcare practice, ethics, and policy.
It includes both project and practicum and often focuses on evidence-based practice.
Some people may confuse a DNP with a PhD, however, the two are very different.
A PhD focuses more on research whereas a DNP is centered around innovative and evidence-based practice.
It’s more hands on and doesn’t necessarily lead to a career in research like a PhD typically does.
Most DNP programs are completed within 2 or 3 years, though some universities offer 24 month programs.
You can find online, hybrid, or on-campus DNP programs depending on your personal preferences and interest.
You may also choose to study full time or part time, though this will affect how quickly you complete your degree.
What Education Do You Need Before Starting a DNP Degree?
Before you can start a DNP program, you will need to complete all the prior education requirements: associate’s degree, followed by a bachelor’s, followed by a master’s.
If you know ahead of time that you want to complete your DNP, then you may be able to find MSN to DNP or even BSN to DNP programs that will help you work towards your goal of completing your DNP.
What Can You Do With a DNP Degree?
When you graduate with your DNP, there are a number of different things you can do.
During your program, you will have to choose between a clinical path or a non-clinical path and depending on your choice, you’ll have different career options available to you after graduation.
If you choose a clinical path during your DNP, you’ll continue to work directly with patients after graduation.
Thanks to your DNP degree, though, you’ll spend more time working on assessing, diagnosing, and managing certain types of care.
Much of the clinical work done by DNP graduates is as an advanced practice registered nurse.
Here are some of the career paths many DNP graduates choose.
Certified Nurse Practitioner
Many CNPs find work in hospitals, hospice care, education centers, or physician offices.
They provide primary, acute, and specialty care and can either work independently or with other healthcare professionals.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
CRNAs administer anesthesia of all types: local, regional, and general.
They often work independently and without physician supervision thanks to recent changes in healthcare regulations and work in many areas of healthcare such as diagnostics, surgery, newborn and infant health, pain management, and tauma.
Clinical Nurse Specialist
Clinical nurse specialists apply their knowledge of evidence-based practice in their chosen specialty.
Many CNSs work in home health care facilities, nursing home facilities, emergency rooms, and laboratories. They may also work closely with bedside nurses to help improve patient care and outcomes.
When you choose a non-clinical role, you choose to no longer work directly with patients.
These positions are often in leadership or at institutions where you’ll work to improve healthcare and patient care without interacting daily with patients.
Here are some common non-clinical roles that DNP graduates go into:
Executive Nurse Leader
Executive nurse leaders often work in education centers, nursing care centers, outpatient facilities, and independent consulting practices.
They design patient care practices, develop policies and procedures, create facility and department budgets, and work with other healthcare professionals to improve things at an organizational level.
Many nurse managers choose to work in urgent care facilities, physician offices, and nursing or home health care facilities.
As a nurse manager, they oversee all nurses within their department and create schedules, interview and hire more staff, budget, and work with other healthcare professionals.
Clinical trainers primarily work in educational facilities: universities and colleges, junior colleges, educational support, and technical or trade schools.
They help train and educate future nurses with evidence-based practices, create new clinical curriculum, and design courses based on research.
Choosing to work mainly in educational centers and in consulting positions, nurse informaticists analyze data to improve patient care.
This is done through research and the integration of nursing science, computer science, and information science.
With the information and data gathered, nurse informaticists work to improve the overall care and health of communities, healthcare facilities, and individual patients.
Is a DNP Degree Worth It?
A DNP degree will certainly open many more doors for you and your career, but for some people, the additional schooling doesn’t seem worth it.
Not everyone is interested in seeking higher level positions and continuing their education and that’s okay, but if you want to spearhead your career, be offered new opportunities, and have a chance to make a real impact on patient care, earning your DNP is one of the best ways to do so.
Advance Your Career
Those that choose to pursue a DNP will have the chance to advance their career and earn a higher salary than if they simply continue working as a registered nurse.
As a DNP can land you a career in policy making and patient care improvement, it can put you in the perfect position to truly improve the level of care patients receive and improve your job satisfaction.