Difference Between DNP and PhD

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: October 20, 2023


Difference Between DNP and PhD

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In India and many parts of the world, earning a nursing degree is a great educational investment. There is a strong demand for nursing professionals throughout the world and will continue to grow in the coming years. There are many types of degrees and levels to become a nurse. Some of them are – BSc in nursing, MSc in nursing, DNP, Doctor of Philosophy, CNS, LPN, NP, NA, and Diploma in Practical Nursing, Master in Nursing, Ph.D., and BSN, etc.

  The full form of DNP is Doctor of Nursing Practice. It is a medical degree earned by rigorous course work which leads to a successful career path in the health care field. The programs under DNP prepare nurse leaders at the highest level of nursing practice which helps them to improve patient results and to transform research into practice. These degree earners learn skills for top leadership roles in the field of nursing to care directly for individual patients and for other purposes.

  The full form of a PhD is a Doctor of Philosophy. It is one of the highest-level academic degrees awarded to the earner. Ph.D. is a research-focused doctor at a degree that focuses on scientific research to the high quality that advances the healthcare care qualifies and the nursing profession. It generates knowledge for the improvement of the health of individuals, families, or populations. The research is written in a single sentence or short paragraph. Ph.D. can be obtained as a full–time or part–time program.

DNP vs PhD

DNP is a practice doctorate that prepares nurses for careers in nursing leadership and administration in clinical and non-clinical areas of healthcare. These nurses develop the skills to apply and transform research into nursing practice. They evaluate the impact of the research on their practices and make changes to enhance the quality of care. DNP is a terminal degree and the highest degree that NPs can earn. For example, an NP with an MSN can pursue a DNP degree. After acquiring the degree, they can look for leadership roles in hospitals and other medical settings. DNP is earned in one year of full-time study.

On the contrary, a Ph.D. in nursing is a research doctoral degree that prepares nurse leaders for a career in scientific research. The nurses are trained to conduct nursing-based research, create theories, and contribute to the knowledge of health and sciences. They disseminate research findings through scholarly publications, teachings, and presentations. Ph.D. is the highest and most advanced degree program for nurses desiring to focus on research and education. PhD earned nurses can work in a research lab. Ph.D. is a terminal nursing degree and takes about twice as long to earn it. It takes a minimum of three years to obtain a degree of Ph.D. in nursing.

Difference Between DNP and PhD in Tabular Form

Parameters of ComparisonDNPPhD
DefinitionDNP is a practice doctorate that puts the knowledge into practice in a clinical environment.Ph.D. is a research doctoral degree that prepares nurse leaders to discover knowledge and focus on academic research settings.
CurriculumDNP focuses on healthcare policy and advocacy, and healthcare quality improvement and requires a final project of these concepts.PhD focuses on research and analytical methods and theory culminated in a dissertation.
FacultyDNP earners acquire senior leadership experience.Ph.D. degree earners acquire senior-level research funding.
Program LengthIt takes 2-3 years of post-masters full-time study to complete a degree in DNP.It takes 4-5 years of post-master's full-time study to complete a degree in Ph.D.
Career TasksDNPs direct patient care by diagnosing and treating them to help improve their outcomes.Nurse scientists spend their time researching and analyzing to improve patient's health status.
OrientationDNPs are oriented towards improving outcomes of care and are practice-intensive.PhDs are oriented towards developing new knowledge and are research-intensive.
Practice HoursDNPs need 1000 clinical practice hours.PhDs do not require any sort of clinical practice hours.

What is a DNP?

DNP stands for The Doctor of Nursing Practice. It is a professional degree in the field of nursing. DNP includes additional hours of clinical or residency and a final project implemented through direct clinical nursing care to improve the outcomes of healthcare. It provides advanced training for nurses who hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing [BSN] or a Master of Science in Nursing [MSN]. Being a doctorate–level degree is not the similar qualification needed to become a certified medical doctor. DNP allows nurses to acquire skills and knowledge in a specific nursing field.

The DNP degree was formally introduced in 2004 in a position statement by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. After the appearance of this document, DNP programs saw rapid growth and need in the health care system. Current leadership trends in clinical settings will only increase the number of DNP graduates in the future. The purpose of AACN is to examine the factors that influenced the ability of nursing schools to implement universal DNP standards for APRNs.

By the year 2015, related organizations voted to change the level of education required for Advanced Nursing Practice from the Master's degree to the DNP degree. In a positive response to the initial DNP proposal, AACN reaffirmed support for the DNP in 2010, and since 2018, the National Organization of Nurse PR Actioner Faculties (NONPH) lobbied for DNP to be the entry-level degree for NPs.

Enrolling in a DNP program can be a challenging task for many students due to the academic requirements associated with it. A DNP earner student should possess the following attributes to be successful in the field:-

  1. The student should set a clear vision and goal for the future and success in DNP. Possessing a clear vision helps an individual to organize his/her objective and to maintain accountability.
  2. Students who remain perpetually curious are more immersed in success because curiosity propels innovation and self-reflection in oneself. Curious people are not only happier but also more successful because of their supportive non-blaming innovative and polite nature.
  3. Students who know how to prioritize become more successful in DNP because of their ability to differentiate tasks in a critical or non-critical way. Knowledge of prioritizing looks wisely not only minimizes stress but also maximizes results more efficiently.
  4. Students maintain a strong work ethic and have success in DNP. To maintain a sturdy work ethic, it is important to practice positive habits every day so that hard work is almost automatic.
  5. Students should possess excellent time management skills to begin a DNP because of the high academic workload associated with the degree. To ensure a properly managed time, students should keep a written or electronic record, diary, or calendar.
  6. It is important to create a healthy work–life balance by setting aside time for oneself and loved ones. It is vital to ensure physical, mental, and emotional health care.
  7. Students must understand that excellence is a lifelong process. Sustainable excellence requires constant monitoring, learning, and improvement with the realization of the importance of the journey.

DNP professionals work and learn about the new opportunities in different places that include:-

  1. Hospitals – DNPs often work in high–pressure environments. Many DNP nurses work in hospitals with high–demand healthcare environments. A PNP nurse can diagnose special needs patients and offer advice and knowledge in specific treatments.
  2. Internal Medicine Practices - Internal medicine practice is a smart option for an intimate work environment with a smaller pool of regular patients. The patients are treated by an experienced and dedicated team of healthcare professionals.
  3. Specialty Practices – A position in a specialty practice is a way to put one's years of research and clinical experiences to work. The nurse gains first-hand experience by turning years of research into clinical practice.
  4. Universities or Colleges – Some DNP professionals opt to pursue teaching. They turn research into practice to improve public health.
  5. Health care administration settings ADNP professionals can take an administrative role at a hospital or a health care facility. This leads to the exercising of leadership skills and an inspiration for other colleagues.

To acquire a degree in DNP, an individual should set a high school diploma or an equivalent like a GED. After this, the individual must receive education related to the nursing field. Then, the individual must pass the exam of NCLEX – RN run by NCDLF. After passing the exam, the individual must earn a state license and gain professional experience. The individual must consider the option of education by choosing a specialization and conducting research. At last, the application materials are sent to the workplace.

What is a PhD?

Ph.D. is a research-intensive curriculum that prepares nurses for careers as nurse scientists who conduct research across a wide range of populations and health conditions. There is an acute shortage of nursing faculties in undergraduate and postgraduate nursing programs in India. PhD is vital to prepare the nurse scholars to improve the quality of nursing practice and education in India. It is the highest level of education a nurse can achieve.

The Ph.D. program includes courses like nursing theory, research methods, statistical analysis, and health care policy in its curriculum. As it is a demanding program, a Ph.D. requires specific qualifications to own the degree. :-

  • Bachelor’s degree or BSc nursing in the related field of medical science.
  • Master’s degree in nursing which includes MSc, M.Phil. or MRES from any leading medical institution.
  • Professional experience in nursing at health care centers or settings.
  • English language proficiency by qualified exams like IELTS, TOEFL, PTE, etc. with good scores or bands.
  • Letter of recommendation along with a statement of purpose.

A Ph.D. nurse conducts scientific-based research to advance the profession of nursing. The gathered knowledge of these nurses brings positive change in the quality and treatment of patient care and positive results in the entire field of nursing. Apart from being nurse scientists, they also teach and mentor nurses at the college or university level which helps in shaping the future of the nurses of the next generation.

Nurses with the degree of Ph. D.s have many responsibilities in their organizations. They assist the nursing staff in monitoring the overall patient care system and inform the higher management about it. The nurses find problems in the system and try to fix the solution. They constantly work to improve the quality of the overall care system. The Ph.D. nurses conduct and publish research, quality improvement workshops, and skill improvement seminars and train staff and nursing students for better health care services.

PhD nurse's working settings depend on the career paths they have chosen. They may work in a hospital, medical laboratory, or research facility as a research scientist in a university or may work at a nursing school, as a faculty member or department chair in college. In rare cases, a Ph.D. nurse also works as a public health nurse in a government setting to develop solutions based on research on public health issues.

Numerous universities offer PhD level courses across the world, which include:-

  1. University Of Washington (Seattle)
  2. The University Of Sydney (Australia)
  3. University of Technology Sydney (Australia)
  4. Thammasat University (Thailand)
  5. Rush University (United States)
  6. University Of Missouri-Kansas City (Columbia)
  7. Griffith University (Australia)
  8. University Of San Diego (California)
  9. University Of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  10. University Of Alberta (Canada)

Main Differences Between DNP and PhD (In Points)

  • DNP is a medical degree that prepares nurses who hold either a degree of BSN or MSN in the nursing field for training. While PhD is the highest-level academic degree that prepares nurses for a career in scientific research.
  • The University Of Kentucky College Of Nursing started the first DNP program in 2001. On the other hand, Columbia University and New York University started the first doctoral Ph.D. programs in the 1920s and 1930s.
  • DNP requires nursing practice and does not require any mentored teaching experience during the program. Whereas, a PhD requires nursing research and mentored prior teaching experiences during the program.
  • DNP offers specialized programs like educational leadership, executive leadership, professional leadership, or informatics leadership. While, a PhD offers specializations including nursing education, interdisciplinary health, leadership, healthcare administration, and population or community health.
  • DNP includes core courses like EBP I and II, quantitative methods, applied finance and budget planning, effective leadership, etc. On the other hand, a Ph.D. provides core courses like Philosophy of science and theory development, advanced research methods, statistics and data analysis, etc.
  • DNP includes certification options like pediatrics, neonatal, psychiatric mental health, clinical nurse midwife, women's health, and many more. Whereas, a PhD includes certification options like education, public health policy, healthcare innovation, and many more.
  • The DNP program must be renewed after 5 years. While PhD degree is not required to be renewed.
  • The DNP program includes a capstone project under it. On the other hand, the Ph.D. program includes a dissertation project under it.


In short, DNP and PhD are two doctorate-level nursing programs that are often confused. A DNP program trains nurses to perform the highest level of nursing practice and high-quality patient care while a Ph.D. program prepares nurses to conduct scientific research for patient care. The key differences between them are based on the nurses' career aspirations, curriculum, program length, and others.


  • nursing.ucsf.edu
  • post.edu
  • chamberlain.edu


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"Difference Between DNP and PhD." Diffzy.com, 2024. Sun. 19 May. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-dnp-and-phd>.

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