Why Choose a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree?

Helping others through healing is a time-honored profession. For thousands of years (tens of thousands of years, in fact), there have been men and women who devoted themselves to the healing arts. Whereas once we relied on herbs and chanting, however, we now have incredibly advanced technology, vaccines and other tools to encourage and maintain the health of people around the world.

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Contributing to this effort heavily are doctors and nurses. Where once these two professions were clearly delineated, however, there has sprung up in recent decades recognition of the need for highly qualified nurses with extensive medical knowledge. Thus was the Doctor of Nursing Practice born.

According to experts, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (also known as the Doctorate of Nursing Practice or DNP) “is the pinnacle of practice-focused nursing degrees, building upon master’s programs by providing an educational foundation in quality improvement, evidence-based practice, and systems leadership, among others.” For nurses who want to take their nursing education to the highest possible level, this is the degree to get.

But what does a Doctor of Nursing Practice actually do? Why should prospective students consider the degree, and what does it require from them? Today’s post will cover these questions and more.

What Does a Doctor of Nursing Practice Do?

The Doctor of Nursing Practice is the terminal degree in nursing. That means no matter how hard one studies or how many programs one takes, one cannot reach higher in the field of nursing. A Doctor of Nursing Practice may work in many specialties, such as a Family Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Midwife or Nurse Anesthetist.

Because the degree allows such a variety of specializations, a DNP may choose to focus on a huge range of interest areas. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Pediatric or family medicine
  • Oncology, pathology or other disease-focused areas
  • Policy making or legislation
  • Community service and outreach
  • Surgery or other cutting-edge medical techniques

… and others. Depending on the nurse’s specific area of focus, they might spend most of the day interacting with patients and providing care (such as in the case of a nurse midwife or a family nurse practitioner). Others might spend more of their time in the company of doctors and other medical colleagues (such as a nurse anesthetist, whose patients are usually not awake for most of their time with the nurse). Still others might spend their time on lab work, running research trials, writing medical papers or networking with public policymakers to drive change in the field of medicine.

The bottom line is, with a terminal degree in nursing, the sky is the limit.

What Can You Do with a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree?

Because DNPs work at the top of their fields, they have a variety of choices when it comes to how they spend their workaday hours. Many choose to go into leadership or policy, helping to train new generations of nurses and influence major decisions made regarding the field of nursing. Others opt for medical work, interacting with patients on a daily basis, perhaps owning their own practices or signing on with specialty departments in hospitals (such as pediatrics or oncology).

Still others prefer to spend their time in research. They may work with doctors or lead their own studies, adding to the body of knowledge about diseases, transmission, cures, vaccines, populations, anatomy and more.

Given the wide range of potential job types, it stands to reason that DNPs have a similarly wide range of potential work settings, including:

  • Clinics and hospitals
  • Field hospitals or remote clinics
  • Refugee camps
  • Community centers or public health clinics
  • Colleges and universities
  • Laboratories
  • Private or family practices
  • Surgical settings

… and more. Choosing a Doctor of Nursing Practice, in other words, qualifies one for work around the world, in country or city, in an almost limitless range of disciplines. Graduation, however, must come first. So what are the course requirements for this degree?

What Are the Course Requirements for a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree?

DNPs must be qualified to lead in their fields, which means they will spend significantly less time on traditional nursing subjects such as anatomy or patient care, and more on topics of global importance in their fields. Typically, those who are getting their DNP will need to take courses in:

  • Statistics in medical and health sciences
  • Quality improvement
  • Patient safety and care
  • Evidence-based practices
  • Scholarly practice
  • Ethics and leadership
  • Information systems
  • Healthcare policy

On top of these courses, nurses will usually choose a focus area. Remember, while DNP is the terminal degree, the NP usually defines in what field you will be working. For those who want to take on specific roles such as se practitioner, certified nurse midwife, certified registered nurse anesthetist or clinical nurse specialist, there will be additional coursework that fits the specific tracks they’re on. These will usually be more focused on anatomy and specific patient care.

What Are the Application Requirements for a Doctor of Nursing Practice Program?

To apply for a DNP program, nurses must already have a bachelor’s and master’s in nursing. These degrees signify that the nurse candidate has significant experience in the field already. Typically, programs will look for nurses who have already worked for several years as well, proving that they have boots-on-the-ground familiarity with a lot of the subjects that will be taught in their coursework. Note, however, that this isn’t necessarily true. For students who want to pursue the highest nursing degree straight through from undergrad, there are options, so speak with the admissions department at the schools you’re considering. Every school has different requirements, and it pays to know what they are.

That said, most DNP candidates will need to furnish the following documents:

  • Transcripts of all previous schools attended, even those that had nothing to do with nursing
  • Letters of recommendation from 3-5 previous employers, professors, volunteer coordinators or other authority figures who can attest to the nurse’s professionalism, knowledge, and so forth
  • A letter of intent or essay
  • A resume
  • GRE test scores

Make sure you contact the admissions departments of all schools you are considering well ahead of the deadline to ascertain what the requirements are. Once you miss an application deadline, you will have to wait until the following year to apply again, so give yourself a considerable cushion!

What’s the Career Outlook for Someone with a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree?

Expect to make serious money with a DNP under your belt. According to 2013 statistics, the job pulls down an average of $97,452, as compared to nurses who possess only a master’s degree, which make a still-impressive average annual salary of $87,000. The salary potential varies by state, of course, and the above resource is a good one to compare salaries side by side – applicable to those who can move anywhere they want after finishing their degrees.

Nurse practitioners – remember, nurses with terminal degrees who specialize in a certain field rather than working globally in nursing – can make even more money due to their narrower degree of focus. The same source reports that DNP-prepared nurse practitioners earn an average of $135,830, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners make an average of $113,930 per year or $54.78 per hour.

There aren’t many good numbers specific to DNPs about how fast the job market is growing, but students can draw reasonable conclusions about potential roles from the BLS page, which reports that nurse practitioner jobs are projected to grow at a lightning-fast rate of 31 percent between 2016 and 2026. This is much faster than average, even compared to other nursing jobs, and indicates that graduates with a DNP will have little trouble gaining employment upon graduation.

Additional Resources for Those Interested in the Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree

Whether getting started in the field of nursing and considering a doctorate down the road, or already immersed in a successful career and wondering how to take it to the next level, you’ll need some resources to see you through this decision-making process. Anyone considering a Doctor of Nursing Practice should have the following resources bookmarked:

These resources are a good starting point for anyone considering a Doctor of Nursing Practice. For more information, please feel free to explore this website for answers to your question and a look at the best degree programs available today. Congratulations on this decision, and get ready for the career of a lifetime!

DNP Programs by State