Registered nurses represent one of the biggest segments of the workforce. For many nursing professionals, the desire to advance in their career, take on new responsibilities and, yes, supercharge their salary will lead them to earning an advanced degree, like a Doctor of Nursing Practice, or DNP.
While the average DNP-holder can expect to earn six figures, there are many factors that influence their salary and employment potential. Let’s take a look at what prospective DNPs should know about the financial upside of this degree and career path.
What Is a DNP?
As we mentioned, DNP stands for Doctor of Nursing Practice, and it represents the pinnacle of education in nursing. The term DNP is used to refer both to the doctoral degree itself, as well as many nurses who have completed this educational step.
A DNP degree is on the same level as a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D.). The main difference is that Ph.D. programs in nursing are focused on academic research into nursing and medicine, while DNPs are clinical programs. Students in these programs are trained in advanced diagnostic techniques and, often, healthcare practice administration.
This advanced training allows them to perform many of the same healthcare functions as physicians, though this varies by state, with some states granting DNPs more freedom than others.
Not all DNP graduates work in hands-on roles directly with patients, but that is the most common path, and job titles include the following, though this is by no means an exhaustive list:
- Nurse Practitioner
- Nurse Anesthetist
- Medical and Health Services Manager
- Nurse Administrator
- Clinical Nurse Specialist
- Chief Nursing Officer
- Director of Public Health
Some but not all DNP programs offer paths for professional nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), as well as those with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), but this varies by school. BSN-to-DNP programs are a bigger investment of time and money, while a typical MSN-to-DNP program will take a couple of years to complete. Additional steps are required to earn and maintain licensure for DNPs, and this, too, varies by state and by specialty.
Here are a few other important notes about DNPs:
- Not all DNP holders become Nurse Practitioners, and not all Nurse Practitioners hold DNPs. In fact, less than 20% of active NPs have doctoral degrees. That means those who do hold DNPs are likely to be in higher demand, as there simply are fewer of them out there.
- If they choose, DNPs can use the professional title “Doctor,” though it’s important to note that they are not physicians.
- DNPs who are licensed as Nurse Practitioners are able to prescribe medication, but in some states, they are required to practice under the supervision of a physician for the purposes of making certain diagnoses and prescribing medications.
Typical DNP Salaries
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for Nurse Practitioners is $109,820, which is more than double the median wage for all jobs in the U.S. Where they work, both in terms of the workplace itself, and where that workplace is located within the country makes a big difference.
For example, NPs working in hospitals can expect to earn about $122,420, while those whose jobs are based in doctor’s offices make a bit less, $113,190. NPs in California earn the highest wages, while those in Alabama make the least.
Nurse Practitioner median annual wage, highest and lowest
Not surprisingly, a few cities and metro areas offer premium wages for DNPs. Those working as Nurse Practitioners in the Vallejo-Fairfield metro area in California, for example, can expect to earn upwards of $160,000.
Nurse Practitioner median annual wage, top 10 cities and metro areas
|San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA||$138,100|
|Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA||$135,410|
|Urban Honolulu, HI||$133,720|
Some DNP jobs are even more lucrative for degree-holders than NP positions, according to available data. Nurse Anesthetists, for example, can expect to make nearly $175,000 per year, BLS data indicates, while Chief Nursing Officers earn an average of $131,526, according to PayScale data.
DNP wage by job title
|Chief Nursing Officer||$131,526|
|Medical and Health Services Manager||$100,980|
|Clinical Nurse Specialist||$90,988|
|Director of Public Health||$82,802|
Impact of Specialties
For the average DNP working as a Nurse Practitioner or weighing their future career path, NP roles are available across a spectrum of areas, and certain specialties are likely to be more lucrative. Specializations may be available for other clinical roles, but they are most prominent for NPs.
Here’s a look at the most common specialty options for NPs:
- Acute Care
- Psychiatric/Mental Health
- Women’s Health
Even within some of those specialties, nursing professionals may be able to drill down further. For example, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner roles may be available for either acute/emergency or primary care.
Here’s a look at typical salaries for these specialties and subspecialties, according to PayScale, Indeed and Glassdoor data:
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner: $90,911
- Family Nurse Practitioner: $96,092
- Adult/Gerontology Nurse Practitioner: $90,631
- Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner: $109,910
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner: $105,932
- Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner: $92,413
- Acute Care Nurse Practitioner: $102,968
- Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner: $110,076
- Primary Care Adult/Gerontology Nurse Practitioner: $110,000
As with any other job, experience level has a big impact regardless of specialty. For example, while Acute Care Nurse Practitioners can expect to make just under $103,000, that rises to $114,000 on average for those with at least 10 years’ experience with entry-level salaries around $96,000.
Similarly, professionals with in-demand skills will be able to command premium salaries. Family Nurse Practitioners make about $96,000 on average, according to PayScale, but those with experience in rehabilitation can expect about an 11% salary bump.
A career in nursing is among the most rewarding and challenging in the healthcare field. And with nurses of varying skill and experience levels in high demand across the country, it’s no wonder that many of them are considering pursuing a DNP. Though it’s no small feat, the bump in practice authority and salary can help make it worth the investment of time and energy.