How a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree differs from a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree

Articles | Nursing Resources

Nurses who hope to advance their career will encounter many different educational offerings along the way. Should they pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree? If they do choose to pursue an advanced degree, what are the various focus areas they could specialize in? Any potential MSN or DNP student may have an endless array of questions before pursuing such a degree.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has identified numerous benefits to either educational path, though there are specific differences of which interested students should be aware. It is important that future students uncover how each advanced degree differs from the other and what each educational choice could offer them.
Whether you decide to pursue an MSN or a DNP, here is some of the necessary information you must know:

What kind of MSN programs are available?

Most nurses who hope to boost their career prospects and enter higher education elect to work toward an MSN degree. This degree equips students with the advanced skills, training and knowledge they need to enter into a specialist’s role. While earning the degree takes time, most MSN graduates may benefit from higher pay, greater responsibilities and successful career options. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that registered nurses holding bachelor’s degrees earn around $67,490 a year, while advanced practice registered nurses with an MSN degree earn $104,740 a year.

For individuals pursuing an MSN, there are six main focus areas most students enter into, four of which are advanced practice nursing and two of which are leadership positions:

  1. Clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
  2. Certified nurse practitioner (CNP)
  3. Certified nurse anesthetist (CRNA)
  4. Certified nurse midwife (CNM)
  5. Nursing administration/leadership
  6. Clinical nurse leader (CNL)

Some students elect to choose joint programs in public health, business administration or health administration in order to get hired into a specific field of nursing. For example, individuals who hold an MSN or Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree may hope to enter into the business administrative side of the health care system, such as managing a hospital’s day-to-day operations.

Most programs take a minimum of two years to complete. However, many students work full-time while pursuing this degree, which can extend the academic timeframe.

How a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree differs from a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree

What kinds of DNP programs are available?

Nurses who choose to earn a DNP degree may be able to earn a higher salary, hold leadership-level positions and easily find positions. Nurses with DNP degrees are projected to be in high demand over the next 10 years due to an aging population, societal expectations and an industry-wide push for greater accountability and professionalism in the workplace.

In a small-scale study at the 2015 American Association of Nurse Practitioners Annual Conference, 142 professional nurses with DNP degrees completed a survey regarding how their program has benefited their career. Of those participants, 50 percent said that their degree allowed them to advance from their prior position.

Additionally, 64 percent said that their DNP degree enabled them to obtain a leadership position within their organization. Finally, one participant reported having a salary increase due to the degree. Researchers believe that the small sample size and the fact that many participants only recently earned their degrees contributed to this result.

While doctorate programs in nursing typically take anywhere from three to six years to complete, most graduates find this timing to be a necessary investment in order to make a positive impact on the community they serve. There are two main types of DNP degree programs: advanced practice nursing (CNS, CNP, CRNA and CNW) and executive leadership.

In the DNP career path, professionals hold various clinical responsibilities yet are able to fulfill roles in public health, administration, education, public policy and more. The DNP degree prepares students to enact system-wide change through an evidence-based strategy. While these graduates can work in a hospital or clinic setting, these graduates are ideally suited for academic, policy-making or high-level health care system positions.

What degree path should you choose?

The degree path you choose to pursue ultimately depends on your short- and long-term career goals. If you always have dreamed of having a hands-on approach to patient care, yet in more of a leadership role, you should consider pursuing an MSN. However, if you want to work in a more executive or research-based environment, a DNP might be the right educational path for you.

The DNP degree, in particular, is for nurses, like you, who want to gain the highest level of proficiency and knowledge in their field. You also can learn about how to create lasting health care impacts from an administrative, specialist or public health advocate role. Whether you hope to use this degree to translate evidence-based care into your clinical practice or you use it to enact new health care policies or standards, a DNP degree will support your nursing career ambitions.

A recent DNP graduate wrote in McKnight’s Long Term Care News about her journey from working in the health care industry with a BSN to eventually completing a DNP program. She explained how learning in an online environment allowed her to continue working in the field while the DNP education courses supported her leadership ambitions. After finishing her degree, she said it was the best decision she ever made because it allowed her to gain the skills, confidence and knowledge she needed to meet the continued challenge of patient care management and health care organization demands.

If you are interested in pursuing a DNP, consider Bradley University’s online program. Whether you enter with a bachelor’s degree in nursing or are already a master’s-prepared registered nurse (RN) hoping to further advance your career prospects, a DNP degree may be the right fit for you.

Our program will prepare nurses like you to expand their clinical expertise in order to bring innovation to the health care industry and positively impact the community. Contact us today to learn more about Bradley University’s rigorous and rewarding curriculum offerings, such as statistical procedures, health care policy and ethics in advanced practice nursing.