MSN-FNP vs. DNP-FNP: Which Should You Pursue?

Health care reform in the U.S. has led to increased opportunities for nurses who want to take on leadership roles in medical organizations. Jobs for advanced practice registered nurses — which includes nurse practitioners (NPs), nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists — are expected to grow by 40% between 2021 and 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

These opportunities create an inherent demand for higher education for nurses, particularly if you’re interested in working as a family nurse practitioner (FNP), a specialized type of nurse practitioner.

To pursue a career as an FNP, an advanced degree is essential. But you have options. Depending on your career goals, you can choose to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing — Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice — Family Nurse Practitioner (DNP-FNP) degree. If you already possess an MSN, you can choose the post-master’s FNP Certificate program.

MSN-FNP vs. DNP-FNP: What Are They?A smiling family nurse practitioner interacts with an infant patient and their parent.

To determine which degree best aligns with your career goals, it’s important to understand the differences between the MSN-FNP and the DNP-FNP. Both are advanced degrees that focus on care delivery to patients through different phases of their lives. The main difference between them is that an MSN-FNP focuses on developing the nursing skills needed to become a nurse practitioner, while the DNP-FNP goes further, also covering elements of policy, leadership, and educational theory that can help graduates advance to high-level positions.

MSN-FNP Meaning

NPs who work in family practice provide primary care for an increasing number of individuals and families across the U.S. NPs must have at least a master’s degree to practice, along with state licensure and certification in their specialty role.

An MSN program will build on your existing nursing experience to equip you with the skills and knowledge to excel as an NP. The Bradley University MSN-FNP online program specifically will prepare you for advanced practice nursing focused on family medicine. Topics covered include evidence-based practice, health care policy, and health informatics, as well as principles for primary care in the treatment of children, adults, and the elderly.

While the rewards of a career as an NP are numerous, there’s also a financial incentive to pursuing this role. NPs earned a median annual wage of $120,680 in 2021, according to the BLS. This amount is significantly higher than the $77,600 median annual wage of registered nurses (RN) as reported by the BLS.

DNP-FNP Meaning

While an MSN-FNP will qualify you to practice as an FNP, the degree is not your only option for higher education in this specialized field. A DNP-FNP takes the MSN-FNP a step further and dives deeper into the leadership aspects involved with the advanced practice role.

In addition to the FNP-specific courses and practicums, you will complete advanced courses that explore topics such as performance measurement, health care economics, health care policy, management in health care organizations, and health promotion.

As a result of shifting demands in health care in the U.S., there is increased demand for nursing professionals to pursue higher levels of education. There is also an ongoing push to make the DNP degree the required minimum degree for nurse practitioners. Organizations such as the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) are lobbying to make the DNP the benchmark for NPs by 2025.

While this is not yet in place, earning a DNP carries other potential benefits. Although an MSN will meet the qualifications to work as an FNP at most health care organizations, a DNP will increase your competitive edge in the job market. This degree also gives you the option to take on a leadership position within your organization.

MSN-FNP vs. DNP-FNP Programs

Choosing which advanced nursing degree to pursue is a significant decision, and it’s important to weigh the differences between MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP programs.

MSN-FNP Program Length and Cost

An MSN program typically takes between two and a half to three and a half years to complete, depending on the student’s beginning education level. RNs with an associate degree take additional bridge classes to prepare them for master’s-level work, while BSN graduates don’t need to. Program length can also be influenced by whether the individual enrolls on a full- or part-time basis.

The cost of an MSN-FNP is typically between $35,000 and $70,000. This includes the cost of books and other materials in addition to tuition. However, students who enroll in an online program may be able to earn their degree at a lower cost, as elements such as housing and commuting are eliminated.

DNP-FNP Program Length and Cost

A DNP-FNP program can take between two to four years to complete, again depending on a student’s educational background. MSN graduates have to complete fewer credit hours to earn a DNP degree compared to someone entering the program with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. As with an MSN, the length of the program can also be influenced by whether the individual enrolls in a program full or part time.

The cost of a DNP-FNP can typically range from $40,000 to $70,000, which also includes the price of books and other materials. Enrolling in an online program may allow students to reduce costs.


An MSN program’s coursework focuses on the foundational elements of care delivery to patients. This generally includes courses focusing on advanced health assessment, advanced pathophysiology, and advanced pharmacology. MSN-FNP programs may also include specialty courses pertaining to the FNP specialization.

A DNP program’s coursework commonly focuses on nursing theories pertaining to care delivery systems and concepts. Courses may cover elements such as nurse science theory, research and practice methodologies, health care policy, and advanced health care informatics. Some DNP curricula also include coursework found in an MSN program, particularly for students with a BSN degree.

MSN-FNP vs. DNP-FNP: Choose Your Nursing Degree

When trying to determine whether an MSN-FNP or DNP-FNP is the right choice for your career, your first step should be to consider your goals and determine which degree can best help you reach them. While both degrees will allow you to practice, it helps to think about where you wish to be in 10 or 20 years. If your ultimate goal is to work in a clinic treating patients, an MSN might be the right choice. But if you already know that you want to rise through the ranks of your health care organization to a leadership position in the long term, a DNP-FNP may be the better choice. You also can complete the MSN-FNP and pursue the DNP-FNP later in your career.

Our programs are designed to help you deepen your knowledge and skills so you can pursue advanced roles and provide high-level care to patients. Find out how we can prepare you to make an impact in health care.


Recommended Readings

DNP vs. MSN: Which Advanced Nursing Degree Should You Choose?

Nurse Practitioner Specialties: Types of Nurse Practitioner Roles and Responsibilities

What Is a Family Nurse Practitioner?



American Association of Colleges of Nursing, DNP Fact Sheet

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Master’s Education

The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties, The Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree: Entry to Nurse Practitioner Practice by 2025

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021: Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses