There are two different doctorate degrees that you can pursue in the field of nursing, which are the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or the Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD in Nursing). The primary difference between the two is the professional application of the degree; however, the paths to earning these two degrees are not exactly the same. Both the DNP and PhD in Nursing have some similar requirements in order for students to graduate, but there are different and more specific requirements for each one because of how the degrees are meant to be used professionally.

Based on what your goals are in the medical world, that is how you would go about choosing which doctoral-level nursing education is going to be the most effective at helping you to meet those goals. The most common type of postgraduate nursing degree is the Doctor of Nursing Practice or DNP. DNP programs have a core curriculum that centers around translating research evidence into medical practice, in-depth learning about healthcare policy and administration, and cultivating expertise in a student’s particular practice. The process of earning this degree can include a thousand or more hours of clinical work and a final project based on practice; this project could be something as simple as a clinical presentation or paper, or as extensive as some sort of practice-based project. A DNP usually leads to jobs in leadership in nursing practice, such as the care coordinator at a hospital. Other jobs include management positions in a medical setting, working in healthcare policy at different types of organizations, or teaching in practice-based nursing degree programs. DNP degrees are required for most Advanced Practice Nurses and the AACN is pushing for the minimum degree to be a DNP instead of a Master’s degree as it has been in the past.

As with any other field, a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing is a research degree. A PhD is the highest level of education that one can currently pursue in the United States. The PhD in Nursing has been around longer than the DNP has and has only become more specific since its implementation. The core curriculum in a Nursing PhD program focuses on research methodologies so that students can learn how to conduct effective research, theories of nursing research so students can understand how to challenge and extend existing knowledge, and faculty development so that they can go on to teach the next generation of nursing professionals. The process a student goes through in pursuit of a PhD is drastically different than if they were earning a DNP. For instance, there are virtually zero clinical hours required to obtain a PhD; some individual cases may require a few. The final project associated with this type of degree track is a dissertation. A dissertation is, at its simplest, the culmination of your scholarly work in graduate school. It is based on your own personal research and will be presented to a panel upon the completion of your degree and capstone project. Someone who has a PhD in nursing is most likely going to work in a position that is heavily involved in research, whether that is directly as a researcher, or teaching nursing at the higher education level. Positions in creating health policy are also an option.