What is a Doctor of Nursing Practice?

Doctor of Nursing PracticeWhat is a Doctor of Nursing Practice? Many of us consider doctors and nurses as two distinct career paths, but the term Doctor of Nursing Practice may be unknown. In this case, doctor is used in the academic sense to denote a doctorate level degree.

What is a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree?

A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is the terminal, or highest available, degree in nursing practice. It is a relatively new degree, created in 2004 when the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) voted to move the level of education needed for advanced nursing practice roles from a Master degree to a Doctorate degree. Today, more than 240 programs at nursing schools across the country offer students the opportunity to earn a Doctor’s of Nursing Practice.

Sometimes referred to as the clinical or practice doctorate, the Doctor of Nursing Practice is not the first doctorate level degree available in nursing. Nursing’s traditional doctoral degree, the Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing, is geared toward preparing students for a career in nursing research. In contrast, the Doctor of Nursing Practice is designed for those nurses who prefer to focus on clinical practice.

Why was the Doctor of Nursing Practice created?

The Doctor of Nursing Practice was created to help nurses stay competent and up to date. With medicine’s rapidly expanding knowledge base and the increasing complexity of patient care, the DNP is designed to ready nurses for advanced clinical practice. It also prepares them to assume leadership roles in the development of healthcare policy and the management of healthcare delivery systems. In addition, the Doctor of Nursing Practice puts nursing on par with other medical fields that offer their terminal practice degree at the doctorate level, including Medicine (MD), Dentistry (DDS), Pharmacy (PharmD), Physical Therapy (DPT), and Audiology (AudD).

How long does it take to earn a DNP?

According to the American Nurses Association, the time involved in earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice depends on a student’s level of education. Students who hold a Master of Science in Nursing can expect to complete a DNP program in one or two years as a full time student. Those who hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing should plan on spending three to four years as a full time student to earn a DNP. For students who plan to continue working while returning to school, many DNP programs do have part-time options.

Related Resource: Become a Registered Nurse

Why is the DNP controversial?

As an article in the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing points out, the creation of the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree has stirred up some controversy within the medical community. Some critics argue that the use of the word “doctor” in the degree will needlessly confuse patients and other professionals in the field of healthcare. Some doctors aren’t pleased with the Doctor of Nursing Practice, viewing it as a step towards allowing nurses to practice independently, without a doctor’s oversight. Others fear that the option of a clinical doctorate will reduce the number of candidates who pursue the more tradition Ph.D in Nursing, creating a potential shortfall in the number of qualified instructors available to teach the profession of nursing to the next generation.

For people interested in pursuing a career in nursing, understanding what a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree is and how it compares to a Ph.D in Nursing is vital to planning their best career path.