Below we have included a list of frequently asked questions on the DNP program. Also helpful are the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) frequently asked questions .
Q: What is the difference between a PhD program and a DNP program?
A: The PhD is the preferred research intensive doctoral degree in nursing. Research-focused programs are designed to prepare nurse scientists and scholars, and focus heavily on scientific content and research methodology. Research-based programs typically require an original research project and the completion and defense of a dissertation.
In contrast, a practice-focused doctoral program is designed to prepare experts in specialized advanced nursing practice. The focus is heavily on clinical practice, one that is “innovative and evidenced-based, reflecting the application of credible research findings” (AACN, 2006). Practice-focused doctoral programs require a practice application-oriented “final DNP project” instead of a knowledge-generating research effort (AACN, 2006). The two types of doctoral programs differ in their goals and the competencies of their graduates, and hence, their coursework. However, they represent complementary approaches to the highest level of preparation in nursing. Both are considered terminal degrees in nursing, one in clinical practice, one in research, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
Q: Will the new DNP mean the end to nursing master’s degree programs?
Over the next several years, it is expected that nursing schools will begin to phase out those master’s degree tracks that prepare nurses for advanced practice (e.g., nurse practitioner). This is in keeping with national recommendations (American Association of Colleges of Nursing and the accrediting body, Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education) that as of 2020, advanced practice nurses should be prepared with a DNP, not a master’s degree. The national bodies that offer the certification exams for advanced practice are expected to require nurses to hold a DNP prior to examination as of 2020, and perhaps earlier for some specialties. Selected schools may initially offer the DNP as a completion program for those who already hold a master’s degree in nursing. However, over time many schools will phase out the advanced practice master’s degree tracks. The DNP is designed to be a post-baccalaureate degree and there is considerable interest among baccalaureate degree graduates in pursuing this degree already.
Other master’s degree tracks in nursing, such as the Clinical Nurse Leader will continue.
Q: Will the DNP change the scope of practice for NPs?
A: The scope of practice for NPs is determined by State Nurse Practice Acts. They determine if scope of practice changes over time.
Q: Will doctorally prepared NPs confuse the public?
A: No. The title of Doctor is common to many disciplines and is not the domain of any one group of health professionals. Many NPs currently hold doctoral degrees and are frequently addressed as “doctors”. Other health care providers are addressed as “doctor”, including clinical psychologists, dentists, and podiatrists. APNs should retain their specialist titles after completing a doctoral program. For example, Nurse Practitioners will continue to be called Nurse Practitioners. All nurses should explain their role and preparation to patients.
Q: Will DNP graduates be able to become faculty members in schools of nursing?
A: Yes, but the DNP degree does not prepare educators per se any more than a PhD program does. Graduates from all doctoral programs (DNP and PhD) who want to teach in schools of nursing should have additional preparation that adds coursework and experience in teaching to their base of clinical practice. It is important to remember that expectations of faculty in terms of scholarship, i.e.- research and publications, and how scholarship is defined, vary widely across institutions.
Q: Will the DNP degree add cost by requiring hospitals and health care agencies to pay more for advanced practice nurses?
A: This is a marketplace issue, not an educational one. It is anticipated that DNP graduates employed in practice settings will contribute significantly to better patient outcomes and concomitantly to reduced costs (e.g., fewer complications, fewer readmissions, reduced medication errors). Over time DNP graduates may command higher salaries based on the contributions they make to the health care system.
Q: Does implementation of the DNP mean advanced practice nurses will no longer be permitted to practice without a doctorate?
A: Nurses currently holding master’s degrees will continue to practice in their current capacities. It is anticipated that most states will “grandfather” in those nurses holding advanced practice certification prior to 2015. A similar process occurred when the field of pharmacy moved from requiring a bachelor’s degree to a professional doctorate for licensure.