PhD in Nursing vs DNP: What is the Difference?

By Lauren Abraham

scientists experimenting in a lab

When it comes to advancing your nursing education, it is important to explore all of the options available to you. If you are looking to achieve the highest level of nursing education, you may have wondered what makes a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program different from a PhD in nursing. Continue reading to find out what makes these programs unique, and how to choose which one is right for you!

Understanding the Value of Research

Research plays a vital role in the field of nursing. Leaders in the industry are continually seeking to improve the quality of care they provide for their patients, and research is needed to inform this process. Nursing research is used to develop new treatments in order to fight diseases and illnesses. Overall, this leads to a better quality of life for individuals and the community in which they live.

Because of the important role research plays in nursing, leaders are needed to conduct research and translate it into meaningful solutions. Individuals who are passionate about nursing can enroll in a DNP or PhD in nursing program to learn how to incorporate research into their nursing career.

PhD in Nursing vs. DNP

While the DNP and PhD in nursing both work with research, there are differences in each program. In a PhD program, nurses learn to conduct original research to add to the body of academic theory and nursing knowledge. On the other hand, the DNP was developed for practice-focused leaders, as nurses in this program learn to apply current research to practice or system challenges to achieve a positive impact.

In a DNP program, nurses complete practice activities that provide a greater depth to application and learning. They learn to evaluate organizational change leadership topics and health practices in order to improve their nursing practice. In addition, they are able to learn concepts through hands-on application during their practice hours. In contrast, a PhD program is research-based and does not focus on direct patient care as much as the DNP does.

Career Outcomes

How do you decide which program is right for you? It is important to evaluate the career outcomes of both degrees. A PhD in nursing may lead to a career that is heavily focused on research. Individuals who earn their PhD create new knowledge through their findings, and are more likely to work with information rather than directly working with patients.

DNP-prepared nurses use the knowledge generated by PhD-prepared nurses to create new solutions in the nursing field. They work directly with patients as they apply research to their practice. As they seek to provide their patients with high-quality care, they can find a sense of fulfillment in their career.

Choosing a Program

When deciding between a DNP and PhD, it is important to consider the type of nursing profession you want to pursue. If you are passionate about conducting research, a PhD in nursing may be right for you. However, if you enjoy working with others and making a positive impact in their lives, earning a DNP is a great choice.

In addition to considering the type of career you want to have, be sure to explore the options available to you when it comes to earning your education. For example, earning your nursing degree online may be a great option. Earning an online degree will allow you to gain the knowledge necessary to take your career to the next level in a format that is convenient for you. This means if you are a working professional, you will not have to sacrifice your occupation when earning your education online.

The College of Nursing and Health Care Professions at Grand Canyon University offers a wide variety of degree programs, many of which can be earned online. To learn more about the nursing degrees available at GCU, visit our website or contact us using the Request More Information form at the top of the page.

Written by Lauren Abraham, a senior earning a communications degree at GCU.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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