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Which Doctorate is Best for You: DNP or PhD?

Registered nurses have an assortment of options to choose from when it comes to improving their education, gaining further qualifications and advancing their career. The nursing field is filled with opportunity, and for nurses who are high achievers and don’t want to spend the rest of their life working on the wards, there are many different pathways to progression. But, for nurses who are considering studying for a doctorate degree, choosing between a PhD and a DNP can be tricky. Whilst the PhD is the traditional doctorate choice for nurses, DNP courses are less research-based and more relevant to practical work. We’ve put together a handy guide to help nurses decide which of the two programs is the best choice for them.


The nurse practitioner doctorate degree (DNP) is designed to prepare registered nurses for the highest levels of leadership and management practice within healthcare organizations and systems. The ultimate goal of the program is to prepare more healthcare professionals to improve healthcare for a population that is both aging and becoming more diverse at a rapid rate. The DNP is aimed at nurses who are hoping to improve their career latitude and options by becoming more valuable to employers, and focus their professional goals on advanced clinical practice and expertise. Undertaking a BSN to DNP online degree can lead to a range of lucrative positons in nursing, for example leading and managerial positions, advanced practice careers, and even clinical faculty in nursing education.


On the other hand, a PhD is a more research-based program which will prepare nurses for a lifetime of research and intellectual inquiry. Nurses who study for a PhD in their field will pursue a variety of research interests, contributing to the creation of well-designed methods to discover new nursing-related knowledge. The PhD is an ideal choice for nurses who are more focused on research and academia, and for those who seek to improve the nursing field through research that will lead to new discoveries. Studying for a PhD can lead to positions in academia, scientific research for healthcare, science and government agencies, or primary investigation.

How to Choose

Although both the DNP and the PhD are on the same level of study, there are many differences between the two which will need to be weighed up before you make your final choice. For nurses who are hoping to get off the ‘front line’ of healthcare and perhaps pursue a career in academia or healthcare research, the PhD is the most obvious choice. However, if you are a nurse who’s hoping to progress through the ranks and go on to work in nursing management or other senior positions in a variety of nursing fields, a DNP is most likely the best choice for you as it is better applied to the workplace.

Nurses have a lot of different options to choose from when it comes to advanced study. Opting to study for a doctorate can be very rewarding, but as a nurse, it’s important to make sure that you choose the right type of degree for your career goals.


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