DNP vs. PhD: Which program is right for you?  

EKU Online > DNP vs. PhD: Which program is right for you?  

Why Choose a Doctoral Program?

The outlook and demand for doctorly-prepared nurses is excellent. The Institute of Medicine recommended that the number of nurses with doctoral degrees should double by 2020 (IOM, 2011). Obtaining a doctoral degree is a major decision for any student to make. It is important that nursing students choose a program that best meets their career and educational goals. Choosing the wrong path can be a waste of time and money.  This article will compare the Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree with the Doctorate of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD) degree. While both are terminal nursing degrees, the programs differ on curriculum and objectives.

By the Numbers: Program Comparison

In 2020, there were 407 DNP programs that enrolled 40,834 students and produced more than 10,000 graduates. By comparison, there were 149 PhD programs that enrolled 4,476 students and had 773 graduates.

What is the difference between the two programs?

Program Objective Practice-focused nursing doctorate degree Research-focused nursing doctorate degree
Curriculum Focus Translation of research
Application of improving systems
Focus on patient outcomes
Organizational leadership
Scientific study
Knowledge for improving systems
Conduct research
Program Length 2 – 3 years 4 – 5 years
Entry Points BSN or MSN BSN or MSN
Roles Nurse Practitioners (NPs)
Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS)
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA)
Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNM)
Nurse clinical educators
Nurse administrators
Public health nurses
Nurse informaticists
Nursing faculty
Nurse scientist
Public health policy
Healthcare innovation
Academic Group Name DNP Team PhD Committee
Final Academic Requirement DNP Project PhD Dissertation
Degree Requirements 1,000 hours post baccalaureate clinical hours
DNP Project
Final defense of dissertation


Only one percent of all nurses have a nursing doctorate degree (AACN, 2022 Jul). Obtaining a terminal degree would give a nurse a significant edge in any area of practice or research. Regardless of which doctoral path is chosen, nurses work in collaboration with each other. PhD nurses are needed to do research and find the best evidence-based practices. DNP nurses take this research and translate it into practice to improve outcomes. The DNP and PhD prepared nurses are pivotal in changing the future of the nursing profession while improving health outcomes.

By: Denise Lindstrom, EKU Online DNP student

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