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A Doctor of Nursing degree – what it’s all about and how to get one

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For anyone who is currently involved in nursing or has been in the past, studying for a Doctor of Nursing degree is the logical next step to open up numerous exciting opportunities over the months and years ahead.

It is a common misconception amongst the nursing profession that obtaining a Doctor of Nursing degree is something that is only achievable by nurses who have already attained high levels of academic qualification. But the fact of the matter is, with hard work and dedication, any nurse who has experience in the field would be an ideal candidate to obtain a degree of this nature.

What is a Doctor of Nursing degree?

A Doctor of Nursing degree is the highest level of qualification that is available to nurses in practice-based training.

The benefits of obtaining one of these degrees are endless and it would be fair to say that nurses who hold a Doctor of Nursing degree are leaders within the nursing profession. They are highly sought after for several top-level nursing positions.

It could be argued that the future of healthcare in the US is largely dependent on nurses who hold this qualification, so the future opportunities for these healthcare professionals are both exciting and lucrative.

Individuals who hold a degree of this nature can play a big part in the healthcare of their patients, from direct care, to management, to implementing health policies and leading others in their caring roles.

Is a Doctor of Nursing degree right for you?

If you are thinking about a degree of this nature, there is no doubt that you will have been trawling through the internet as well as asking friends and colleagues for their opinion as to whether you should go for it or stay where you are.

As with most things in life, you will find that there are lots of different viewpoints as to what a Doctor of Nursing degree actually is, its benefits, and if studying to get one is a complete waste of time!

With that in mind, let’s look at a few of the most common questions that are asked and try to put right some of the false information which has turned into urban myths about this type of qualification. Here is why studying for a DNP could be the best thing you could ever do for your nursing career.

Does obtaining a DNP mean that you are now a doctor?

No, it doesn’t.

What it does mean is that you are now qualified to take on a range of advanced roles within the hospital environment. This includes making decisions for the wellbeing of your patients as well as advising other nurses who are working under you on a care plan. However, you will not be a doctor.

At this point, it should perhaps be noted that there are providers of these nursing degrees who, let’s say, slightly exaggerate the benefits of obtaining a degree of this nature.

With that in mind, if you decide to study for a DNP, make sure that you only deal with organizations such as the Doctor of Nursing Practice at Marymount University Online.

This is an established university that has a superb reputation, with 85% of the faculty holding the highest degree in their field of study.

What is the difference between a DNP and a PhD?

This must be one of the most common questions regarding a DNP. After all, a Doctor of Nursing degree and a Doctor of Philosophy qualification are the only two degrees of this nature that are available in this profession.

It might, therefore, surprise you to know that neither of these degrees carries more weight than the other. However, they are different, and it is vitally important that you don’t get the two mixed up.

In a nutshell, graduates of both degrees are permitted to be employed as nurse practitioners, but it is more common for PhD graduates to embark on a career that is focused on the scientific aspects of the profession.

For those who are more interested in a practice-based profession, a DNP is the preferred option with the added advantage that a postgraduate certification is not required.

Does a DNP qualification offer opportunities besides direct patient care?

It most certainly does.

As well as direct patient care, opportunities exist for DNP qualified nurses to get involved in leadership roles. This basically allows them to take more of a back seat approach to nursing and to direct other nurses and hospital staff who are under their management.

The opportunities that these leadership roles offer can prove to be extremely rewarding and many nurses are surprised by how their initial nursing goals have flown off in what can seem to be a totally different direction.

It is the same as with any industry though. Someone in a leadership role, who is experienced in the working practices of the people under their charge, will command much more respect as opposed to someone who has been brought in with only management experience.

DNP qualified nurses have experience walking the walk as well as talking the talk, so they are respected. Hospital staff will know that they are not being asked to do something that their manager hasn’t already done hundreds of times themselves.

It is often said that a hospital or place of care couldn’t operate without DNP graduates, and as you will probably agree, having worked in this type of environment, a truer word has rarely been spoken.

Have you got what it takes to obtain a DNP?

Even though people within the nursing profession are carrying out jobs that can have a profound effect on patients under their care, it is not unusual for these people to wrongly believe that they just don’t have it in them to obtain this kind of degree.

After all, they may have begun their career years ago with minimum qualifications and believe that degrees are only obtained by doctors and individuals who have spent years studying at university.

If this is what you believe, stop right now, and think again.

Many people from all walks of life are realizing that they have it within them to increase their knowledge and fulfill their potential. In the case of a DNP, you already have a massive head start and experience which will stand you in good stead to gain this qualification and take your career to the next level.

Now that we have got those commonly asked questions out of the way, let’s look at what the DNP curriculum involves if you decide to go down this route.

The DNP curriculum

Before we get started with the DNP curriculum, it is important that you don’t feel overwhelmed by it all.

With a nursing background, you will find the process far easier than you probably imagine. Admittedly, you will be required to work hard to obtain your degree, but just imagine how you will feel when you have a Doctor of Nursing degree to your name.

This is a wonderful achievement that will enable you to make such a positive difference to your patients and the staff under your care.

The DNP curriculum will encourage graduates to take on board new advanced medical practices and disciplines which are not only based on scientific research but also theories that have proven to be remarkably effective.

Graduates will also learn how to take the data they are presented with and use it to draw their own conclusions to treat not only individuals but also families and even communities.

Leadership is also an important part of the curriculum, and graduates will learn how to lead and practice in a variety of levels, from local to federal.

An extremely important part of the curriculum is to teach students how to confidently make judgements relating to systems and accountability, with the overall goal to improve the quality of care for their patients.

The DNP course is split into two sections, one being focused on how the care of patients can be improved regarding their health, while the other is based on various methods of research as well as critical thinking.

Before we continue, it is important that we take a brief look at exactly what these two sections of the course involve.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is an often-overused term in so many industries but in the case of Doctor of Nursing graduates, it is appropriate. Students will learn the skills to analyze various data and be able to confidently use that data to prepare this information in the medical field. This can then be used by themselves and their team to the betterment of their patients.

They will also learn how to embrace technology and be able to not only maximize the benefits that various software technologies give them, but also be able to teach others to do the same.


Graduates will learn about healthcare policies on a local and global level, as well as how to implement their findings which will have such a positive effect on the lives of the people under their care.

It should be noted that graduates will also be encouraged, as part of their future roles, to share their knowledge so that they can instruct and help other members of their team.

They will be able to confidently carry out these duties, safe in the knowledge that their experience and qualifications mean that they are making an enormous difference to everyone that they are involved with in the working environment, from patients to work colleagues.

Earning potential

As you would probably expect, the earning potential for DNP graduates is excellent.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual salary for DNP graduates is $109,820 but that figure does not consider how the demand for these highly qualified individuals can result in higher salaries.

Few experts from within the healthcare industry would argue with the fact that nurse practitioners with this qualification are in high demand. Many employers are prepared to pay a premium to get them onboard.

The job outlook for DNP graduates

The future is very bright, the demand for DNP graduates has never been higher, and it is worth pointing out that different healthcare settings require qualified nursing practitioners, some of which you may not have even considered.

As well as hospitals and clinics, nursing homes, schools, colleges, and homeless clinics are all healthcare settings that require DNP graduates and that is to name but a few.

Compare this situation to the students who study hard at university for years, gain their qualifications but then find that their employment options are few and far between.

With a Doctor of Nursing degree, you can be confident that your skills are in demand, and you will have plenty of opportunities to find a well-paid position and make a big difference to the healthcare of others.


If you have been sitting on the fence and undecided about whether to embark on a Doctor of Nursing degree, this blog post will have hopefully made things a little clearer for you.

The main thing to remember is that as a nurse, you will already have a vast amount of experience. A DNP will enable you to go to the next level and take on more of a leadership role so that you can share your knowledge with others.

You will be able to confidently analyze data and share your findings with other healthcare professionals to give your patients the best treatment possible.

Perhaps the most important benefit of a DNP though, is that you will be able to make even more of a difference than you are making now, and that is priceless!

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