An Overview of the Doctorate in Nursing Degree

Doctorate in Nursing degrees are offered in many institutions for those who want to rise to the top of the nursing profession, and equip themselves with the skills and knowledge needed to meet the health care demands of the future.

Overview of the Doctor of Nursing Degree

Doctor in nursing programs are focused on either the clinical aspect of the nursing profession, or with the academic and research aspect. In both cases however, nurses aspiring for doctorate-level degrees are given training in direct health care, clinical leadership, research methods, basic concepts of nursing science, and health care finance.

What Does a Doctorate in Nursing Degree Holder Do?

A doctorate-level degree in nursing basically prepares a registered nurse for health care leadership and higher responsibilities in the field whether in the direct clinical practice of the profession as with a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree (DNP), or in the area of academic research and nursing education as with a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

What to Expect

A doctor of nursing program can take anywhere from 1 to 4 years to complete, depending on one’s educational qualifications, advanced nursing specialty, whether the student pursues doctorate studies full time or part-time, and how soon one can complete the required capstone project.

Entry-level requirements for doctorate in nursing programs vary from one institution to another. Most require that an applicant be a licensed registered nurse and hold a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree or a master’s degree in another field to qualify for admission. There are also some universities which only consider applicants who are MSN degree holders WITH an advanced nursing practice specialty.

On the other hand, some schools also offer BSN to DNP programs, essentially preparing new nursing graduates practically “from scratch” to become advanced nurse practitioners. Nurses who choose to take this route would need to achieve competitive scores in the Graduate Record Examination. Because of the depth of course work and clinical experience that new RNs will still have to go through to be adequately prepared for advanced practice, post-BSN DNP programs typically take about 4 years.

Two Types of Doctorate in Nursing Programs

Nurses looking to achieve doctorate status in their profession have basically two degrees to choose from.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). The DNP is the terminal degree for clinical nursing practice. It is designed primarily for nurses aspiring to become advanced nurse practitioners (APNs) namely, nurse practitioner (NP), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), certified nurse anesthetist (CRNA), and certified nurse midwife (CRM).

A minor variation of this degree is for the nurse anesthetist program which may be termed as Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP). Another doctorate degree, the Doctor of Nursing (ND degree), which has similar training thrust as the DNP is slowly being phased out and integrated into the DNP degree.

There has been a growing demand for DNP programs in the past few years since the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has called for the transition of advance nursing practice programs from the graduate (e.g. Master of Science in Nursing) to the doctoral level.

The AACN has mandated that all nurse practitioners should be trained under a DPN rather than an MSN program by the year 2015. In the same manner, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists has also required the DNP or DNAP to be the entry-level degree for nurse anesthetists by the year 2025.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). This is the terminal degree for nurses and nursing graduates who wish to pursue the research and academic areas of the profession. Most PhD programs of many higher learning institution are now integrated with the closely-related Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc, DNS or DSN) degree, previously established to train nurse scientists for research work and leadership skills needed to develop the health care system.

PhD programs focus on advancing health care delivery and the foundation of the nursing practice by way of scholarly research, and the curriculum for this degree typically includes a dissertation. Graduates of nursing PhD degrees go on to join academic or research-intensive institutions.

Nurses who choose to pursue these advanced degrees should be ready to give it their full commitment as doctorate in nursing programs are very intensive, requiring long hours of study and rigorous clinical practice.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Adelphi February 22, 2011 at 11:14 am

Is it possible to earn a Doctor of Philosophy in nursing degree online? I really want to spend some time in the field and I’m afraid that a full-time on-campus college schedule will interfere with my emergence into real-world nursing.


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