After completing a Registered Nurse (RN) degree program, nurses have several options, including obtaining doctorate degrees, such as a PhD or a Doctorate in Nursing (DNP). But which doctorate program is better, and which one should you select - that is the key question.

When deciding between a DNP and a PhD, the first thing to understand is that a PhD in Nursing is more of an academic degree while a DNP is a clinical degree with advanced clinical training.

Choosing Between a DNP and a PhD

The decision to choose between a DNP and a PhD depends on your long-term career goals. If you want to teach at a college or university, publish papers, perform research and help establish nursing protocols, a PhD is your best option. However, if you want to advance your clinical skills, work with patients, teach clinical skills to junior nurses and provide better care for patients, a DNP is more suited for you. There is no right or wrong answer - choosing between the two career paths is strictly a personal preference. Most nurses elect to obtain a DNP instead of a PhD.


The DNP Program is practice-based, whereas the PhD program is research-focused. Both are excellent academic achievements, and, in both fields, there are ample jobs. However, both doctorate programs are demanding, and you need to work hard, study and learn many new concepts.

Curriculum Content for DNP

The DNP program is more clinical and usually includes the following:

●       Leadership in nursing

●       Organizational management

●       Clinical practice management

●       Quality control

●       Program assessment

●       A brief introduction to research methodology and statistics

●       Intense clinical practice immersion

Nurses who undertake the DNP degree will develop skills needed to understand evidence-based medicine. In addition, they are expected to implement the research observations conducted by their Ph.D. colleagues into clinical practice. At the end of the program, a nurse with a DNP degree will have developed competency in decision making, analytical methods, leadership skills, and knowledge - all criteria that are likely to improve patient outcomes and nursing practice.

Curriculum Content for PhD

The PhD program is more research-focused and includes the following:

●       A comprehensive approach to research methodology and statistics

●       Understanding relevant literature

●       Focus on scientific publications in peer-review journals

●       Understanding the scientific method

●       Understanding evidence for nursing practice

●       Undertaking a research project that will culminate in a thesis, research paper, or dissertation

The PhD program is heavily focused on research and scientific method. At the end of the program, the research conducted by the nursing candidate will help improve the practice of nursing backed by solid research-based evidence.


The DNP program is the ideal pathway for nurses seeking to become clinical nurse specialists, advanced practice nurses, nurse midwives, or nurse anesthetics. The majority of DNP graduates end up in a leadership role at a healthcare institution, as an executive in a healthcare organization, as policymakers in insurance companies, as quality control specialists in a hospital or as a clinical program director.

Graduates with a PhD usually pursue jobs within the nursing field but may perform research, become academic scientists or scholars. Most of these professionals are employed in academic institutions, research facilities or play an advisory role for government agencies.


The salary of a nurse with a DNP average around $120,000 a year (range $90,000-150,000). Nurse anesthetics are one of the highest-paid professionals. Salaries for nurses with a PhD depend on where they are employed. Typically, their salary ranges from $80,000 to $120,000. Those in a private research firm earn the highest, but those within the academic system earn slightly less but have many more work-related benefits.

Duration of Training

Those wishing to complete the DNP program need to spend at least 1-4 years to complete the program, depending on whether you have a BSN or MSN when applying. The total number of credits for a DNP average about 40. Those who decide on a PhD career can expect to spend between 4-7 years and usually require 50-70 credits before graduating.

Overall, the PhD program is more demanding because of the vast amount of literature that has to be synthesized and understood. Writing the dissertation can take anywhere from 6-12 months because it has to meet a certain format. In addition, the thesis or the research has to be defended in the presence of a peer review committee.

What are the requirements to enter the DNP and PhD programs?

For the most part, admission requirements to a DNP and a PhD program are similar. Applicants need to have graduated from an accredited college or university with a BSN or MSN and meet the minimum GPA requirements. In addition, they will also need to submit official transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement indicating why they have chosen this career path. Some established DNP programs may require that applicants have an additional 1-2 years of clinical nursing experience and a valid RN license before applying.

There are nearly 350 DNP programs in the U.S., but many other programs are expected to be available over the next few years because of high demand. There are fewer PhD programs and may not be available in every state. Most PhD programs tend to be associated with large universities.

Overall, there is no right or wrong choice when you talk about DNP or PhD. This decision is typically based on your long-term career goals, your area of interest and your skillset.