DNPs vs PhDs: What are the Differences?

For those in the nursing field, furthering one’s education can be a useful way to advance one’s career options and opportunities. Today, there are more career options in the field of nursing than ever before. Nurses can obtain a doctorate in the form of either a DNP or a PhD. Though both doctoral degrees can provide significant value to nurses, they each have features that are unique to themselves.

Both DNPs and PhDs are impressive degrees that showcase a wealth of knowledge and study. Neither doctorate is better than the other, but rather they offer different insights that are useful in different career settings. When researching one’s options to further one’s education and obtain a doctorate, it can be useful to know the similarities and differences between of a DNP vs PhD.

What Is a DNP?

A Doctor of Nursing Practice, commonly abbreviated as DNP, is a doctorate degree that emphasizes clinical practice in the nursing field. Those who obtain a DNP are typically preparing for a career in clinical practice or health administration. The DNP revolves around faculty practice and prepares individuals with the qualifications and knowledge to step into leadership-heavy nursing roles. Those with a DNP can expect to find themselves in roles that offer them the opportunity to work directly with patients and act as a leader in an organizational setting.

What Is a PhD in Nursing?

A PhD in nursing, or Doctorate of Philosophy in Nursing, is a terminal degree that caters to those in the nursing world who desire to focus on research or instruction in their careers. Whereas a DNP prepares one for a leadership role in a clinical setting, a PhD in nursing prepares one with the skills and knowledge necessary to do scientific inquiry or instruction.

Rather than aiming to improve their clinical practice, PhD in Nursing holders conduct research that aims to benefit the practice of nursing as a whole. Through insights gleaned from research, those holding a PhD in nursing can potentially benefit and improve the field of nursing through their work.

Differences Between DNPs and PhDs

Though both the DNP and the PhD can have a tremendously positive impact on one’s nursing career, knowing which aligns more with one’s personal goals and values is important when deciding which to pursue. Here are some of the main differences between the DNP and PhD in Nursing degrees:


  • Focus on leadership in nursing
  • Prepares one for a career in a clinical organizational setting
  • Caters to those who intend to continue practicing nursing


  • Focus on research or instruction
  • Prepares one for a career that largely involves scientific inquiry
  • Caters to those who desire to impact nursing practices as a whole rather than their own specific practice

What Jobs Do I Qualify Myself for with a DNP?

The advanced leadership skills and practical knowledge that one gains by obtaining a DNP make one a perfect candidate for several in-demand nursing roles. Here are some of the jobs that a DNP can help qualify people for:

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners are nurses qualified to practice nursing at an advanced level. Nurse Practitioners are qualified to both diagnose and treat illnesses, unlike their registered nurse counterparts. According to The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current annual median salary for nurse practitioners is $111,680.

Healthcare Administrator

Healthcare administrators are responsible for a variety of things within their healthcare organization. These responsibilities can range from making changes to practices to increase efficiency to allocating budgets to various departments within an organization. According to the BLS, the current annual median salary for medical and health services managers in 2020 was $104,280.

What Jobs Do I Qualify for with a PhD?

Those who receive a PhD in nursing can expect to qualify themselves for some fulfilling and impressive careers. Here are some roles that one can expect to be qualified for with a PhD in nursing.

Nurse Researcher

Nurse Researchers conduct research with the aim of uncovering new scientific discoveries. These scientific discoveries can potentially lead to beneficial changes in the nursing field as a whole. The average annual salary of a nurse researcher is $95,000.

Nurse Instructor

Nurse educators and instructors work in institutions to train nurses and teach in various nursing programs. According to the BLS, the annual mean wage for all postsecondary nursing instructors and teachers in 2020 was $75,470, though the annual mean wage for postsecondary nursing instructors and teachers working in general medical and surgical hospitals was $119,050 in 2020.

Explore Your Options

Discover how a DNP program can help you advance your career in the field of nursing. Take advantage of flexible online programs to ensure that your current income won’t be jeopardized while you further your potential. A DNP can open doors to careers and leadership roles that are growing at a rapid rate. Invest in your future with a DNP program and explore the new and exciting career opportunities that your future can hold.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 24, 2023

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