“Do I need a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree?”

I completed my DNP. Here’s what I think about it.

Welcome back! We are doing a bonus blog today! Stay tuned for more bonus blogs during our first week! Today’s topic is a bit controversial. “Do I need a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree?” I completed the DNP program and I’m going to tell you all my thoughts. Did it make me a better healthcare provider? Do I have a leg up when applying for jobs? Do I make more money? What did I learn in the DNP program that I didn’t learn in the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) part? Do you need a DNP degree to start practicing? Let’s talk about it!

Does a DNP make you a better healthcare provider?

In my humble opinion, NO. Again, NO. I do not think my MSN prepared colleagues are any less prepared for clinical practice than I was. MSN and DNP students learn the same assessment, diagnostic, and medication management skills. There are no secrets to clinical practice handed out in the DNP program. An MSN prepared NP is just as prepared for practice as the DNP prepared NP. Yes, you do additional clinical hours in the DNP program, BUT while you are still doing clinical, your MSN colleagues are working the same amount or more hours. The DNP portion of the program did give me the opportunity to study a specialty in psychiatry, BUT you could learn a subspecialty by working with a physician who has a subspecialty. So, do I think someone with a DNP is a better healthcare provider? No.

Does having a DNP make a difference when applying for jobs?

It depends. A DNP is required for most advanced practice program teaching positions. A DNP may give you a leg up if you want to work in research. However (get ready for a side tangent), breaking into the field of research is very difficult even with a DNP. Research positions often want to see experience or a degree that taught you what you need to know about being in a lab and the research process. Medical writing positions want to see the same thing. The DNP prepares you to practice (just like the name of the degree implies). Practice is more focused on being a consumer of research. Whether you have a DNP or MSN you are being prepared to provide patient care. In the end, that is what your degree qualifies you most to do. If you want to get into research or medical writing you will probably need more training than you got in the DNP program (okay, side tangent over). If you are applying for a nurse practitioner position in an office, hospital, or any other patient care setting, the employer likely does not care if you have an MSN or DNP. In my office, all the other NPs are MSN prepared and we all do the exact same job and there is no difference between us other than the letters after our names.

Do you get paid more for having a DNP?

Well, it would be nice to see a return on the extra time and money you spent on school to get your DNP. However, I personally have not received any additional earnings because of my DNP and I have never seen a job posting that says they will pay more for a DNP. I have never heard of anyone with a DNP making more money. So, from my personal experience, no, a DNP degree does not increase your salary.

I’m having this debate in my head right now… part of me wants to argue that more education should be equivalent to higher compensation. On the other hand, an MSN and DNP are licensed and certified to do the exact same job and are equally capable. So, why would a DNP make more? Feel free to argue with me on this point because obviously I’m arguing with myself about it.

What did I learn in my DNP program that was not in the MSN program?

The core knowledge and skills you learn to be an NP are the exact same between the DNP and MSN program. There are no extra assessment, pharmacology, or core skill courses in the DNP program. As a very general statement, I would say I learned more about healthcare systems, leadership, and research in the DNP courses. Does this knowledge matter? Maybe. It depends on your role and what you hope to do in healthcare. The largest part of the DNP program was creating, implementing, and evaluating an evidence-based practice project within your clinical site. This experience taught me how to identify quality research, identify opportunities for performance improvement, how to create and implement an evidence-based solution, and how to evaluate the effectiveness of the solution. Does this knowledge matter? Again, maybe. It really depends on your role and what you hope to do in healthcare. I use this knowledge when I come across problems where I work and I felt more equipped to start my own telepsychiatry business (more on that another time). It also gave me a deeper appreciation for the nursing profession and made me feel more empowered to be an agent for change within the healthcare system. Since the DNP program trained me to think about issues on a system level I consider how a suggested change will impact every part of the system. What will it cost? What will be required of each person involved? How will affect the practice as a whole? I’m not saying that an MSN prepared NP couldn’t do this same process. However, this was not knowledge I had prior to completing my DNP project.

Will a DNP ever be required for entry to practice?

Probably not. Rumors that the DNP will be required for entry to practice have been floating around for years. It’s important to recognize that what nursing organizations “recommend” and what is actually “the law” are two different things. So, even if nursing organizations make the statement that they recommend a DNP for entry level to practice, the laws have to change for it to become a requirement. You could compare this to the field of nursing’s recommendation for a BSN for an entry level RN, but since legislation never changed the ADN is still available. The ADN v. BSN debate has been around for much longer than the MSN v. DNP debate so in my opinion the MSN is not going anywhere. That is just my opinion. I could be wrong, but it seems unlikely that the DNP will become more than a “recommendation.”

Should I get my DNP?

So, I don’t make more money and I don’t qualify for more jobs. Why in the world did I get my DNP? Well, I had the option to do a BSN-DNP program which shortened the time it would take me to get a DNP. I had my DNP only seven months (two semesters) after I had my MSN. It was a good time in my life to do it. What are some things you could consider when making the decision? Would you benefit from a better understanding of the healthcare system as a whole, performance improvement processes, and learning how to consume and use research? Do you want to teach? Do you want to pursue a career in research (even though you will probably need additional training outside the DNP to do so)? Does it make you feel better to know you have a “terminal degree?” How long do you have to commit to school? Do you know you want to spend your career in patient care? Instead of the DNP, would it benefit you more to get a postgraduate certificate or become certified in a second specialty (like psychiatry and family practice or psychiatry and women’s health)? Do you plan on pursuing a role in nursing leadership and management (DNP training would really shine in this role)?

No matter whether you choose to get an MSN or DNP, I am thrilled you have decided to become a nurse practitioner. You are needed! You are going to love your career as a nurse practitioner. The relationships you develop with patients when you are responsible for their care is so rewarding.

My final thoughts… if you have the option to get a DNP, sure. Why not? Obviously, I’m not a huge advocate for the DNP. I think I learned some really great skills in leadership, research, and performance improvement, but it does not make much of a difference in my current position as a psychiatric nurse practitioner. If I could go back I would probably pursue a postgraduate certificate in a different specialty that would complement psychiatry. However, I have no plans to enter the field of research or academics and I do not plan to pursue a role in nursing leadership. The DNP would be fantastic for those career paths.

What are your thoughts on this? If you have a DNP, have you found it useful to your practice? If you are a student, do you plan to get an MSN or DNP? Please comment below and subscribe to get notified when I post new content!