Skip to main content

PhD or DNP?

I've been thinking about this topic for a long time.  It's one where I get the most questions from students about which doctoral degree to do in their future career path.

The short answer comes with questions: What do you want to do with your doctoral degree?  Do you want to design and conduct research?  Do you want to focus on applying and testing evidence in clinical practice?  Your answer to that question will determine your educational program choice.

Let's start with why you would choose a PhD. Around the world, everyone knows what a PhD is as a degree.  Doesn't matter where you got it from, with a PhD after your name people will recognize you spent a lot of time in school and must have passed some higher standard of educational preparation.  Outside the United States, except for maybe Canada, no one knows what a DNP degree is or what you can do with it.  It will take decades before that happens.  If you think you want a career with an internationally recognized credential, then you should choose a PhD.

Another reason to choose a PhD is because you want intensive preparation in how to design and conduct research or policy analyses.  You see problems with patient care stemming from different sources and you want to know how to fix them through data analysis, intervention design, or rigorous translation studies. A PhD will prepare you to do that and over your career, you will see a difference made in many lives.

A DNP program that promises to train you in research in 3 years or less is selling you a bag of goods. A DNP program should prepare you to critically evaluate and synthesize research evidence so you can translate that into organizational quality improvement, leadership initiatives, and evidence-based policies.

Another factor to consider about the DNP is that it is a degree that is still figuring out what it wants to be.  Starting in 2015, it will become a standard degree preparation program for nurse practitioners.  This came about because people recognized NPs took a lot of credits, enough to qualify for a clinical doctorate degree.  In the case of some curricula, they also wanted to offer more clinical training time. There is no consensus on whether or not a DNP will be required for nursing education, administration, or informatics.  Those, for now, will remain two year masters degrees.

The DNP is also a solution for the faculty shortage (though vociferously denied by some that it is that) since most people seeking DNP degrees are people who really like clinical practice and want to keep a hand in it.  The DNP allows practitioners who want to teach and practice to do that more easily than a PhD degree does.

So this is my two cents on the subject. When choosing a doctoral program, choose the one that fits your career goals best.  Both are significant time and resource commitments so choosing the right program early will save you a lot of hassle in the long run.


Popular posts from this blog

To Post-Doc or Not to Post-Doc, That is a Very Good Question - Part 1

Happy 2019!

Much to my surprise, I realized I went all of 2018 without posting anything. I got tenure in 2018 so technically, I should have had more time with that monkey off my back. Yet as a wise colleague told me, tenure usually means more work. Sure enough.

Nonetheless, let's start 2019 off fresh with a burning question I get from many of my PhD students: To post-doc or not to post-doc. For those of you not in academia, I post-doctoral fellowship (post-doc) involves additional training. You see, science has evolved so much these days that despite doing a PhD for 4 to 7 years, you might need more training.

I went into my post-doc reluctantly. After 5 years of PhD study, I was really hoping to have a just one job and a regular salary that might actually allow me to travel and start paying down my student loans. A post-doc just seemed like more years being poor.

It was, however, the best decision I ever made. I was lucky to have a great mentor who passed along many wonderful oppo…

There Are Other Masters Degrees Besides a Nurse Practitioner - Part I

It strikes me that many students and nurses do not seem to know about the "other" masters degree options for nurses.  Everyone seems to want to be a nurse practitioner these days.  Now, that's great news for the primary care provider shortage, but we need nurses with masters degrees who can work in other positions and have other skill sets.
Let's review the other masters degrees in nursing.  Nearest and dearest to my own heart is Nursing Education.  Remember that really cool clinical instructor you had in your entry-level nursing program --that could be you!  Do you like precepting new hires?  Are you the person on your unit who unofficially keeps everyone up-to-date on the latest evidence?  Do you really enjoy patient teaching, whether in the hospital or community setting?  Do you just like to teach?  Nursing education is the right masters for you.  Skills learned in a nursing education masters cannot be learned on the job.  Curriculum writing and program developmen…

Here's a Great Study Highlighting the Impact of Racism on Nurses

“I Can Never Be Too Comfortable”: Race, Gender, and Emotion at the Hospital Bedside
That's the title of a new study that just came out in Qualitative Health Research. The study of bedside nurses' diaries of their experiences reveals how nurses experience racism on the job. It comes not just from patients, but also from peers and management.
We have to talk about this more folks. It's time we deal with it better, in every setting.