In the report Advancing the Nation’s Health Needs, the National Research Council stated that the nursing industry should develop a non-research doctoral degree (like the DNP), meaning that the Council saw a need for the change. The Council stated in its report that the degree progression as it existed for nursing professions at the time was slowing down the process of training new scientists for the nursing field and suggested that it would better to have a separate educational path for nurse practitioners instead of requiring candidates for a Ph.D. in nursing to first become practicing nurses at the master’s level.

What is a Doctor of Nursing Practice?

A DNP degree is very different from a PhD in nursing. DNP degrees are more clinical-based while a PhD in nursing will often focus on medical research. The DNP is a degree for those who plan to work in the field, not usually those who wish to become teachers. A curriculum for a DNP program will primarily focus on topics such as patient outcomes, population health, nurse management, advanced nursing practices, and healthcare advocacy.

Within the DNP program, the college is likely to offer a specialization in the field. Possible specialties include health policy, executive leadership, public health and advocacy, and medical technology. Program specialties may also be focuses on a certain population such as pediatric care, women’s health, or gerontology. DNP programs are usually offered both on-campus and online. Accelerated options are available too including BSN to DNP programs that allow the student to earn credits for both a master’s degree and doctorate degree.    

What Can You Do with a DNP in Nursing?

Since DNP isn’t a job title, many students wonder what does a DNP do after graduation. Common positions held by DNP graduates (many of which were formerly MSN specializations ) include:

  • Nurse practitioner
  • Certified nurse midwife
  • Registered nurse anesthetists
  • Advanced practice registered nurse

With a DNP degree, the graduate could also choose to pursue an alternative career path. In this case, the graduate would secure a job as a healthcare lobbyist or clinical researcher. These jobs involve working outside of a medical setting like a hospital.

Is a DNP a Doctor?

A common question that many individuals ask “Is a DNP a doctor?” As a graduate of a doctorate level program, there is the belief that earning a DNP allows the person to carry the title of doctor. In some cases, a DNP graduate may use the title of doctor before his or her name. However, some states do have legislation regarding when and where a DNP can use the title as doctor. The reason for the law is to prevent confusion in patients who may believe a nurse practitioner is a medical doctor. As long as the DNP graduate explains to the patient his or her correct job title, using the title doctor is acceptable. A DNP won’t qualify an individual for a medical doctor position, but he or she will be able to perform many of the same duties as a doctor.

What Does a DNP Do?

With a DNP degree, the nurse can provide medical care to patients. For a DNP degree holder that decides to become a nurse practitioner, he or she will be able to diagnose and treat patients, prescribe medications, order imaging tests and bloodwork, and provide education to patients about their healthcare. The role of the nurse practitioner is to provide high quality care at a reduced cost to patients. According to the AANP, research studies have shown a patient who uses a nurse practitioner as a primary care provider will have fewer hospital visits and less prescription costs.

The specialization of the DNP graduate will also determine duties post-graduation. A certified nurse midwife will be involved in prenatal care of a patient along with labor and delivery. Registered nurse anesthetists work in hospitals to provide anesthesia to patients and monitor their vitals while under.

With a DNP degree, the graduate could also head into research and help lead medical studies to resolve health issues facing patients today. With a DNP, the nurse could also work for a community health office and provide research to help lawmakers make informed public health decisions.

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