Doctorate of Nursing Practice - Was My DNP Really "Worth" It?
By Danielle LeVeck, DNP, AGAC-NP, CNS, RN, CCRN
You’ve probably heard many things about the Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. You may want one, you may be strongly against it, someone may have told you it’s a watered-down Ph.D. or an excuse to squeeze more money out of nursing graduates; you may really know nothing at all about it. However, there is a lot of false information floating around out there, so the following posts will define it, debunk myths, and provide you with valid resources regarding the DNP, as well as, give you my first-hand experiences while trekking toward and completing the degree.
What is a DNP?
A DNP is a practice-focused doctorate, not to be confused with a research-focused doctorate (Ph.D.). Although both are terminal degrees in the nursing profession, a practice-focused degree will place more focus on translating and implementing evidence into practice. While both degrees require extensive research reported in a final DNP Project or dissertation, practicing doctorates generally include integrative practice experiences and the manuscript is like “telling the story” of research implementation.
My experience: The purpose of my DNP project was to initiate palliative care consultations for end-stage heart failure patients in the cardiac critical care unit. I had a foundation of research, and heart failure guidelines, known as a literature review, strongly suggesting palliative care consultations were necessary to provide the best care for patients. Easy, right? Not exactly. The DNP walked me through the process of making the current research become reality while taking into consideration stakeholders, unit culture, organizational behaviors, financials, and measurable outcomes. My research was not considered generalizable and was most beneficial to my institution. My manuscript encompassed my original plan, plus the story and the difficulties I encountered.
Why Earn a DNP?
In 2004, members of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), voted to increase the requirements of advanced practice nursing from a master’s degree to a doctorate level. The DNP curriculum builds upon the masters by including training in evidence-based practice, systems leadership, informatics, and quality improvement. Meaning, the DNP is ultimately designed to produce “leaders” in nursing.
The current healthcare environment demands nurses possess a comprehensive skill set of scientific knowledge, outcome measurement, and leadership qualities, to assure the best patient outcomes. Doctorally educated nurses are needed to address shortages of doctorally prepared nursing faculty, increasing educational expectations, and national concerns about healthcare quality.
Of note, a practicing doctorate is not new in other professions, nursing is simply moving in the same direction. Pharmacists obtain the PharmD, Psychologists can obtain a PsyD, Physical Therapists obtain the DPT, Audiologists obtain the AudD, etc.
My Experience: My certainty regarding the DNP did not come full circle until the beginning of my third year. At times, I did not exactly understand what I was doing, but at my core, I knew I wanted to help lift the profession to the next level. I learned to trust the process and not only grew as a researcher, leader, and clinician but grew exponentially as a human being through the degree. I feel equipped to educate new nurses, lobby for nursing policy, implement evidence into practice, and I have a better understanding of historical aspects of nursing that have led us to our current state.
How do you get a DNP?
There are several tracks one can take toward earning a DNP:
- BSN-DNP: I completed a BSN-DNP track with a specialty in Adult-Geriatric Acute Care (AGAC). Upon completion, I met the requirements to sit for my AGAC-Nurse Practitioner and AGAC-Clinical Nurse Specialist certification exams. Therefore, once I pass both exams, I will be a doctorally educated, dual board certified APRN (it’s confusing, I know). Most DNP programs have multiple specialties to choose from including, adult acute/primary, pediatric acute/primary, women’s health, family medicine, emergency medicine, neonatal, psych, and nurse anesthesia. These programs can be completed in three, four, and sometimes five years.
- MSN-DNP: One can already have a master’s degree, be working as a board-certified APRN in a given specialty and go back to school to complete their DNP coursework.
- Post-Master’s DNP: Options are available for administrators or educators who work in healthcare to get their DNP without repeating coursework. This option is beneficial for applicants with MPH, MBA, or MPA.
Photo via Instagram @nurseabnormalities
6 key points to remember:
- The DNP is a degree, not a role. For example, other degrees include a Doctorate of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D.), Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Examples of roles are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), or Registered Nurses (RN). You need a certain degree to fulfill these requirements of these roles and to sit for each of the required certification exams.
- Obtaining a DNP does not make you a physician. The training of a doctorally educated Nurse Practitioner versus a physician is very different. Both are imperative and valuable to patient care, but they are not the same.
- Not all DNP programs are created equal. Do extensive research on your program to make sure you will meet the educational requirements of the APRN Consensus Model if you plan to practice as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) upon graduation.
- You can have a DNP and not practice as an APRN (Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Midwife, Nurse Anesthetist, Clinical Nurse Specialist). However, many nurses with DNPs practice as APRNs, hence it is a practicing doctorate.
- Although the AACN is suggesting all master’s programs transition to Doctorate programs for APRN training, some master’s programs still remain for APRN training. Also, APRNs are currently allowed to sit for certification exams with a master’s degree.
- Much advice regarding the DNP available to the general public is often written by people who do not have one. Therefore, check sources before believing what you read. Below are some trusted sources with information on the DNP:
- AACN DNP Fact Sheet
- AANP Discussion Paper
- U.S. News and World Report Top-Ranked DNP Schools (Research the top school’s websites for information on each specialty DNP)
Completing the BSN-DNP AGAC-NP/CNS track was my hardest academic challenge to date, but graduating was my proudest moment. I wholeheartedly believe in the training of this degree and would not change my academic path. I feel pressure to deliver as an expert clinician first and foremost, but then to expand upon my leadership abilities to promote and professionally represent the DNP. I plan to use my inclusive education to its full extent in the future and feel equipped to tackle clinical, academic, organizational, and systemic challenges to advocate for the nursing profession.
Danielle LeVeck, DNP, AGAC-NP, CNS, RN, CCRN an ICU Nurse Practitioner, blogger, writer, and social media influencer, who strives to empower and inspire nurses from all backgrounds, to partake in regular self-care and multidisciplinary teamwork, for the sake of providing optimal patient care. Follow her on Instagram @nurseabormalities and Facebook for her latest.