What Type of Doctorate is Right for Me?


You’ve passed the NCLEX, become a Registered Nurse, and have some work experience – now what? Maybe you are looking to level up in your career, switch from practice to teaching, or simply want to expand your knowledge of nursing. If this is the case, you may want to pursue a doctoral degree. Many people come to this conclusion, but figuring out how to start this process can be a significant challenge for many. Nursing is not a linear career; there are a multitude of ways to get to where you need to be, and it can be a confusing process to determine how to start your journey.

If you decide to seek a doctoral degree in nursing you will choose between a DNP and a PhD. Both degrees are considered terminal degrees and they confer equal status upon the recipient. In a broad sense, the main difference between these degrees is that a DNP is primarily practice-oriented and a PhD is primarily research-oriented. DNP students are expected to learn about evidence-based practice, quality improvement, and systems leadership, eventually culminating in a clinical project. Conversely, PhD candidates are expected to demonstrate intimate knowledge of research methods and practices through experimental studies and a dissertation. Use the table below to learn specific information about each degree.

Before deciding which degree you prefer it pays to have a clear idea of where you want to end up after you get your degree. The last thing you want to do is start a DNP program and then realize that you want be a researcher. You should also determine any requirements for your state, especially if you want to practice as an Advance Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). Find your state board of nursing here.

Degree Type
Program of Study Objectives: Prepare nurse leaders at the highest level of nursing practice to improve patient outcomes and translate research into practice Objectives: Prepare nurses at the highest level of nursing science to conduct research to advance the science of nursing
  • Commitment to practice career
  • Oriented toward improving outcomes of patient care and population health
  • Commitment to research career
  • Oriented toward developing new nursing knowledge and scientific inquiry
Program Faculty
  • Practice or research doctorate in nursing, and expertise in area teaching
  • Leadership experience in area of role and population practice
  • High level of expertise in practice congruent with focus of academic program
  • Research doctorate in nursing or related field
  • Leadership experience in area of sustained research funding
  • High level of expertise in research congruent with focus of academic program
  • Mentors and/or preceptors in leadership positions across practice settings
  • Access to diverse practice settings with appropriate resources for areas of practice
  • Access to financial aid
  • Access to information and patient-care technology resources congruent with areas of study
  • Mentors and/or preceptors in research settings
  • Access to research settings with appropriate resources
  • Access to dissertation support dollars and financial aid
  • Access to information and research technology resources congruent with program of research
Program Assessment & Evaluation
  • Program Outcome: Healthcare improvements and contributions via practice, policy change, and practice scholarship
  • Receives accreditation by nursing accreditor
  • Program Outcome: Contributes to healthcare improvements via the development of new knowledge and scholarly products that provide the foundation for the advancement of nursing science
  • Oversight by the institution’s authorized bodies (i.e., graduate school) and regional accreditors


Do you think you might be ready to pursue a doctoral degree? Take the survey and find out!

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