HealthApril 28, 2015

Is DNP the degree for me?

A look at the pros and cons of earning a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) degree.

Is DNP the degree for me?

More than a decade ago, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) called for the profession to move the level of preparation required to practice as an advanced practice nurse from a master’s degree to a doctorate degree—specifically, the doctorate of nursing practice (DNP)—and to do so by the year 2015.

While the past 10 years have seen a subsequent launch of hundreds of DNP programs around the country, the move hasn’t quite caught on as the AACN might have hoped. In fact, many nursing schools are, for the time being, choosing to offer both master’s and DNP routes to advanced practice nursing.

All of which leaves a sizable number of nurses who are considering their options wondering, Is the DNP right for me?

Most educators and professional leaders will, without hesitation, encourage advanced practice nurses and nurses seeking high-level careers with health systems and organizations to earn a DNP. Some practicing advanced practice nurses (APNs), though, question the need to return for a DNP, particularly if you’re satisfied where you are. Both sides have valid arguments for and against earning a DNP.  Here’s a glimpse at their reasoning.

Arguments for a DNP

  • “It’s the wave of the future.” True enough, the nursing profession is on its way to one day embracing the DNP as the entry-level degree for advanced practice nursing. More than 250 nursing schools offered the DNP as of mid-2014. AACN expects that within the next few years more than half of nursing schools will offer BSN-DNP programs. Clearly, as more and more APNs earn practice doctorates, the DNP will establish a firmer foundation in the profession.
  • “You will be better prepared, better benefitting your patients, your profession and society at large.” No one with any knowledge of the healthcare industry will dispute that big challenges lie ahead. Patient care is growing more complex. Nurses are taking on higher-level and higher-profile positions as the nation seeks to better the quality of care and patient safety while also cutting costs. A tsunami of Baby Boomers is positioned to hit the healthcare system hard, and the nursing profession may or may not have enough members around to care for all the patients when it does. Nurses educated at the doctorate level will be intensively prepared to take on these challenges and could even help alleviate the expected nursing shortage by serving as faculty in nursing schools.
  • “All the other professions are doing it!” Physical therapy has its DPT, pharmacy has its PharmD, audiology has its AuD, and medicine has its MD. Why should advanced practice nursing stick to an MSN—especially when students in some specialties are already carrying credit loads equivalent to other professions’ practice doctorates?  Do you want to be the only member of the practice team not addressed as “doctor”?   

Arguments against a DNP

  • “I don’t need it to practice as an advanced practice nurse.” Should the profession one day formally adopt the DNP as its entry to advanced practice, AACN believes MSN-prepared APNs who are already practicing will be grandfathered in and not required to earn a DNP.
  • “It won’t increase my salary or change my current practice as an APN.” AACN points out that DNP-prepared NPs in ADVANCE for Nurse Practitioners magazine in 2011 reported earning $8,576 more than NPs prepared at the master’s level. The association also admits, though, that many employers are currently foggy on the differences between APNs with MSNs and those with DNPs. APNs are actually the best judge of whether or not their employer would boost their income or responsibilities as a result of earning a DNP. If you’re convinced it wouldn’t, who’s to argue with that?
  • “Too much time and money…” DNPs aren’t exactly free. Returning to school for a DNP costs tens of thousands of dollars (one DNP program is reportedly closer to a hundred thousand dollars) and several years of your life. The financial and personal investment required is significant.

In the end, it’s your call

As more nurses and APNs earn DNPs, competition for jobs, state regulations and other factors such as insurer reimbursement rules may sway your decision.  As it stands now, however, the choice of whether or not to earn a DNP is yours.

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