Should I go for my PhD or DNP?

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    I just graduated from a Master entry into nursing practice program and just got licensed as an RN. I've got a Veteran's grant for any state school in Illinois that will pay for my doctorate. I've applied to the PhD Program at University of Illinois - Chicago. I think that I've been accepted to it but official word is being mailed soon. I just asked a professor buddy (I think he's a research psychologist) about the salary ranges of PhD's and his tone was to encourage me to go for the DNP and that I should only go for the PhD if I'm "200% sure I want to do research". I really think of myself as a thinker and would like to contribute to the field of psychoneuroimmonlogy and research in Complimentary & Alternative Therapy (CAT). However, my buddy was encouraging me to look at the reality of things and how the clinical route will be a more definite, higher salary.

    I looked at salary.com and found that the median salary of a nursing professor is $86,680/year when the Nurse Practitioner median salary is $96,056. So I think it's safe to say that on average, a DNP's going to make about $10,000/year more than a PhD does.

    However, I kind of think of myself as the intellectual/thinking type that has a lot of good ideas and insights that are very useful for research. I've had multiple professors tell me that my personality is best suited for research. I tend to agree with them.

    So, since I've gone with this hunch and have been accepted to a PhD program I think that I'm going to go with that. Do you think I'll be seriously kicking myself down the line by going the research route? I mean, in a clinical setting, I'd have a doctorate but still would be not considered to be on the same level as the DNP. Do PhD's get an unspoken respect that distinguishes them from the average RN?
    Last edit by Joe V on Mar 12, '12 : Reason: formatting for easier reading
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  3. 8 Comments so far...

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    I have a PhD in nursing and work in a hospital. I don't work at the bedside, however. I work in Nursing Staff Development -- teaching nurses and helping them engage in research and evidence-based practice. I am also the liaison between my hospital and the local schools of nursing ... and I teach one class per year at a local university.

    I think you should do significantly more research into the types of roles available to nurses with graduate degrees of all types before you make such an important decision. From your original post, it sounds as if you are focusing on only 2 of the many different roles available for nurses with advanced education. I wouldn't recommend choosing an educational program until you have really looked at all the possibilities -- and maybe gotten a little experience in the field to find out what type of work you enjoy the most and will excel at. Sometimes, you don't find that out until you actually give a few things a try.
    mystory and sharpeimom like this.
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    Very good point! This is why I posted this question on here, so I can get vital information that I was totally blind to by experts. I totally was thinking about only 2 aspects of nursing to try to form a decision on when I was not aware of the many other aspects and options for job positions for nurses with their PhD's and DNP's. I was unaware of the other positions in clinical settings that are available to PhD prepared nurses. In my ignorance, I was thinking that admin/managerial positions would be what a PhD prepared nurse would working in.

    Actually, I was thinking that if I were to go for the DNP, that I'd prefer the Clinical Nurse Specialist route instead of the NP route (UIC's program requires that students choose a specialty (NP/CNS) before the Doctoral phase of the program) because I'm not interested in being prescribing medications and managing them, but I'm more interested in doing the CNS type work. By what you described you do in Nurse Staff Development, it does not sound totally unlike that work of a CNS.

    You do bring up the best way to find the answer to my question and that is to actually go out and get experience so I can find out first hand what I'd like to do.

    Nice! Thanks!
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    One other consideration is 'work load' and working conditions that may also explain a major difference in salaries. Most faculty at my University have 9-month contracts with no nights, weekends, or pagers. This includes 1 month paid time off at Christmas time (December 15 - January 15), and 3 months off in the summer. Clinicians do not have this option.

    I've developed a comparison of the DNP and PhD programs at my University which includes the types of positions that graduates often pursue. University of Virginia School of Nursing: PhD and DNP Comparison. Some of the bullets on this chart is specific to my own University but most of it is general information.

    Getting a doctoral degree is not a race. I underscore llg's comments about finding the program that is right for you.
    mystory and WineCountryRN like this.
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    Yes, I came to this realization after my professors have emailed me responses to my question that educators only work 9 months out of the year and that $10,000 difference can easily be made up for in that time (if the salary thing of concern).

    Multiple professors have pointed out that I would be good for research because of my creative insight. I tend to agree because on my off time, I'm looking up information on psychoneuroimmunology because I want to try to figure out the scientific basis of integrative therapies. Working in the education setting would seem to allow me the mental space to think and figure things out while the clinical setting will have me to busy to do what I love; which is to think.

    This PhD and DNP comparison chart is VERY useful for many people and I'm going to definitely bookmark it and share. Thanks for creating this comparison chart!
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    I would urge the OP to examine clinical research in order to see exactly who the PI's are. In most instances, unless it is focused on public health - clinical research in the US, is led by physicians - others take secondary roles.

    Also - nursing staff development is a specialty practice area. Although CNS programs normally include a smattering of educational content, IMO it is not sufficient. Anyone who wishes to make this career choice needs to have skills & knowledge in the discipline of education that is provided by a graduate program for nurse educators rather than just dive into with any variety of MSN as an alternative to providing direct care. The work of educators is using evidence-based practice to achieve very specific goals. The goals and metrics are defined by the employing agency.
    WineCountryRN likes this.
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    I think it will depend on exactly what you want to research and how involved you want to be involved in direct clinical practice. Advanced practice nurses have careers quite different from registered nurses. Do you want to focus on clinical practice and implementation of evidence based practices? Or do you want to generate new knoweldege with original research? Also, most importantly, if you want to do research then exactly what would be your research interests? If you will focus on nursing research on the RN level then go straight for the Ph.D.; but if you want to conduct research related to some advanced practice specialty then go their first. You might be able to combine a masters APN component into your Ph.D. (or do a post-masters certificate with it). The program I am attending allows a masters component to be combined with the Ph.D. I am finishing my DNP right now and have just gotten accepted into a Ph.D. program, I really wish I had gone straight for the Ph.D. (a already have a masters in anesthesia). I really enjoy research.

    Both careers pay fairly well (Ph.D. vs DNP). DNP's will usually get paid more (unless you are a program director somewhere). What is really important is that you do what you enjoy, income won't matter if you dread going to work.
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    For your last question, Ph.D. nurses are respected; but they get no additional respect in the clinical setting. On the contrary, many practicing RN's do not value the opinion of Ph.D. nurses who do not have any clinical practice experience. Many RN's take the stand that if you do not practice it then you should not be researching or trying to influence it. It would be like someone telling you how to perfect a skill when they have never used the skill to begin with. Also, a DNP will not be seen by fellow practitioners as being better prepared (though they will be much better prepared to interpret and implement the evidence).

    Unfortunately, you will not truly know if you enjoy something until you jump in and do it. If you enjoy academic type pursuits then you will enjoy research.
    WineCountryRN likes this.
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    Some more very useful points of view. Education is definitely not going to be easy and it's challenges (over those of the DNP's) will be of a different nature (i.e. students questioning a professor with little clinical experience, etc).

    I've asked most of my professors that have gotten to know my personality's strengths and there is a resounding "Go for the PhD!" from them all. This is because I'm a thinker and have unique insight from which many new, innovative ideas come from. If I did try to implement research into the clinical setting I'd probably try to bring in many new innovative therapies. I think his desire to seek something new and original would better be suited for a hardcore research setting.

    I've worked as a medic in the US Army and we can often do more than what civilian RN's can do (sutures, nerve blocks, etc) but regardless, I'm going to have to go out and get more clinical experience as an RN before I really know for sure.
    WineCountryRN likes this.


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