DNP or DNAP: What are the Differences?

As programs are transitioning out of offering Master's degrees and into providing Doctoral degrees, there have been a lot of questions about what that means in the clinical setting, along with which degree do you get if you are interested in teaching/education. What I hope to provide here is a clearer understanding of some of the background of the transition, along with thoughts for you to consider when choosing a program to attend.

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A number of years ago, the Council on Accreditation (COA) for Nurse Anesthesia programs started considering the transition of terminal degrees for CRNAs to a doctoral degree instead of a master's degree. A terminal degree means the highest degree you can earn in your field of study.

For those not familiar with the COA, they are the accrediting body that reviews didactic curriculum and clinical experiences that programs provide to determine if they are acceptable to award a degree. Things the Council took into consideration were the future of our profession and other professions that made this change in the past (I.e., physical therapy and nurse practitioners). They made the decision that by the year 2022, all programs must transition to awarding a doctoral degree as the terminal degree, or they would no longer be allowed to remain open/accept new students. For example, someone can be admitted into a Master's level program in 2021 and graduate with that degree in 2023 because the program will be allowed to remain open for those to finish their degree since the cohort began before 2022. However, if that program does not transition to awarding a doctoral degree, it will not be allowed to admit a new class in 2022.

What does this transition mean for the didactic/classroom curriculum and clinical experience in the program? For most programs, it may not have meant a big change. Primarily it added an additional semester of coursework and required a few additional courses. A lot of that information was already being taught in combination with other courses (I.e., nursing theories, statistics, ethics, etc.), so it just had to be pulled out of those classes and included as a stand-alone course. For the anesthesia courses, it should not have made a big difference in the way they were taught except maybe providing some additional time to dive into deeper details of clinical practice. In regard to clinical experience during your time in the program, you would not see a big difference either. A lot of the programs already were providing a very successful clinical experience, so they did not want to make big changes. The programs designed the curriculum to work around their clinical experience design.

What are the Differences Between DNP and DNAP?

There are not a lot of differences between the 2 degrees; it's important to note that small differences can even exist within the degree offering depending on the University that you attend. For example, a DNP at University ABC may have slightly different courses or focus than University KLM, but they are both still a DNP.

One of the biggest differences between DNP and DNAP is that a DNP may include more of a nursing theory focus than a DNAP. What does that mean for my clinical practice when I graduate? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! When you graduate, your clinical practice will depend on the facility you work out of. Whether you graduate with a Master's degree, DNP, or DNAP, your scope of practice and pay will be the same as your colleagues at your facility. Clinical practice will be determined by the CRNA behind your name and not the degree letters.

Will I be able to teach in a program with a DNAP?

I wish I could give a straightforward answer to this question, but there are some gray areas to address. I am going to speak about two different situations, so I encourage you to think about which one appeals to you most when making a decision. I will break down the two situations.

Situation #1 This is a test. I would like to provide lectures in the classroom, assist in the simulation center, assist students with doctoral projects, or serve as a coordinator at one of the affiliated clinical sites for a Program. For this scenario, you are able to do this with any degree (Master's, DNP, or DNAP). The COA or University systems do not usually restrict you in this case or require a specific degree. You would be considered a content expert presenting material to the students, so you could do this as many times as the program would permit, no matter what degree you earned.

Situation #2 I would like to become a recognized Faculty member in a CRNA program to be involved in the curriculum design, teaching responsibilities, day-to-day activities, etc. This scenario is where gray areas can exist. When being hired by a University to serve as a Faculty member for a program, they will usually require a terminal degree for that program. For example, the terminal degree for nursing is the DNP, so they require those teaching nursing courses in the programs as a full Faculty member of their department to have a DNP. Where it gets a little tricky is that all CRNA programs are not housed out of a school of nursing. Some are housed in a school of medicine, or a school of allied health professionals, etc. Usually, if they are housed out of something other than a school of nursing, either a terminal degree (DNP or DNAP) is acceptable to become a Program Faculty member. If the degree is being offered through a school of nursing, then it can vary with what that University prefers.

Since DNP and DNAP are nursing doctoral degrees, there are a lot of programs that will accept both for Program Faculty. However, there are some that, at this time, are sticking tight to only accepting DNP. I foresee this trend changing as more and more programs are offering a DNAP, and the need for Faculty members is always there, so they would not want to turn away great applicants just because of that one letter.

Richard Wilson, MNA, CRNA and CRNA School Prep Academy Expert Contributor

Richard Wilson, MSN, CRNA is an expert contributor for CRNA School Prep Academy. Our mission is to help you gain acceptance, plug you into the community and support you all the way through graduation day. CRNA School Prep Academy has mentored over 1,000 aspiring CRNA’s, who are now successful students in programs across the country!

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