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DNP vs PhD

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ProgressiveThinking has 7 years experience as a MSN, CRNA and specializes in Anesthesia.

13,887 Profile Views; 446 Posts

Hello,

I'm currently browsing through DNP and PhD programs. I want a doctorate mostly for personal reasons. I know that it likely won't make me anymore money as a CRNA, but I know I'll never be satisfied if I don't have a terminal degree for my field. I like the accessibility and cost of some DNP programs. I'm currently looking at a DNP program through my employer (academic institution) that would take 2 years and cost 40k with our discount. It's a little pricier than I like, but the school is nationally ranked and a top 10 public school nationwide. Going to a place like this could potentially open up more doors for me if I decide to teach or go into admin later on (which isn't too common for CRNAs).

However, I can't help but yearn for a PhD as I think it holds more clout. Looking at the curriculum of most PhDs, it seems that they're longer, cost more (although funding can be available), and a lot more research is required.

Having said all of this, I was wondering why you chose a PhD program instead of a DNP program or vice versa. 

Any input is appreciated!

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336 Posts; 5,320 Profile Views

PhDs are really intended to prepare independent researchers with the focus of the program on the theoretical and methodological demands of original research. It's a lot of work (averaging around 5 years full-time) to do just for  prestige or to check something off a bucket list. Since you didn't mention anything about being interested in research (and rather suggested it might be a negative for you), I wouldn't suggest you pursue a PhD

DNPs, on the other hand, is focused mostly on evidence-based practice and applying existing research to practice. Most people do them part-time and they often much shorter and less rigorous and intense. Some include opportunities to learn more business, policy, or informatics skills that might be applicable to practice. If you just want want to be able to call yourself Dr., then a DNP is, by far, a much better choice for you.

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saheckler has 9 years experience and specializes in Oncology, Public Health, Health Education.

63 Posts; 987 Profile Views

I second what @pro-student said. I'm in a PhD program right now, after having done a lot of soul searching and exploring to figure out what was the right path for me. I wish I had known a little bit more about what I was getting into, so I am going to share some very honest and candid thoughts, with the hope that this might be helpful for you (I am trying to share all the juicy details here and hope you won't be offended if you already know these things). Some nursing PhD students a few years ahead of me really helped me when I was exploring programs by answering all of my questions, telling me about their research, how to apply successfully, what a PhD program was like, etc., so I really want to give back and pay their kindness forward if I can.

The purpose of a PhD is to prepare nurses for research careers, so nursing PhD programs are going to be heavily research focused. Highly ranked and reputable PhD programs in particular are geared toward preparing students to be top nurse researchers at R1 institutions. There are some nursing PhD programs that focus on nursing education, but they will still involve research since a PhD is intended to be a research degree. 

All of the coursework in a PhD program is geared toward research (statistics, research methods, nursing theory used to guide research questions, etc.). You will have to do a rigorous, independent research project that will be the basis of your dissertation. This is different than a DNP project; you have to do your own statistical analysis to answer your research questions (which need to fill a research gap that you've identified through intimate knowledge and understanding of the literature in your area) and write a dissertation, often in the format of 3 academic papers making up the main body, which you're typically expected to publish in scholarly journals. You may also have to do research residencies or mentored research with your advisor (this is a good thing because it helps prepare you to be an independent researcher, which is the goal of a PhD). Many programs also expect you to write grants to fund you, typically to the NIH (although there are other grant mechanisms), which is cool but not for the faint of heart.

If you're not passionate about research it would be brutal to get your PhD (I really enjoy research and I still think it's brutal -- there's so much pressure to be extremely productive in terms of publications, projects, grants, coursework, etc., and it can be difficult to find any semblance of work life balance). I am grateful to be in a program that's providing full funding (my school covers my tuition, health insurance, and a stipend, which for many programs is about $24,000 a year, in line with NIH). However, that's a lot less than I'd be making as a nurse, and I'm putting many more hours in! If you don't plan to use your PhD to do research, it may not be worth it in terms of what you have to go through to get your PhD as well as the pay cut for 3+ years (my program is 3-4 years full time). I also do not recommend any program that does not provide full funding -- it's typical for PhD programs to provide full funding, so if they aren't providing full funding that's not only an unnecessary financial burden for you, but it's an indication of how invested they are in their students. If they won't invest in their students financially, it's a sign that they may not be very invested in providing you the best education and experience and support that they can.

Finally, in order to be accepted into a PhD program, you'll need some type of research experience or something you can talk about that demonstrates an interest in research, such as experience as a member of a research team or authorship of scholarly publications (you can get a little bit creative with this, as long as you can demonstrate an interest in research and articulate why you're interested). You will need to write an essay about why you want a PhD in nursing (what they want to hear is that you're getting your PhD to become nursing faculty at a research intensive institution) as well as what area you want to study and how it fills a gap in the literature. You'll also need to identify faculty in the department that are a good fit with your research interests and weave this into your essay. The better you can tell a story about how your academic and professional experiences have culminated in your research interests and your desire for a PhD, the more likely you will get into a competitive program (acceptance rates of nursing PhD programs vary pretty widely, so it's good to really look into each program and what their admitted students are like; this will also give you an idea of whether the program is a good fit for your interests and professional goals). I would imagine that PhD programs would be very excited about a CRNA, especially if you can tell a good story about how your experiences have led to your current research interests and professional goals and why a PhD is necessary for you to achieve them.

There's a huge shortage of nurses with PhDs and it's only going to get bigger, so that means PhD nurses have a lot of options. The work is interesting, rewarding, and stimulating. Many people think that faculty salaries are low, but I disagree (nothing like a CRNA salary though, unless you're the dean of a prestigious school). However, the road to getting a PhD can be rough, and if you aren't passionate about research I don't see how it would be worth it. That said, you may find that you love research! I reached out to a faculty member at a school of public health to get involved in her research a year before I applied to programs. I would really encourage you to do the same if you can (especially if there's an opportunity to be an author on a publication!) It helped me to hone my research interests, learn new skills, and confirm that I do actually like research. It also probably helped me get into PhD programs.

Anyway, I hope that my long-winded ramblings have helped. I think a nursing PhD is a great choice, but it's not a decision to be taken lightly, so I think the more information you can get, the better you will be able to make the right choice for yourself. I wish you the best of luck, and if you have any questions for me, please reach out!

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ProgressiveThinking has 7 years experience as a MSN, CRNA and specializes in Anesthesia.

446 Posts; 13,887 Profile Views

On 5/22/2020 at 3:36 PM, saheckler said:

Anyway, I hope that my long-winded ramblings have helped. I think a nursing PhD is a great choice, but it's not a decision to be taken lightly, so I think the more information you can get, the better you will be able to make the right choice for yourself. I wish you the best of luck, and if you have any questions for me, please reach out!

Thank you very much for the elaborate response. You have effectively dissuaded from me pursuing a PhD. The truth is I'm still a little jaded from CRNA school and your description exhausted me. I applied to my employers DNP program which is new, but has both a leadership and education focus and the school is highly ranked. A lot of people in the CRNA community choose to pursue a DNAP degree for more of an anesthesia focus, but I like how broad the DNP is should I ever choose to pursue administration or education with ability to teach people other than CRNAs.

Thanks again!

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saheckler has 9 years experience and specializes in Oncology, Public Health, Health Education.

63 Posts; 987 Profile Views

13 hours ago, ProgressiveThinking said:

Thank you very much for the elaborate response. You have effectively dissuaded from me pursuing a PhD. The truth is I'm still a little jaded from CRNA school and your description exhausted me. I applied to my employers DNP program which is new, but has both a leadership and education focus and the school is highly ranked. A lot of people in the CRNA community choose to pursue a DNAP degree for more of an anesthesia focus, but I like how broad the DNP is should I ever choose to pursue administration or education with ability to teach people other than CRNAs.

Thanks again!

I think that sounds like a great choice for you, based on what you've said in this thread. I wish you the best of luck! TBH, I don't blame you for thinking my description was exhausting -- the PhD is pretty exhausting! I don't regret entering the program, but if I could do things over again, I would strongly consider a master's in epidemiology instead. 

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InSchool4eva20 has 12 years experience as a MSN, RN and specializes in Instructor of Nursing and Med/surg nurse.

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I am in my last semester of my PhD in nursing. It was required for my current position. I have a couple of friends that went the DNP route and were done a year earlier than me. There are so many different programs now it depends what your end goal is. In hindsight, I would go the DNP route but even just four years ago I couldn't find a program that was friendly on clinical hours and I have a large family so I couldn't see at the time how to make it work. The PhD is definitely rigorous and I have cried more than I thought, but I am doing my research right now and I can see the end. I can't say I would recommend it, but if you say your want more and are ready you will probably do well. My issues was juggling a large family, two surgeries, a couple of deaths, and becoming a sandwich generation during these last four years, while working full time, so I think my situation is unique. 

I plan to do more research and I do enjoy that process to move nursing forward. Good luck!

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