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Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing versus Doctor of Nursing Practice


Specializes in Gerontological, cardiac, med-surg, peds. Has 16 years experience.

There are two main doctoral degrees in nursing: the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in nursing and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). You are reading page 2 of Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing versus Doctor of Nursing Practice. If you want to start from the beginning Go to First Page.

llg, PhD, RN

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development. Has 44 years experience.

When I was getting my Master's many years ago, I was being 'recruited" by the school to go directly into the DNS program. I was trying to figure out the difference between a DNS and a PhD as part of my decision. Talking to that school ... they told me that the original purpose of the DNS was to be more focused on practice (clinical or non-clinical practice) than research, but that the distinction was not necessary true for all school. For their schools, the only difference was in the university governance of the program.

If they had established a PhD program, it would have to be governed by the univeristy as a whole. All disciplines would have a say in the oversight of the program. However, as a "professional doctorate" offered by a professional school ... a DNS could be governed by the individual professional school. In short, it meant less hoops to jump through to establish a DNS rather than a PhD. So, they developed a curriculm that matched most PhD programs, but called it a DNS program in order to avoid the added work of meeting the standards of the graduate school of the university as a whole. I didn't like the sound of that and didn't feel ready for doctoral study, so I practiced at the MSN level for a while before beginning my PhD studies.

In my PhD program, our degrees WERE governed by the graduate division of the university as a whole and not only by the School of Nursing. We had to meet both sets of standards and requirements. While it was incovenient at times, I like that. I know that sounds a little snobbish, but I like knowing that my degree was approved by ALL disciplines within the larger academic community and the my PhD program met the same standards as those in chemistry, physics, anthropolgy, sociology, economics, etc.

It may be different at other schools ... but that's how it was at the 2 major universities I attended for grad school.

Re: llg's last post:

When I was in the MSN program at a rigorous, well-known, major university, the school decided to add a doctoral program. I was initially excited about this, but was disappointed to learn that the final decision was to develop a DNS program rather than a PhD program (I had been hoping the school would offer a PhD). When I asked my faculty mentors about this, I was told that many of the faculty, also, were v. upset about this (more upset than I was!), and the deciding factor had been that it would be much easier, quicker, and cheaper for the school to develop a DNS program rather than a PhD, because the academic and accreditation standards the school would have to meet were significantly lower for a DNS than for a PhD.

Like llg, I was v. put off by the idea of taking a degree that, while it might be rigorous and worthwhile as all get out, did not meet the same standards and was not the equivalent of all the other doctoral degrees the university offered. Again, I think nursing has damaged its standing in the academic community over the years with the plethora of non-PhD doctoral degrees that no one outside of nursing "gets."

Thank you for sharing your valuable insights and experience concerning the DNS, Penguin67.

What do you think about the trend for many DNS programs now being converted to either a PhD or DNP?

The program that I attended did convert the DSN to a PhD program about 3 years after I graduated. The hsitory there was that a PhD program in nursing was not going to be accepted/approved, for reasons that I do not know, by the rest of the campus at the time, which was in the late 1970s. Therefore, being undeterred with the mission to obtain a nursing doctoral program, the nursing faculty elected to call the doctorate a DSN, which matched the acronyms of BSN and MSN that the institution currently offered. The curriculum remained the same for the DSN. That little change in the title of the degree was what was needed to get approval for the degree on campus. It was later changed to be congruent with the majority of terminal degrees in nursing, the PhD. But I would put my coursework and level of rigor up against any other nursing doctorate. I worked hard and learned alot that has served me well.

I wouldn't be so hasty to think that DSN/DNS programs are being phased out. There are new DSN/DNS programs opening. One that I can cite off the top of my head is that state.

I will restate the need for nurses to obtain a terminal degree that will assist you in your career. Do your homework to find such a degree. If you are interested in teaching, you know that research and publishing will be part of the job, so it is important to be well trained in that, and a DSN, DNS, DNSc, and PhD program should provide that training. A DNP program was not designed to prepare an educator, it was designed to prepare an advanced practice nurse with NP skills. So, think carefully about what you want to do with your career and pursue a degree that will give you a solid foundation for it. I have no opinion on whether a DNP should be in a tenure track position or not, which is what some of this thread has been discussing. I haven't been faced with that situation yet, and I really am not armed with anough information to forumlate an opinion.

I feel like I obtained the best education for my career pathway and I do not for a minute regret obtaining a DSN. Whatever the terminal doctorate for academia is called, its curricula should prepare one for a role in academia, and be heavily flavored with research and theory and a high level of rigor.


Specializes in Trauma,ER,CCU/OHU/Nsg Ed/Nsg Research. Has 15 years experience.

I agree with Penguin67 re: the DNS. My major professor is a DNS, and she's an extremely rigorous researcher. From what I understand, the DNS offered her more hands-on research education than the PhD options at the time she studied. I wish some of our current PhD programs offered more of that these days.


Specializes in cardiac, ICU, education. Has 18 years experience.

I don't think you can say a PhD is better than a DNP program (or visa versa) without further researching individual programs to assess if the program will meet your own professional needs. However, I will say that I am working at a university in a large metropolitan area (we have 12 nursing schools, 3 with both PhD and DNP programs) and none of the universities offer tenure without a PhD. That fact alone has influenced my decision.

Edited by msn10


Specializes in TCU, Post-surgical, Infection Prevention. Has 2 years experience.

"A possible solution is the creation of two separate tenure tracks in nursing education: one for academia (didactic faculty with a PhD in Nursing) and one for practice (clinical faculty with a DNP)."

That would probably be the best scenario. Although I am new to nursing education - I have been around nurses all my life; my mother is a candidate for a PhD in Nursing (graduating summer 2011), so I am living vicariously through her (although I am just finishing prereqs).

And based on what I have learned through her experience (both as a bedside nurse, later an administrator) - there is definitely a need the separation and maintenance of creditialing of both tracts. As I am starting to understand in the nursing field; there are those who have mastered the clinical end of things and others well suited for the policies/administrative responsibility. And those who have passions for both ends of the spectrum.

In fact, it is my hope (although I am years away and my feelings could change) I would like to obtain a DNS or DNP (after becoming an NP) as I would like to shape my career path based on imploring the most compassionate, effective methods of achieving results. And would probably be less interested in the research aspect of it.

Thank you for shedding more light on this subject, I have learned alot more about the journey my mother is embarking on...


Specializes in A lil bit of this and a lil bit of that. Has 18 years experience.

I think both DNP, and PhD prepared nurses are both valuable as faculty. Each one brings something to the academic table. I feel good instructors deserve tenure, regardless of what follows behind their name. Future nursing students will no doubt need to know about clinical care. They will also need the research aspect too. It really boils down to this...what is greater for the common good of nursing education? I say nursing students deserve what each expert offers. :twocents:

Personally I believe that nursing education is failing the future nurses and students in a key and critical way. Regardless of whether there is a PhD or DNP initials behind the name, the instructors need to have more real-world clinical experience to pass along to their students.

Nursing's focus has been and always should be taking care of patients. While I completely support evidenced based practice and the need for research, passing along key clinical knowledge is crucial to the success of any future nursing student.

I do not believe someone that focused on a more clinical approach to education, DNP, is any less of an educator than someone that spent time focusing on research in a traditional PhD program. The DNP is simply different.

Institutions would be well served to examine what the purpose of their educational programs truly is. Is it to produce well-trained, competent, prepared care-givers or researchers? Regardless it is the duty and responsibility to provide students with the tools and knowledge they will require to adequately care for the patients that will depend on them.

A separate tenure track may be the perfect solution to this issue.


Specializes in neuroscience, ortho, ent.

this is what the aacn has to say about tenure and the dnp:

though primarily an institutional decision, the aacn is confident that a dnp faculty member will compete favorably with other practice doctorates in tenure and promotion decisions...

hmmm... they may be confident, but it is certainly not a sure thing in many institutions.

again, concerning the original focus of this blog, what do you think? should dnp faculty be allowed tenure and placed on equal footing with their phd-prepared counterparts? why or why not? does your nursing institution grant dnp faculty tenure? i welcome your input :)

okay, regarding tenure. it is my understanding that tenure is based on merit, not just degree. if a dnp has completed scholarly/clinical work contributing to the art and science of nursing, has shown initiative and genuine commitment to teaching, and has fulfilled all the requisites for tenure at the institution at which he or she is employed, then that person should be considered for tenure. a faculty dnp who promotes scholarship and engages students, demands and produces excellence, and generates new knowledge in his/her area of expertise is going to be a far better tenured professor than a phd that cannot engage students, successfully manage grant monies or produce research that is relevant to nursing practice or pedagogy. so what i'm saying, it's not the degree that counts so much as the person with the degree, after the institution requirements are met.

we desperately need passionate, expert clinicians in nursing education, not just expert researchers. nursing is not unique. do only phds teach at medical school and receive tenure there? no of course not. md's teach at medical school and also receive tenure. i can say the same for dental school, pharmacy school, and others.

in nursing, the rubber hits the road at the point of care (to paraphrase gladys campbell). to our patients, nothing else matters. it we cannot teach by our experience and expertise in that space, where nurse meets patient, if we cannot change and improve what happens there, then all the most elegant exquisite, and precise research is useless to us.

i am saying we need both. we need the expert nurses who produce the new scientific knowledge, and we need the expert clinicians that can translate it into outcomes at the bedside and prove that it works and tell us about it in literature, and our nursing students deserve nothing less than a limpid understanding of what each advanced degree offers, and how they can work together synergistically to ultimately improve health care, outcomes and people's lives..

it's not the letters behind your name that counts, as much as what you do with them. there's a place for both phd and dnp in academia. just my two cents.

disclosure-i am a masters student simultaneously completing coursework for the dnp (clinical nurse specialist). thanks everyone.

I think the debate is based on the assumption that those pursuing DNP's have their sights primarily on tenure and teaching. My personal view is that the DNP degree is an attempt to bring Nurse Practitioners at par with MD's. Doctors, even of nursing practice, are more liable to have wider scope of practice than nurses. There is a demand on the side of ANP's to be able to prescribe more high risk medications and to be able to practice with more autonomy. MD's on the other hand, are jealously guarding their territory, citing that if NP's wanted wider prescriptive authority, then they should have become doctors in the first place.

Therefore, anyone who is looking for tenure in a teaching institution is in the wrong program if they are pursing a DNP, in my opinion, while anyone aiming at independent practice should be in the DNP program.

Vicky, thank you for once again posting a topic that spurs much thought , debate and discussion. As a disclaimer, I am a PhD student who would like to add my "two-cents" worth. The explication of the academic faculty role: "the scholarship of discovery, integration, application, and teaching" proves that there is room at the "tenure" table for various backgrounds and preparation (just as inside clinical facilities). I agree with posts that note that there are many talented individuals who are researchers, teachers, clinical application experts, and "integraters". In my program, I can readily list examples of professors who fit into each category. My goal in pursuing the PhD in Nursing (after a 25-year career in clinical nursing) is to obtain the credential that is commensurate with academic faculty in university settings (in which I hope to gain employment). In other words, I agree with the post that stated, one should consider the goal first, then select that degree or program that will help meet the goal. So as for tenure and "equal footing", I feel that if universities will hire various types of degreed faculty, then those faculty members should, on an equal footing, be eligible for tenure.

Finally, a note to all of my clinical advanced practice friends: We need you at the bedside in our clinical facilities (where the patients are getting sicker each day; We also need you in academia, where NP and CNS students need and deserve "clinical-background" faculty involved in those programs. To my "nurse educator" friends: It was your passion and talent for teaching that inspired me to go to the next level in helping to transition our nursing students to the clinical environment. And finally, to my "nurse researcher" friends: Your world is one that I have enjoyed entering, and after two years of study, you have proven the need for ongoing studies that stand to benefit our wonderful profession for many years to come!


Specializes in Gerontological, cardiac, med-surg, peds. Has 16 years experience.

Excellent post, fswilliams1001!