The PhD is a research-oriented degree, whereas the DNP is a practice-oriented or clinical doctorate. How do these degrees differ and are they equal in status?
Doctor of Philosophy
The Doctor of Philosophy in nursing is a research-based degree that prepares learners for both research and teaching positions (AACN, 2001). The typical program is science-intensive and requires four to five years for completion (Worldwidelearn, 2010). It is designed to prepare nurse scholars, educators, and researchers for a lifetime of scholarly inquiry to build up the body of nursing knowledge (AACN, 2001). The degree is also valuable for obtaining senior management positions, publishing in professional journals, influencing public policy decisions, and advocating for positions through research (Worldwidelearn, 2010). The PhD is considered the top-of-the line degree for academic work. It places great emphasis on theory construction and research methods: specifically, the development of expert knowledge within the scholar's special area of interest (AACN, 2001; Blais, Hayes, Kozier, & Erb, 2006; Finn, 2005; McEwen & Bechtel, 2000). The PhD in nursing, as a terminal degree, has a core of theory, science, and research that provides the prerequisite knowledge and expertise for the development, evaluation, and testing of theories in nursing (AACN, 2001).
Doctor of Nursing Practice
The Doctor of Nursing Practice, by way of contrast, is a practice-focused doctoral nursing degree. It prepares graduates for clinical practice, administration, or public-policy roles, but the degree concentration is not research-focused (AACN, 2001; Blais et al., 2006; Edwardson, 2004). It was formally created by the AACN in 2004 to replace masters in nursing programs in preparing advanced practice nurses. This type of nursing doctoral program emphasizes advanced practice nursing roles, leadership, and application of clinical research for better patient outcomes. It produces expert nurse clinicians who provide primary patient care and direct clinical policies (AACN, 2004). The nursing practice doctorate is similar to other discipline-specific practice degrees, such as the MD, DDS, JD, EdD, or PharmD. The practice doctorate is the highest-ranking professional practice degree, but requires less academic preparation than research-priority doctorates (Edwardson, 2004).
Since the nursing practice doctorate is a relatively new degree program, there is growing controversy within nursing academia concerning the deep, uncharted waters created by the DNP. The DNP does not require the same level of academic rigor as the PhD. Does the practice-oriented degree command equal standing with the PhD, even though the PhD requires considerably more time and effort for completion? Will DNP-prepared faculty be marginalized within nursing academia? A particularly thorny area of dispute is whether an educator with a DNP is eligible for tenure status within the university system. 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).
What do you think?
American association of colleges of nursing (AACN). (2001). Indicators of quality in research-focused doctoral programs in nursing. Retrieved from American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) > Home
American association of colleges of nursing (AACN). (2004). AACN position statement on the practice doctorate in nursing. Retrieved from American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) > Home
Blais, K. K., Hayes, J. S., Kozier, B., & Erb, G. (2006). Professional Nursing Practice: Concepts and Perspectives (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Edwardson, S. R. (2004). Meeting Standards and Needs in Doctoral Education in Nursing. Journal of Professional Nursing, 20(1), 40-46.
Finn, J. A. (2005). Getting a PhD: An Action Plan to Help Manage Your Research, Your Supervisor, and Your Project. New York: Routledge.
Mcewen, M., & Bechtel, G. A. (2000). Characteristics of Nursing Doctoral Programs in the United States. Journal of Professional Nursing, 16(5), 282-292.
Worldwidelearn. (2010). How to Get a DNP, DNS, or PhD in Nursing.