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Posted: July 29th, 2023

DNP vs. PhD in Nursing

Assessment Description
Discuss the difference between a DNP and a PhD in nursing. Select a role requiring either a DNP or a PhD in nursing, and explain how this role functions within an interdisciplinary healthcare setting (clinical or non-clinical).

DNP vs. PhD in Nursing: A Comparative Analysis and Roles in Interdisciplinary Healthcare Settings


In the field of nursing, advanced degrees such as the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) are pursued by professionals seeking to make significant contributions to the discipline. While both degrees signify a high level of expertise and achievement, they differ significantly in their focus, goals, and the roles they prepare nurses to undertake. This article aims to explore and contrast the distinctions between a DNP and a PhD in nursing and subsequently elaborate on the roles of DNP and PhD-prepared nurses in an interdisciplinary healthcare setting.

Differentiating DNP and PhD in Nursing
1.1 The DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice)

The DNP degree is designed to equip nurses with advanced clinical skills and specialized knowledge in various healthcare domains. Rooted in evidence-based practice, the DNP curriculum emphasizes the application of research findings to improve patient outcomes and the overall quality of care. DNP programs often include coursework in leadership, healthcare policy, and systems management to prepare nurses for leadership roles in clinical and non-clinical settings.

The primary aim of a DNP-prepared nurse is to implement evidence-based practices and drive innovations in healthcare delivery. By fostering a strong emphasis on translational research, DNP graduates are equipped to bridge the gap between research findings and bedside care, thereby positively influencing patient experiences and health outcomes.

1.2 The PhD in Nursing

On the other hand, the PhD in Nursing focuses on rigorous research training and scholarly inquiry. This terminal degree is intended for nurses aspiring to contribute to the advancement of nursing science through original research and theory development. PhD programs place significant emphasis on research methodologies, statistics, and data analysis, fostering expertise in generating new knowledge to address gaps in nursing theory and practice.

PhD-prepared nurses are instrumental in expanding the body of nursing knowledge and enhancing the theoretical underpinnings of the profession. Their expertise enables them to engage in independent research, teach at the academic level, and assume leadership roles in healthcare research institutions.

Roles of DNP and PhD in Interdisciplinary Healthcare Settings
2.1 Role of DNP in an Interdisciplinary Healthcare Setting

Within an interdisciplinary healthcare setting, DNP-prepared nurses play a vital role in translating evidence-based research into clinical practice. They serve as leaders in healthcare teams, collaborating with other healthcare professionals to develop and implement innovative care models. By blending their clinical expertise with a deep understanding of healthcare systems and policies, DNP nurses contribute to improving patient outcomes and enhancing the overall quality of care.

In non-clinical roles, DNP graduates take on influential positions in healthcare administration, policy development, and healthcare consulting. They utilize their comprehensive understanding of healthcare systems to drive organizational change and foster patient-centered care delivery.

Example: A DNP-prepared nurse working in an interdisciplinary team at a hospital may lead quality improvement initiatives, implementing evidence-based protocols to reduce hospital-acquired infections. By collaborating with physicians, pharmacists, and other specialists, the DNP nurse can improve patient safety and enhance the overall care experience.

2.2 Role of PhD in an Interdisciplinary Healthcare Setting

PhD-prepared nurses in interdisciplinary healthcare settings serve as research leaders and educators. Their expertise in research design and data analysis enables them to contribute significantly to the development of nursing science. Within the healthcare research environment, they design and conduct studies that address critical healthcare challenges, contributing to evidence-based practices and policy recommendations.

PhD nurses also hold academic positions, where they educate and mentor the next generation of nursing professionals. Their expertise in theory development and research methodologies equips them to teach advanced nursing courses and guide students in their research pursuits.

Example: A PhD-prepared nurse working in an interdisciplinary research center may lead a study investigating the impact of nurse-to-patient ratios on patient outcomes. Through rigorous research, data analysis, and collaboration with statisticians and healthcare economists, the PhD nurse can generate evidence to inform staffing policies and improve patient care across healthcare settings.

In summary, the DNP and PhD in nursing are two distinct paths that prepare nurses for diverse roles within an interdisciplinary healthcare setting. While the DNP emphasizes evidence-based practice and its translation into clinical care, the PhD focuses on rigorous research and theoretical development to advance nursing science. Both degrees contribute significantly to the nursing profession, enabling nurses to assume critical roles in improving patient outcomes and shaping the future of healthcare.


Kleinpell, R. M., Scanlon, A., Hibbert, D., Jackson, K., Masiello, T., Marinaro, J., & … Van Horn, E. (2017). DNP and PhD collaboration: Expanding opportunities for nurses to develop and lead interprofessional research teams. Journal Of Professional Nursing, 33(1), 9-14. doi: 10.1016/j.profnurs.2016.04.001
Buchholz, S. W., & Dwyer, C. S. (2018). Transformational leadership in nursing education: Making the case. Journal Of Nursing Education, 57(10), 595-600. doi: 10.3928/01484834-20180920-05
Colley, S. (2018). Engaging DNP students in interdisciplinary collaboration through a community-based falls prevention clinic. Journal Of Nursing Education, 57(10), 628-631. doi: 10.3928/01484834-20180920-09
Keller, J., Shulkin, D. J., Morgan, A. U., & Brooks Carthon, J. M. (2021). Career trajectories of doctorally prepared nurses: A systematic review. Nursing Outlook, 69(3), 337-348. doi: 10.1016/j.outlook.2020.12.008

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