Getting Your DNP: Is it Worth it for Nurse Practitioners?

Last Updated/Verified: Mar 5, 2024

As the healthcare field evolves and advances, so do the educational requirements for healthcare professionals. For Nurse Practitioners (NPs), one of the significant decisions they face is whether to pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. The DNP is a terminal practice-focused degree offering a higher education and specialization than the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). In this article, we’ll delve into the pros and cons of obtaining a DNP as a Nurse Practitioner, helping you decide whether it’s worth the investment of time, money, and effort.

Pros of Pursuing a DNP

Like any big commitment, when enrolling in a DNP program, it’s important to know the benefits of such a program.

Enhanced Clinical Skills

One of the primary advantages of pursuing a DNP is the opportunity to enhance your clinical skills. DNP programs often provide advanced clinical training, allowing Nurse Practitioners to better understand complex patient cases and refine their diagnostic and treatment capabilities. This increased clinical expertise can lead to better patient outcomes and more effective healthcare delivery.

Leadership and Advocacy

DNP programs place a strong emphasis on leadership and advocacy in healthcare. NPs with a DNP are well-prepared to take on leadership roles within healthcare organizations, shaping policies, improving patient care, and advocating for changes in the healthcare system. If you aspire to influence healthcare at a higher level, a DNP can open doors to administrative and leadership positions.

Research and Evidence-Based Practice

DNP programs emphasize research and evidence-based practice, equipping NPs with the skills to critically evaluate research findings and apply them to clinical decision-making. This knowledge helps NPs stay at the forefront of healthcare innovations and contribute to the development of best practices in patient care.

Increased Career Opportunities

In many healthcare settings, having a DNP can lead to expanded career opportunities. Some advanced practice roles, such as Nurse Executive or Nurse Informaticist, often require or prefer candidates with a DNP degree. Additionally, many academic institutions prefer DNP-prepared faculty to teach and mentor the next generation of healthcare professionals.

Meeting Evolving Requirements

As the healthcare landscape continues to change, some states are considering or have already implemented DNP degree requirements for Nurse Practitioners. Pursuing a DNP can help you avoid potential regulatory changes and ensure your qualifications align with state licensure requirements.

Cons of Pursuing a DNP

There are many benefits to enrolling in a DNP program, but for some, the setbacks may outweigh the benefits.

Time and Financial Commitment

Obtaining a DNP is a significant time and financial commitment. DNP programs typically take two to four years to complete, and tuition costs can be substantial. It’s essential to weigh the investment against your career goals and financial situation.

Limited Return on Investment

While a DNP can lead to increased career opportunities and potentially higher salaries in the long run, it may not result in an immediate return on investment. It may take several years to recoup the costs of education through higher earnings, so it’s crucial to consider your long-term career plans.

Availability of Programs

DNP programs are not as widely available as MSN programs for Nurse Practitioners. Depending on your location and specialty of interest, you may need to relocate or pursue online programs, which can have their own challenges.

Clinical Practice vs. Administration

Pursuing a DNP may seem less appealing if your primary interest is clinical practice, as the degree’s focus extends beyond clinical skills to include leadership and administrative competencies. While this broader skill set can be advantageous for those aspiring to administrative roles, it may not align with the career goals of NPs who want to remain primarily in direct patient care.

MSN vs. DNP Scope of Practice

It’s essential to understand that, from a clinical practice perspective, the scope of practice for NPs with an MSN is often similar to that of NPs with a DNP. Both MSN and DNP-prepared NPs can provide patient care independently in many states. Therefore, the decision to pursue a DNP should consider factors beyond clinical practice, such as leadership aspirations and career trajectory.

Is a DNP Worth it for You?

The decision to pursue a DNP as a Nurse Practitioner ultimately depends on your individual career goals, financial situation, and personal preferences. To determine if it’s worth it for you, consider the following questions:

What Are Your Career Aspirations?

A DNP may align better with your goals if you aspire to leadership roles in healthcare, research, or academia.

Can You Commit to the Time and Resources?

Evaluate whether you can commit to the time and financial resources required for a DNP program. Consider your current financial situation and whether you are willing to take on student loan debt.

Is Your State Moving Toward DNP Requirements?

Research the licensure requirements in your state and whether there are plans to transition to DNP as the entry-level degree for NPs. This information can help you anticipate future regulatory changes.

Do You Enjoy Research and Evidence-Based Practice?

A DNP program may be a good fit if you have a passion for research and enjoy applying evidence-based practice in your clinical work.

Are You Willing to Pursue Administrative or Non-Clinical Roles?

If you’re interested in clinical practice and have no desire to pursue administrative or non-clinical roles, you may want to consider whether a DNP aligns with your immediate career goals.

Judy Daniels, MSN, RN, AGPCNP-BC