DNP and PhD: How they differ and complement each other
Are you trying to determine the next step in your nursing education? With the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) as the fastest growing nursing program in the nation now, many nurses are unsure which doctoral degree to select — the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or the DNP.
Nurses who wish to pursue a terminal degree must decide if their professional interests are more inclined toward research or practice. Today’s health care system needs both and each degree prepares nurses for leadership roles that are deeply needed by patients. That’s why the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing plans to offer both doctoral degree programs.
Our PhD program is in its 10th year with nearly 50 graduates who work in universities, health systems and research organizations across the nation. Already, two alumnae are recognized as fellows in the American Academy of Nursing and another alumna is a fellow in the American Medical Informatics Association. Each year, up to eight nurses or other health care leaders are accepted into the Nursing Science and Health-Care Leadership Doctoral Degree Program.
Our DNP — Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program is currently in development and pending approval by various University of California groups and WASCU accreditation. The proposed program is a three-year, hybrid postbaccalaureate program preparing nurses as family nurse practitioners. Learn more about the DNP — FNP on our website.
The DNP is a practice-focused degree that prepares nurses to improve the health of people and populations through practice, bold system change, as well as translation of research to patients and populations. This is the nurse who not only knows how to treat the bullet wound but also works with the community to reduce gun violence that contributes to adverse patient outcomes. A DNP degree provides the ability to use research effectively and translate this research into practice. Given the current long delay in translating research into patient care, this role is essential in leading those changes in clinical practice.
According to The Doctor of Nursing Practice Essentials (3rd Edition, Zaccagnini and White), nurse practitioners prepared at the DNP level can:
- Understand and respect the complementary roles, skills and abilities of the interprofessional health team
- Successfully collaborate with other professionals to improve the health in real-world settings
- Comprehend improvement, outcome evaluation, health care policy and leadership
- Serve as effective collaborative team leaders and participants
- Lead and share decision making to best meet the needs of the patient or population
- Articulate to the public, insurers and policy makers the role that nurses play in promoting positive patient and family outcomes
Faculty at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing use technology to create an active and engaged approach to nursing education. Our DNP program aligns learning experiences with clear objectives, fosters student engagement, promotes active learning, provides problem‐based learning experiences that place concepts within real‐world contexts and ensures ease of use. While students have the benefit of flexible, online classes, they also travel to our state-of-the-science campus at least one time per year for an immersive experience. Students complete a scholarly project instead of a traditional dissertation. The scholarly project is the national standard for DNP program completion and is a national accreditation requirement.
The PhD is a research-focused degree. Nurses who pursue this degree ultimately generate new knowledge through systematic investigation and advance the science of nursing. This is the nurse who uses statistics, data analysis and scientific theory to advance the entire nursing profession, who may also teach at the university level and mentor other nursing scholars. So, while a PhD discovers new knowledge in an academic setting, a DNP puts that knowledge into practice in the clinical environment. Both doctorally prepared nurses provide clinical expertise and serve as valued educators.
The UC Davis PhD program prepares graduates as leaders in health care, health policy and education and research at the university level to:
- Conduct transformative research
- Educate health professionals and researchers
- Effect system change
- Influence and implement policy
- Advance health from multiple settings
Doctoral students take core courses plus electives and must complete a dissertation. The doctoral program is a four-year program and requires full-time enrollment. Core courses are offered fall, winter and spring quarters (not summer) on the UC Davis Sacramento campus. Learn more about the PhD program on our website.
If your career goals are in the direction of discovering knowledge through research, a PhD provides the education to conduct research. If your aspiration is to serve as a family nurse practitioner or other provider, then a DNP prepares one for those advanced practice roles. You can also read more about the two doctoral programs on the American Association of Colleges of Nursing website.