Is a DNP Worth It?

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A nurse practitioner holding a tablet smiles while speaking with a patient in an exam room.The health care industry is experiencing a dearth of providers that’s expected to worsen in the coming years. A recent report from the Association of American Medical Colleges projects that by 2034 there will be a shortage of primary care physicians upward of 48,000. Meanwhile, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) estimates that the nursing workforce will need to grow significantly over the next decade to keep pace with demand and make up for a wave of nurse retirements.

To help fill gaps in care, many states have granted nurse practitioners (NPs) full practice authority, which allows them to deliver all the health care services of a primary care provider. This has been especially helpful for patients who have encountered difficulties getting an appointment with a physician and for those that live in rural communities where access to physicians is scarce.

To ensure that the proper resources are in place to meet the rising demand for health care services, it’s imperative that more nurses — specifically, advanced practice nurses — are educated and trained to enter the workforce.

Nurses with advanced degrees are one of the most in-demand resources in the entire health care industry. In many states, nurses with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree can deliver primary care or specialty care services, depending on their concentration.

Many nurses considering pursuing this advanced degree may look at the time and financial investment required to attain a DNP and ask, “Is a DNP worth it?”

What Is a DNP Degree?

A DNP is a terminal degree, meaning that it’s the highest level of nursing education. DNP programs build upon the skills and concepts taught in master’s-level programs, enhancing a student’s knowledge of research methods, patient care, and health care policies and procedures. DNP graduates are educated and trained to be nurse leaders capable of managing teams of nurses and developing policies that advance health care at a macro level.

One of the major advantages of earning a DNP degree is that it provides health care professionals with options — both on the administrative and clinical side. For instance, a DNP student may choose to focus on a leadership path where they learn about organizational structures, regulatory issues, and other key concepts that prepare them for an executive or director-level role. Nurse education is another option on the DNP path. In this concentration, students focus on pedagogy, teaching simulations, curriculum development, and other essential areas that prepare them for a career in nursing academia.

A DNP can also prepare students for advanced practice roles, such as nurse practitioner. Family nurse practitioners are the most common type of NP; they can work with a broad base of patients in a family practice environment. Additionally, DNP students have an array of NP specialties they can choose from. Some of the most popular specialty NP roles include:

  • Pediatric nurse practitioner
  • Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner
  • Women’s health nurse practitioner
  • Adult gerontology – primary care nurse practitioner
  • Adult gerontology – acute care nurse practitioner

From a long-term career standpoint, many graduates find a DNP is worth it because it enables them to work with a specific patient population or in a specific area of medicine. Having the option to specialize is why DNP programs are drawing the attention of nursing students who are passionate about one particular area of health care.

Why Earning a DNP Is Important

Is a DNP worth it for nurses who already have a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and a career? Understandably, those that are already practicing as clinicians may hesitate at the idea of becoming a student again. However, the field of health care is evolving quickly, and the DNP is expected to become the standard for advanced practice nurses.

In 2018, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties pledged to make the DNP the entry-level nurse practitioner educational standard by 2025. AACN also voted to elevate the level of preparation necessary for advanced practice roles to doctorate-level back in 2004. The idea has steadily gained momentum, and some of the most influential nursing organizations are in full support of it.

Nursing professionals who are proactive about meeting the new academic benchmark will be one step ahead. Professionally speaking, DNP graduates will likely have more opportunities than their MSN counterparts. DNP graduates will also have the following benefits working in their favor:

  • An improved capacity to engage in nurse leadership
  • The ability to shape high-level concepts such as evidence-based practice
  • The opportunity to command a higher salary

According to Payscale, the median annual salary for someone with an MSN was approximately $100,000 in February 2023. Those with a DNP degree earned about $110,000 annually. From a purely fiscal standpoint, a DNP is worth it in the long run.

How to Earn a DNP

There’s no one-size-fits-all educational path for nursing students and professional nurses. Fortunately, DNP programs factor that in when creating their programs and curricula. The four main entry points for Regis College’s MSN to DNP program are as follows:

  1. MSN to DNP – This program is designed for those that already have an MSN and are not practicing NPs.
  2. MSN NP to DNP (specialization) – This program is designed for certified NPs who are interested in pursuing a specialty that expands upon their current scope of practice.
  3. MSN NP to DNP (doctorate only) – This program is designed for NPs who want to take coursework at the doctorate-level.
  4. MSN to DNP bridge program – This program is designed for bachelor’s-credentialed RNs (those with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing) who also hold a master’s in a relevant health care field. In this program, students will take bridge courses so that they may enroll in the MSN to DNP program.

Regis College does not require a Graduate Record Exam (GRE) to apply. MSN to DNP students typically need to complete at least 600 hours of clinical practice.

Shape the Future of Health Care

Advanced practice nurses are vital to the future of health care. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of nurse practitioners is projected to grow by 46% (112,700 new NPs) by 2031. NPs with an advanced education will serve as a critical resource not only for primary care services, but also for specialty care for women, older adults, and those with mental health issues.

Health care professionals that aspire to elevate their careers and qualify for leadership roles should consider investing in their education with an advanced degree. Regis College’s MSN to DNP online program provides students with the skills and knowledge base to make an immediate impact as clinicians, educators, or administrators.

Offered in eight different concentrations, the MSN to DNP program provides students with several options that allow them to chart a career path they’re passionate about. Learn more about the program so that you can start pursuing your professional goals and help shape the future of health care.

Recommended Readings

What Is Health Equity, and Why Does It Matter?

Why Get a BSN to DNP Online?

Nurse Educator Resources for Remote Teaching 

Example Sources:

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, DNP Fact Sheet

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Shortage

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “AANP Highlights NP Role in Providing Accessible Rural Health Care During Pandemic”

American Nurses Association, Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

Association of American Medical Colleges, “AAMC Report Reinforces Mounting Physician Shortage”

BMC Nursing, “Evidence-Based Practice Beliefs and Implementations: A Cross-Sectional Study Among Undergraduate Nursing Students”

Fierce Healthcare, “Nursing Shortage Looms Large and Projected to Intensify in Next 18 Months: Report”

The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties, “The Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree: Entry to Nurse Practitioner Practice by 2025”

Nursing Outlook, “Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree in the United States: Reflecting, Readjusting, and Getting Back on Track”

Payscale, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree

Payscale, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners