According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of nurse practitioner positions available in the United States is expected to grow more than 30 percent over the next ten years.  With this in mind, nursing professionals are strongly incentivized to pursue the most advanced nursing degree, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). This enables them to enter into advanced practice roles that generally feature higher pay and more distinguished responsibilities. There is no “correct” path to earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice. To the contrary, there are several flexible tracks that nursing professionals can choose to take their careers to the next level.
BSN to DNP or MSN to DNP
Earning a baccalaureate degree in nursing (BSN) includes learning the basics of biology and health care that are necessary to effectively administer care to patients. In these programs, students learn about nursing science, theory, and practice, while also completing coursework that expands their knowledge of research and leadership as it applies to health care professions. Most BSN nursing professionals are limited to entering the field as a registered nurse, but by advancing their education to the master’s or doctorate level, they can expand their career options into advanced practice and administrative roles.
A nurse who holds a BSN can directly pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice without having earned a master’s degree. However, individuals who already hold an advanced degree may have an easier time, because they likely have more extensive knowledge and experience than their BSN colleagues. Also, earning a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) before pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice enables nurses to work in advanced practice while they study towards their doctorate degree. This may enhance their ability to excel in their doctoral coursework, because advanced practice nurses are exposed to unique clinical circumstances that inevitably grow their overall comprehension of nursing practice. 
What Does An MSN to DNP Educational Track Offer?
The objective of any Doctor of Nursing Practice program is to prepare a nursing professional to positively influence health care outcomes within the patient population. DNP professionals assume responsibilities that include directly conducting health care interventions, administering health care programs, providing executive leadership to health care organizations, constructing health care policies, and developing health care technology. DNP programs are designed to certify that graduates have a thorough knowledge of evidence-based practice and are able to assume leadership roles in health care systems. A DNP degree ensures nurses are equipped to plan and coordinate complex clinical strategies, while maintaining patient safety and continuously advancing the quality of care.
Beyond the core of health care practice and leadership scholarship, doctoral students can also choose whether to pursue a Doctor of Science in Nursing. This degree program focuses on either research or clinical practice. A research focus is best for nurses who are more interested in a behind-the-scenes role that evaluates health care data to generate valuable insights that could be used to improve nursing practice. A clinical focus develops the ability to improve health care systems and practices with knowledge derived through assessment of clinical evidence.
To further build on these advanced nursing proficiencies, both doctoral nursing tracks teach students how to translate clinical evidence and professional insight into effective practices and policies. While nurses commonly develop this skill during their master’s degree program, the doctoral level expands the ability to innovate and adapt care delivery processes based on empirical data. This is a skill that is vital to improving the health care environment, because evidence-based changes have a higher probability of improving patient health outcomes. 
The Place of Advanced Practice Nurses in the Modern Health Care Environment
The number of individuals who are dependent on the U.S. health care system continues to expand as the general population grows. With this rise in demand, physicians are simply unable to handle all the needs of each patient. This causes much of the burden to be transferred to other health care providers, like registered nurses and advanced practice nurses. To address this challenge, more nurses with advanced degrees are needed to assume more complex responsibilities.
The health care industry wants candidates who are able to enrich the field with their knowledge of leadership and evidence-based practice. Nurses who have earned their Doctor of Nursing Practice can channel their understanding of health care systems in various ways. For example, that can help keep their subordinates satisfied in their jobs by designing program and policies that prevent administrative errors and avoid negative health care outcomes. In doing so, they can stimulate growth in the nursing population. They can contribute to ensuring those nurses who are passionate about their profession don’t burn out, or choose to leave nursing prematurely.
The path to becoming an advanced practice nurse can be a long one, but it can be equally gratifying. Nurses who persevere through the educational process are rewarded with the opportunity to uniquely impact the growth and stability of the U.S. health care system. A Master’s of Science in Nursing is a great way to get started as an advanced practice nurse. By advancing to a Doctor of Nursing Practice, nurses can distinguish themselves as authorities in their field, allowing them to contribute significantly to health care organizations.