What Do Nurse Practitioners Gain From a Doctorate-Level Education?

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Educated and experienced nurses are a critical component of any functioning health care system. Registered nurses are equipped with the knowledge necessary to carry out the most basic patient care tasks, but advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) typically have diverse skill sets that allow them to participate in more complex treatments and health interventions. To qualify as an APRN, a nurse must obtain a postgraduate nursing degree, typically the Master of Nursing Science (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

When comparing the responsibilities of a nurse practitioner vs. doctor of nursing practice, people often discover that they have similar workloads. With just an MSN, nursing professionals are qualified for licensure as a nurse practitioner (NP). An NP is an APRN who is trained to provide specialized care to a particular demographic of patients. Earning a DNP, however, can help nurse practitioners open the door to senior clinical roles or executive leadership positions.

The Different Stages of a Nursing Career

Nurses can advance in their field by gradually improving their knowledge and practical skills through education and experience. Here is a brief overview of the different educational levels that nursing professionals may progress through:

Licensed Practical Nurse. These nurses usually complete approximately one year of basic nursing education and are allowed to perform simple medical tasks, such as creating patient records and administering basic health care. Licensed practical nurses often report to more senior medical professionals, such as registered nurses.

Registered Nurse (RN). Earning an Associate or Bachelor of Science in Nursing will qualify registered nurses to take the National Council Licensure Examination. Passing this exam permits them to practice as RNs. At this level, their clinical training should allow them to proficiently assess the condition of patients, administer certain tests and treatments, and operate medical equipment. Registered nurses frequently work under the supervision of advanced practice registered nurses.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). After earning a master’s degree in nursing, some nurses choose to earn further certifications that allow them to play a more active role in coordinating patient care. This category of nursing professionals includes nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthesiologists. In terms of nurse practitioner vs. doctor job functions, they can perform many of the same tasks. They can create care strategies, perform physical exams, and diagnose some health conditions. NPs are also taught how to lead other health care workers, especially RNs, in clinical environments.

What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

Of the different categories of advanced practice nursing, nurse practitioners arguably have the most diverse opportunities for specializing their practice. Depending on the certification they pursue, they can focus their careers on providing care to a number of specific groups of patients. For instance, family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are taught how to provide advanced care to people of all ages. Pediatric and adult-gerontology nurses, however, specialize in treating far less inclusive groups (children and adults, respectively).

A Doctor of Nursing Practice Can Offer NPs New Opportunities

Although nurse practitioners are usually equipped with the tools they need to lead in the clinical aspects of advanced nursing practice, earning a DNP will give them a more in-depth perspective of how to provide effective leadership to health care organizations. Doctoral students learn how to optimize operations in their departments, allowing them to maximize the quality of care their teams are able to provide. DNP coursework gives them the opportunity to learn how to mentor other nurses as well. This means they can help ensure that each member of their different teams is up-to-date on the safest methods of delivering quality health care. With enough experience in their respective fields, some DNP graduates can rise to executive nursing positions, where they can direct the nursing activities of entire departments or organizations.

DNP-Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor and Physician

When considering a BSN to DNP degree track, prospective students may wonder how the responsibilities of DNPs compare with those of doctors and physicians. Usually, doctors and physicians must receive approximately 11 years of postsecondary training before they can practice as a medical doctor. A DNP typically requires only six to eight years (with two to four years required to complete a BSN-DNP). With a more extensive educational path, doctors have many more options for specialization, such as cardiology, neurology, or dermatology. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this combination of flexibility and extensive educational requirements offers doctors the opportunity to earn more than $208,000 annually. Nurse practitioners can still make six figures, with a median salary of $110,930, according to the BLS.

There is not a lot of nurse practitioner vs. doctor competition. Instead, these professionals collaborate to achieve the best possible care for their patients. Although a physician has higher earning potential than the average DNP graduate, DNP-NPs can achieve leadership positions that can be equally rewarding.

Learn More

Pursuing a Doctorate of Nursing Practice degree is a challenging, yet potentially rewarding career decision. The health care opportunities for DNP graduates are promising, and those with the DNP degree can experience more autonomy in health care delivery and have a greater voice in health care organizations. Aspiring health care professionals interested in pursuing a DNP degree should consider Regis College’s online Doctorate of Nursing Practice program. This program offers students a rigorous curriculum with the flexibility of an online platform.

Recommended Readings:

How a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree Can Lead to Better Patient Outcomes
Career Opportunities for Graduates with a DNP Degree
Online BSN to DNP Programs: A Solution for the High-Level Talent Shortage


Bureau of Labor Statistics – APRNs
Bureau of Labor Statistics – Physicians and Surgeons