What Can You Do with a Doctorate in Nursing?

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Nurses is hospital corridor

Nursing is a diverse field, with occupations ranging from clinical roles to more management-oriented positions, to education and research. With so many different opportunities for employment, there is also an array of different avenues for skill development and higher education. After completing their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, some students may be wondering where their educational path should end. They may even ponder the question, “What can you do with a doctorate in nursing?” Earning either a PhD in nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) through a BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice program can open the door to very different career advancement opportunities.

What Is a Doctor of Nursing Practice?

BSN graduates are usually licensed as registered nurses after earning their degrees. After amassing several years of experience and possibly even a few professional certifications, they may notice the rate of their career progression has slowed. The DNP is a degree designed to close the gap between the patients’ needs and the nurses’ capacity to sufficiently tend to those needs. In that sense, the degree is best suited for nurses who wish to advance their clinical skill set.

What Skills Can Be Learned Through Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice?

Prospective students often wonder what you can do with a doctorate in nursing and what DNP programs entail. DNP programs expose students to a multitude of advanced concepts in the nursing field. The following are a few key areas of study for DNP students:

Advanced Clinical Skills

DNP students hone their general clinical skills through courses such as advanced health assessment and advanced clinical pharmacology. Through the health assessment coursework, they learn how to better evaluate patients’ states of health using diagnostic tools and techniques. Pharmacology classes teach students how to prescribe medications and then educate patients on how to use them safely. Beyond these general skills, DNP programs also offer students the opportunity to concentrate their studies in a specialized field of practice. Some options include:

  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner—Treating babies, children, adolescents, and young adults
  • Family Nurse Practitioner—Teaching families how to live healthier lives and administering advanced health care treatments when necessary
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner—Providing health care services to women of all ages, including pre-, post-, and perinatal care
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner—Counseling those who suffer from mental illness and prescribing medications or other treatments when necessary
  • Adult Gerontology—Caring for adult patients, especially senior citizens

Nursing Informatics

Patient data is an essential asset to health care institutions, and nurses play a central role in ensuring this data is properly recorded, analyzed, and shared. Through doctorate-level nursing informatics coursework, student nurses learn what types of information are the most important to improving patient health outcomes, as well as how to communicate that data in the most efficient way possible. They also learn how technology can be used to save lives, to educate patients or other providers, and to increase the overall operating efficiency of a health care institution.

Health Promotion

Nurses are also responsible for helping reduce the number of people who need health services by promoting health education in their communities. The DNP program shows students how to interact with patients and general community members to teach both populations about healthy behaviors, disease prevention, wellness, and management of chronic conditions. Health promotion coursework positions students to help increase the general public’s control over their own health, thereby reducing the number of people who may become dependent on the health care system.

Health Policy

Health policy determines how health care institutions are run at the local, state, and national levels. By gaining knowledge of how health policy is created, implemented, and managed over time, students can learn how to contribute to these processes. This could entail consulting government officials to amend a current national health policy, or working with colleagues to determine the best way to adhere to current health policies and regulations.

What Is a PhD in Nursing?

Nurses who want to know what you can do with a doctorate in nursing may also consider comparing the benefits of a DNP and a PhD in nursing. While the Doctor of Nursing Practice is primarily a clinical practice degree, the PhD in nursing emphasizes scientific research.

PhD programs are meant to prepare students to develop new innovations in nursing science rather than focus on patient care. The curriculum will vary slightly, but PhD in nursing programs often enable students to study advanced research methods that can be used to tackle pressing issues in the modern health care environment. The coursework highlights the importance of utilizing hard evidence when performing health research, then explains how to find that evidence and translate it into actionable knowledge. The PhD in nursing offers a unique means to contribute to the advancement of nursing practice.

What Can a Doctorate in Nursing Do for Your Career?

Nurse scientists apply research and data to learn how nurses can more effectively manage patients in various situations, ranging from patients who cope with chronic pain, to populations who struggle with substance abuse issues, to young women who want to break the cycle of domestic violence. Graduates with a PhD in nursing often go on to make breakthroughs in disease management, patient care, and health care policy. They are likely to lead health care organizations and create the clinical treatment methods that thousands of nurses and nurse practitioners use to treat patients every day.

DNP Salaries

Nurses pursuing a doctorate may wonder what a DNP graduate’s earning potential is. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides the annual median salaries for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) with terminal degrees, such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice. According to the BLS, APRNs across the United States earn an annual median salary of $115,800. This amount can change based on experience, job facility, nurse practitioner specialty, and state. The BLS notes that the lowest 10% of nurse practitioners earn an annual median salary of $82,460, while the top 10% earn $184,180.

Which Option Is Best for You?

What can you do with a doctorate in nursing? The answer includes a wide variety of career options. For passionate, career-driven nurses, earning a doctoral degree has a high potential to advance their skills and expand their career opportunities. The outcome, however, depends entirely on the degree path they choose: PhD or DNP.

Creating new knowledge as a nurse researcher helps keep the discipline moving forward, but some nurses crave a more hands-on role in the health care process. For student nurses who prefer work that is centered on actively delivering health care services to patients, the DNP is the most fitting terminal degree to pursue.

Learn More

Nurses who are passionate about nursing and want to know what you can do with a doctorate in nursing can explore BSN to DNP programs. Regis College prepares nurse practitioners to take the next step in their careers with the online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice. RNs with a bachelor’s degree who enroll in the program complete the same rigorous courses as traditional students, but the online course delivery offers greater flexibility.

Recommended Reading:
FNP vs. PNP Careers: What’s the Difference?
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner: Exploring the Field of Pediatric Nursing
What Is a Family Nurse Practitioner?

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, DNP Education
American Association of Colleges of Nursing, PhD Education
Career Cast Nursing, “5 Career Benefits of a PhD in Nursing”
Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, “Advancing Scholarship Through Translational Research: The Role of PhD and DNP Prepared Nurses”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners