Signs It May Be Time To Train For A Doctorate in Nursing

When you have been a registered nurse for a few years or have just completed a Master of Nursing, you may be wondering what the next step is.

Few, if any, registered nurses are encouraged to stay in one area of nursing indefinitely, and, as nursing is a career for those who are academically able, it can be very unsatisfying to do the same thing time and time again without change.

So, if you have recently excelled in your nursing qualifications, and want to go one step further, why not look into a Doctor of Nursing or a DNP?

Why would you do this?

A DNP is considered worth undertaking because it provides nurses with advanced knowledge and skills in areas such as patient care, healthcare systems, and healthcare policy. A DNP can also open up career opportunities and can increase earning potential.Of course, as is the way with any advanced training, it will be a large undertaking to balance your current nursing role, family, and other commitments that you may have. If you are like most people, you already have more than enough going on in your life to worry about!

However, in relation to your clinical role, what are the signs that it may be the right time to pursue a doctorate in nursing?

You Want to Improve Patient Care

If you are like, well, all nurses, then you became associated with this area of healthcare to improve the lives of patients.

What’s more, during your time on the wards, you will have probably seen more than one area of clinical practice that you are not happy with. Or you may feel that there is a simple solution to an ongoing issue that you have seen time and time again. A DNP degree program will equip you with the knowledge and skills to provide high-quality care and make a positive impact on patient outcomes.

It will also allow you to examine these areas of interest academically. After all, you will be given the opportunity to design and research a thesis, which will help you to put the changes that you want to see into practice.

You Are Interested in Leadership and Healthcare

As you climb up the ladder of academia and healthcare, you will undoubtedly be given more of a leadership role.

Although, it’s worth noting that as a nurse, you will likely have the required knowledge and leadership skills to hammer this part of the training.

A DNP will prime you for working in a leadership role when you complete the qualification, which can include positions like an advanced practice registered nurse, a role in nursing administration or management, as well as prepping for roles in healthcare policy and advocacy. This will allow you to shape policies and will allow you to have influence over how care is provided.

Do you Want to Specialise?

Most nurses, as they learn and work, will find an area that they want to stay in, be it geriatric care, pediatrics, or even mental health.

DNP programs often offer specializations in areas such as pediatrics, gerontology, and mental health, allowing you to develop expertise in a specific area as well as influence the policies and nursing practice in that field. You may, however, have to move away from the clinical side and move into research and administration, so this can be a bit of a blow for nurses who enjoy working with patients. However, remember, after the DNP is completed, you will be able to ensure that those who you worked with will now have better care, better pathways, and better overall outcomes from their stays in the hospital or using outpatient settings.

Do you Want to Go Forward?

If you are a particularly ambitious nurse, you may get itchy feet staying in the same place for too long. Ergo, you may want to move forward in your career, and provided that you have undertaken a master’s degree in nursing or equivalent, then the easiest way you can do this is with a DNP qualification.

A DNP can open up new career opportunities, such as becoming an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) and can increase earning potential.

As well as this, DNP-prepared nurses may have more autonomy in their practice, such as prescribing medication and managing patients’ care. This can give you a deeper sense of satisfaction in your role and will help you to feel more involved in the patients that you are caring for, as well as their recovery.

You Like Learning

Nursing, as a role, is a career wherein you will always learn new things.

But, if you feel you have learned all you need to know about one area or feel that you could run the ward that you work on in your sleep, then you may want to spread your learning wings and take on an academic challenge.

What’s more, as nursing is an area that is always growing and expanding, there is always more to learn.

DNP students will learn about the role of advanced practice nurses (APRNs), including assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of patients. They will also be introduced to the organization, financing, and delivery of healthcare services and how to navigate the complex healthcare system to improve patient outcomes.

You will also learn leadership theories and principles and how to apply them in healthcare organizations to improve patient care and healthcare outcomes. DNP students will learn about health promotion and disease prevention and the unique health needs of specific populations, which have become even more critical since the pandemic of 2020.

You Want Change

This was mentioned earlier, but it is a good area to expand on.

It’s worth considering that many nurses, whether they are new, or have been working in the area for over 20 years, will have seen things or read about things in clinical practice that they want to change. This could be medications, care plans, guidelines, or even the treatment of patients.

By earning a DNP, a nurse can gain the knowledge and skills necessary to effect change in the nursing profession and the healthcare system as a whole. This can be through advancing patient care, improving healthcare policies, or developing new technologies. So, this degree will give you the opportunity to be the change that you want to see!

So, that is pretty much it for the reasons that may drive you to pursue a doctorate in nursing.

But, if you are like most nurses, you will still probably have a few questions about the entire qualification, whether it is training, pay, or what is needed to apply for a DNP.

Here is a short FAQ section to answer those questions and many more.

What Qualifications and/ Or Experience Do I Need to Be Accepted Into a DNP Course?

It’s worth noting that the requirements may vary depending on the program and institution you apply to, so it’s important to check the specifics of the program you are interested in before applying.

However, as a general rule, here are some of the things you will need to be accepted onto a DNP course:

  • A personal statement or an essay detailing your motivation for wanting to pursue the DNP and your goals for the program.
  • Letters of recommendation, usually from healthcare professionals who can speak to your skills and qualifications as a nurse.
  • A current resume or CV outlining your education and work experience.
  • Official transcripts from all previously attended schools or universities.
  • Proof of current RN license.
  • A completed application form. This is typically available on the program’s website or through the university’s admissions office.
  • Minimum GPA requirement (usually around 3.0)
  • GRE test scores
  • Meeting the program’s technical standards.
  • Meeting the program’s health requirements.

If you need any help with the application process, be sure to seek it from the university or nursing college that you are applying. Mistakes on an application form can be costly and should be avoided when applying to such a highly sought-after course.

How Long Does a DNP Take to Finish?

The period of time it takes to finish a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program will vary widely based on the type of program, the institution offering the program, and the student’s previous education and work experience.

Typically, DNP programs can take anywhere from two to four years to complete on a full-time basis. The full-time program usually requires students to take classes and complete clinical hours during the weekdays.

There are also part-time DNP programs that can take between five and six years to complete. These programs usually allow students to take classes and complete clinical hours on the weekends or evenings, which can be more flexible for working nurses.

What Are The Main Differences Between a DNP and a Ph.D. in Nursing?

A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Nursing are both advanced degrees in nursing, but they have different focuses and career paths.

The DNP is a practice-focused degree that prepares nurses for advanced practice roles, such as nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, and nurse anesthetist. It also prepares nurses for leadership roles in healthcare organizations, such as administrator or informatics specialist. The DNP program focuses on the application of evidence-based practice and the use of technology to improve patient outcomes.

On the other hand, a Ph.D. in Nursing is a research-focused degree that prepares nurses for careers in academia and research. The Ph.D. program focus on the development of nursing science, the conduct of nursing research, and the application of research findings to improve the nursing profession and healthcare outcomes. Graduates of Ph.D. programs typically go on to work as professors, researchers, or scientists in universities, government agencies, or private research organizations.

What are the Differences Between Online and On-Campus DNP Programs?

Online and on-campus Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs both lead to the same degree and have similar coursework, but they differ in terms of delivery format and student experience.

The main difference between online and on-campus DNP programs is the mode of delivery. Online DNP programs allow students to complete coursework and clinical hours remotely, usually through a combination of asynchronous and synchronous methods, such as online lectures, webinars, and virtual clinical simulations. On-campus DNP programs, on the other hand, require students to attend classes and complete clinical hours in person at a physical location, typically on a university campus.

Most nurses who want to undertake a DNP alongside working in a clinical area opt to take online options, as this allows them to have a more flexible approach to the course

What are the Different Specialties Offered in DNP Programs?

As is the way with doctorates, the course allows you to focus on one area that you are passionate about, and, as a result, there are many areas that you can specialize in with a DNP program.

These include:

  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP)
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  • Pediatrics Nurse Practitioner (PNP)
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
  • Executive Leadership
  • Health Systems Leadership
  • Informatics
  • Public Health

Please note that some DNP programs may offer additional or different specializations. It’s important to verify with specific programs for the available options. There are even some DNP programs that will allow you to specialize in two different specialties at the same time, especially if they overlap.


When it comes to choosing the next career move you want to make, you should aim to ensure that the qualification you pick, in this case, a DNP, matches the goals that you want to achieve.

If you have a passion for learning, feel a bit stuck in your current role as a nurse, or simply want to make changes to policies in nursing, a DNP is probably the best way you can do this. This degree also opens the door to a range of specialties, as well as higher earning potential, allowing you to really make a difference in the area of nursing and healthcare.

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