Nursing Practitioner (NP) vs Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

This article will examine the difference between an NP and a DNP and answer some commonly asked questions.

An NP and a DNP are subsets of the nursing field and play some of the most critical roles in the profession. While there are some similarities, there are many more differences.

And if you are interested in any of these nursing areas, you must have in-depth information. Being informed will help you decide which option is the best for you based on the different career paths.

Difference Between DNP and Nurse Practitioners

There is always some confusion whenever NP vs. DNP is raised.

Our goal is to clarify the ambiguity in these words by comparing them. Our first step in this comparison will be the definitions, educational qualifications, career prospects, and salary.

NP vs. DNP – Definition and Classification

A nurse practitioner (NP) is a registered nurse who has obtained either a master’s degree or doctorate in nursing science to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

NPs are specialized nurses and one of the four types of APRNs licensed to diagnose and manage diseases, carry out physical examinations of patients, provide medical counsel, and even prescribe medications when the law permits it.

A Doctor of nursing practice is one of the highest levels in nursing, the other being a Doctor of nursing philosophy. DNPs have advanced clinical nursing skills that lean towards the practical aspect of nursing.

The core practical skills are what differentiates DNPs from Ph.D. holders in nursing.

Also, while the term NP signifies a role in nursing, DNP is just a degree that shows that the holder has an advanced skill set.

To further emphasize the difference between NPs and DNP, let’s look at them in classification. Remember we mentioned that NP is a role, and within this role are six broad categories.

These are Family nurse practitioner (FNP), Adult gerontological Nurse Practitioner (AGNP), Women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP), Psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner (PMNHP), and Pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP), and Neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP).

These NPs can decide to further their career by obtaining a DNP degree.

MSN vs. DNP – Educational Qualifications

The educational route to becoming an NP or a DNP depends on your current qualification.

You still have a long way to go if you are a nursing student. First, you must consider enrolling in a nursing program, either a BSN, diploma or an accelerated nursing program.

BSN and ADN degrees last for 4 and 2 years, respectively, after which you can take another two years of the MSN program to become a Nurse Practitioner. Diploma degree holders in nursing will still have to earn a BSN and then an MSN to qualify as a Nurse practitioner.

An Accelerated Nursing Program is the quickest route in any of these instances, especially for those entering nursing from a different career.

But regardless of which path you choose, the highest educational qualification for nurse practitioners is a Master’s in Nursing Science (MSN) degree. NP curriculum usually centers around clinical experience, diagnosis, physiology, and pathophysiology.

However, for those who wish to earn the title of DNP, there is an additional step to take. It is to obtain a Ph.D. in nursing, where the significant difference between an NP and a DNP lies.

DNP curriculum focuses on building a combination of research knowledge, clinical, and leadership skills, unlike the NP curriculum, which for the most part, is all about gaining relevant practical skills and leadership roles.

DNP programs curriculum typically includes leadership, business management, strategic planning, and health policy and advocacy courses.

NP vs. DNP – Roles and career options

The role of the NP lies within their specialty, be it gerontology or pediatrics. However, NPs can also take administrative and leadership positions in their respective establishments.

Their duties include prescribing medications, diagnosis, counseling, physical examinations of patients, and many other primary and specialty health care services.

They also operate autonomously, meaning that they do not require any supervision.

DNPs hold a similar role as NPs and much more. By their educational qualification, DNP holders have a broader role in nursing.

They can work in clinical settings to put their practical skills to good use.

But they can also work in academic and research institutions as researchers, administrators, directors, managers, executives, and policymakers.

In essence, DNP holders eventually serve as scholars and leaders in nursing. So, do you intend to go beyond the scope of an NP?

Do you plan to reach the top of your nursing career while still putting your hard-earned skills into practice? Then a DNP title is the way.


Another advantage of a DNP over a regular NP is their annual salaries. The highest and lowest-earning Nurse practitioners took home between $84,000 to $190,000 a year.

This range brings the yearly average to about $111 000 as of May 2020. The data also reflects that the salary scale of NP depends on where they work.

The highest-earning NPs worked in hospitals, while the least-earning ones worked in educational services. Since a DNP is not a role but a title, there is no specific data on the salary scale of nurses with a DNP degree.

However, the BLS’s salary range for nurse practitioners in May 2020 shows that NPs working in educational sectors earned the least. These are also the most likely NPs to have a DNP degree.

But that does not mean all DNP holders earn less than NPs. According to Payscale, DNP degree holders have an average annual base salary of $107,000.

Therefore, several other factors play out regarding the pay scale, and topping the least is the work environment. An NP working in a state hospital is likely to earn more than an NP with a DNP degree in a local hospital.

When you should not consider going for a DNP degree

DNP is the apex of the nursing profession and will likely come with the most benefits. However, there is one thing you should know about getting a DNP degree: it requires more of your time.

Not many people are cut out to be managers or hold administrative positions. Some people prefer the practical aspect of nursing.

An NP may be enough for you if you are one of them, apart from the additional two years of studies required to earn a DNP degree.

You will also need more clinical hours (500 hours more than required for an NP) and more credit units. Again, it is worth mentioning that not all jobs specifically require a DNP degree.

So, if you are considering delving into research or more administrative nursing positions, researching the nature of the job market in your state or region will be helpful.

Not many employers are interested in a doctorate. You are good if you have significant clinical experience and a license to practice.

Finally, what is your budget? With the cost of nursing education being on the high side, you should consider if a DNP degree is worthwhile.

If you have other financial obligations, pursuing an additional degree may be too much weight. These are some things you should consider before obtaining a DNP degree.

When should you consider going for a DNP degree?

The two main reasons to consider getting a DNP degree are; more job options and a higher paycheck. As a DNP degree holder, you can apply for more administrative positions.

This opportunity also means you stand a better chance to earn more and the flexibility of changing your job environment.

But perhaps the best advantage a degree like this can give you is standing out in a competitive market. You are vying for a job with several other NPs; a doctorate may be the extra edge you need.


We discussed the significant differences between a nurse practitioner and a Doctorate of nursing practice, emphasizing that a DNP is a degree like an MSN.

We also discussed the benefits of having a DNP degree and the considerations you should make before pursuing one. Unless the minimum requirement for NPs is changed, having just an MSN (like most NPs) does not come with any particular disadvantage.

However, a doctorate in nursing will be an easy way to get an edge over the competition in the job market.

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