For registered nurses who wish to achieve the highest levels of education, the nursing profession has two terminal nursing degrees: 1) PhD in Nursing 2)Doctor of Nursing Practice
Previously, there had been other doctorate in nursing programs which have been phased-out or in the process of being phased out. Schools that have such nursing doctoral programs are requested to transition and re-develop their curriculum to fit in either of the two listed above. As such, the former Doctor of nursing Science (DNS) has been transformed to the PhD in nursing degree while the Doctor of Nursing (DN) has been redeveloped into the DNP degree.
It is common for people to talk of one when referring to the other but here; we will give the difference between the two. As a tradition, terminal nursing degrees were reserved for Master of Science in nursing (MSN) graduates. However, in the recent past, there are degree plans that allow even Bachelor of Science registered nurses to earn a doctorate nursing degree directly without getting a MSN first. Unfortunately, registered nurses with an associate or diploma degree are not lucky to enjoy this opportunity as their BSN counterparts.
PhD in Nursing
The doctor of philosophy in nursing (PhD) is the older of the two nursing doctoral programs. It prepares registered nurses to become nurse scholars and researchers in nursing and the medical field at large. Registered nurses who choose this path must be ready to plunge into heavy research that aims at advancing the theoretical foundation of nursing and patient care delivery.
Graduates of the nursing PhD programs will be ready to work and carryout scholarly research in diverse areas like public health, health care policies, healthcare leadership, and development of care delivery systems among others.
Doctor of Nursing Practice
As opposed to the research-oriented PhD program, the DNP program is a practice-oriented degree. It is a relatively new degree program as compared to the much older PhD. It is for registered nurses who wish to go higher above the advanced practice registered nurse scope to become experts in clinical nursing practice. The scope of study includes but not limited to diagnosis, treatment and prognosis of disease. This kind of focus enables an RN with a DNP degree to become autonomous and independent to practice as a primary care giver.
Entry Options for Doctorate in Nursing Programs
As mentioned earlier, there are a number of program entry options to the terminal degrees in nursing depending on prior education level. The traditional trend has changed and currently, there are also entry options for BSN-prepared students.
- MSN to DNP/PhD
It is the most observed progression pathway in earning a doctorate in nursing degree. As the name suggests, eligible candidates must be graduates of a MSN program. MSN to DNP programs are basically for students interested in advancing their APRN status; nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, certified nurse midwife and nurse anesthesia in a clinical focus plan. On the other hand, the MSN to PhD programs are for registered nurses who wish to take nurse scholarly research in diverse areas of nursing and health care at large.
- BSN to DNP/PhD
These are special entry options designed for highly focused and dedicated students. Candidates for these programs are BSN graduates who wish to take a continuous study from BSN to MSN to DNP or PhD. As such, they are demanding in commitment, focus and concentration. The advantage is that many hours and of repetitive courses are saved therefore is an economically sound degree plan.
They are not readily available in any nursing schools but usually common in very large nursing schools and university hospitals. Just like the MSN option, BSN to PhD is meant for students who wish to focus on nurse research while the post BSN- DNP degrees are for those interested in clinical and evidence-based practice.
The Post BSN-DNP Current Requirement
Recently, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has recommended the transformation of all MSN advanced practice tracks to the DNP entry level. This means that in future, students interested in the said MSN tracks will have to take them as DNP choices. Although this is not fully implemented in many schools at the moment, the recommendation is expected to take full effect between 2015 and 2025