What is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, and Why Get a DNP Degree?

TROY's Doctor of Nursing Practice degree provides a path to a multitude of specialized nursing careers.

TROY's Doctor of Nursing Practice degree provides a path to a multitude of specialized nursing careers.

In the constantly evolving nursing field, specialized knowledge and skills are more critical than ever. With a complex healthcare system, public health issues and new technologies on the horizon, nurses face more significant challenges than ever. Nurses skilled in advanced practice, informatics, research, and health policy are positioned to advance their careers and make a difference in healthcare. 

One of the best ways to develop these skill sets is with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. Doctor of Nursing Practice programs prepare nurses to become advanced practitioners, clinical leaders, educators, health policy advocates and informatics experts. 

But what is a Doctor of Nursing Practice?

A DNP is a terminal degree that prepares nurses for the highest level of clinical practice and to lead in healthcare. It is a way to help effect change in the healthcare system. And for Troy University students, it’s a path to a multitude of specialized nursing careers. 

A Terminal Degree for Practitioners Who Want to Improve Healthcare

DNP programs are relatively new to the field of nursing, emerging in the early 2000s as a way to build on the knowledge acquired in master’s in nursing programs. According to the American Association of Colleges and Nursing (AACN), DNP programs “prepare nurse leaders at the highest level of nursing practice to improve patient outcomes and translate research into practice.”

Like a Ph.D., the Doctor of Nursing Practice is a terminal degree. However, unlike Ph.D. programs, DNP programs focus more heavily on practice than research, requiring 1,000 practice hours to earn the degree. 

“Ph.D. students work on producing and analyzing research about a problem, whereas DNPs apply evidence-based practice guidelines to a current healthcare issue,” says Dr. Stacey Jones, TROY’s DNP program coordinator. While DNP students acquire research skills, the difference between Ph.D. and DNP programs is that DNPs focus on how the research comes to life in practice, she adds. 

The path to and reasons for pursuing a DNP degree can vary widely depending on a nurse’s background and experience. According to Dr. Jones, some TROY students come straight from a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, while others have their master’s degree and have decided they want to move into a leadership or educator role. 

“TROY’s DNP is a flexible program that can be tailored to your career goals and experience,” Dr. Jones adds. “We have several tracks available and ways to earn your DNP, including post-master’s and post-bachelor’s programs.”

DNP programs help students build expertise in health assessment, epidemiology, health informatics, leadership and evidence-based practice. From there, coursework depends on the specialization they choose. 

“Students in the DNP in nursing leadership track take courses that will aid them as administrators and educators, such as health policy, healthcare systems and technologies. In the DNP FNP (family nurse practitioner) track, students study women’s health, pediatrics, pharmacology, pathophysiology and adult primary care,” says Dr. Jones. “The DNP degree requires intensive coursework and practice hours to prepare you for the highest level of care.”

Why Get a DNP? Grow Your Nursing Skills and Prepare to Make a Positive Impact 

A DNP degree is a significant commitment, requiring in-depth study, internships and clinical practice hours, which students often complete while continuing to work in their current jobs. DNP programs are demanding and can impact other life decisions. These factors may make you wonder, “Why get a DNP?” For those on the fence, Dr. Jones advises:

“It’s important for nurses considering the DNP to weigh their long-term goals against their current circumstances. However, the DNP opens a lot of doors to career opportunities you might not have otherwise, so it is worth pursuing if you want to move into a different role that you are unable to obtain with a BSN or MSN alone.”

That’s partly because of the rich experiences students gain from their preceptorships and program-long projects. 

“One of the things our students enjoy most about TROY’s DNP program is the synthesis project, in which they identify a problem within a specialized area of nursing and work on ways to improve it,” says Dr. Jones. “By completing the project along with their clinical hours and preceptorships, students have the opportunity to improve nursing practice and patient outcomes while gaining the deeper insights that only experience and mentorship can provide.” 

TROY DNP students complete a wide variety of synthesis projects that often have applications beyond the program length and can even affect healthcare policy. For example, Dr. Jones notes that one student’s project entailed providing neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) patients with breast milk instead of formula. The patients receiving breast milk had fewer complications. 

“Results from projects such as this add so much to the body of evidence that exists,” says Dr. Jones. 

“The hands-on element of the DNP gives students a wide breadth of knowledge and experience, helping them become more effective in their jobs and prepare for credentialing,” Dr. Jones adds.

DNP Careers Abound in Family Practice, Nurse Leadership and Nurse Education

Another benefit of Doctor of Nursing Practice programs is that they can lead to dynamic and rewarding career opportunities, Dr. Jones adds. 

“DNP graduates have a wide variety of job opportunities,” says Dr. Jones. “They can work in hospital systems, small hospitals or even private companies. And the job opportunities are exciting. DNP nurses can pursue positions working with virtually any population.” 

TROY DNP program alumni Dr. Robert Layne Eaton currently works as an adult/gerontologic acute care nurse practitioner and started his own medical supply company in Alabama. He aims to eventually seek a position at a university to help teach the next generation of nurses.

Dr. Eaton’s job as an adult/gerontologic acute care nurse practitioner involves meeting with elderly or disabled patients, assessing their health needs, educating patients about their prescriptions and finding additional resources needed for their care. As a small business owner, he also works to bring the highest quality medical supplies to those who need them most.

What he enjoys most about his roles, he says, is working within a field that helps others — and a family tradition. 

He shares, “Being able to help patients with their health needs is in my lineage. I am a third-generation nurse and feel honored and blessed to be able to provide my knowledge and expertise to help others. Nursing is an ever-changing profession. New recommendations, research, and medications are developed almost daily, and it is exciting to see our society evolve in such a way. Healthcare would not be where it is today or where it will be tomorrow without nursing.”

In addition to direct practice, a DNP can prepare nurses for administrative positions. Nurses who want to transition away from direct practice can move into a leadership or educator role overseeing a team of nurses or a healthcare system, Dr. Jones notes.

“Many of our alumni go on to work as nurse leaders or practitioners in the military. One of our alumni even works as a nurse at the U.S. border to provide preventative care across the lifespan to immigrants.”

In short, a DNP provides a wide range of opportunities to TROY graduates. Other DNP jobs include: 

  • Advanced practice nurse: Provide primary and specialized care to various populations, often serving as the primary care provider in underserved and rural areas
  • Nurse educator: Teach the next generation of nurses in higher education settings
  • Clinical nurse leader: Coordinate and improve the quality of clinical patient care
  • Director of nursing: Provide strategic direction for the nursing department and manage nursing staff
  • Informatics nurse: Use data and healthcare technologies to improve patient outcomes
  • Clinical research nurse: Contribute to evidence-based practice by testing new treatments and applying research in healthcare settings to improve outcomes

Earning a DNP can also lead to a promotion or salary increase. The DNP salary differs from state to state and between positions. According to Glassdoor, the average DNP salary ranges from $94,000 to $132,000.

The greatest benefit, however, is the ability to make a difference in the field, Dr. Jones believes. 

“The Doctor of Nursing Practice program enables students to make a positive impact on the field, giving them the tools they need to improve healthcare systems or their own clinical practice, solve problems and deliver all-around better care,” she says.

TROY’s DNP Program: Exceptional Preparation and Support in a Flexible Format

Still wondering, “Why get a DNP?” Dr. Jones assures that TROY’s program offers the support you need to excel in the program — and your career. Delivered fully online, TROY’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program provides flexibility while offering the same rigor and mentorship as face-to-face programs.

“TROY’s program is very successful in terms of faculty connections, career preparation and job placement,” says Dr. Jones. “In most programs, students only have one faculty mentor. In TROY’s, they often have multiple mentors. Our faculty are very intentional about fostering connections with our students, whether in live online sessions, office hours or preceptorships.” 

To forge connections with their cohort, TROY Doctor of Nursing Practice students also meet once in person at the beginning of the program and again at graduation.

“The DNP program is small and tight knit, allowing students to create lasting relationships with faculty and peers,” adds Dr. Jones. These connections, along with the flexibility in delivery and paths to degree, make TROY unique among online DNP programs, she maintains. 

“We’re very proud of the preparation our students receive but also of our unparalleled support of students. Whether you need to study full time, part time, or take a semester off, we’ll work with you to make sure you can achieve your goals and earn your degree.”

TROY alum Dr. Robert Eaton can speak to the role of faculty in preparing students for success in DNP careers: 

“[My success] started with the faculty’s attitude towards their students. My professors were supportive my entire time at TROY. Their level of patience with me during the learning process was only second to their ability to translate their knowledge in a manner that made sense to me. This showed me just how much they wanted me to succeed in this field. This sense of confidence from them gave me the confidence I have today. This has given way to knowing that whatever obstacle I may face in my career, I am smart enough and have the drive to overcome and succeed.”

He adds, “I have three other degrees from two other universities. Comparing those universities to TROY, I would have to say that it was the attention from faculty that sets TROY apart from the others. They want their students to succeed. They celebrate their students’ achievements. At TROY, you do not feel like just a number.”

Learn More About TROY’s Doctor of Nursing Practice ProgramReady to take the next step in your nursing career? Explore the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree page for more program details.