Which Program is Right For Me?
DNP and PhD Programs: A Side-By-Side Comparison

For questions about the Bachelor of Science in Nursing undergraduate degree, visit BSN Programs.

The following table outlines some of the biggest differences between DNP and PhD in nursing programs. Statistics included represent an average for graduate nursing programs across the U.S. Requirements for any individual program may vary. If you are considering pursuing a DNP or PhD, be sure to investigate requirements specific to each program of interest.

Core CurriculumTranslating research evidence into nursing practice
Health care policy (including budgets, financial management, leadership theory)
Cultivating practice expertise
Research methodologies
Theories of nursing research
Faculty development
Applicant PrerequisitesBachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN)Some programs require a Master’s degree in nursing while others accept BSN candidates.
Credit HoursUsually between 70-95 for those entering with a Bachelor’s degree. Fewer credits are required for those students who have already obtained a Master’s degree.Around 60 credit hours for those with a Master’s degree, inclusive of dissertation hours.
Clinical WorkYes, sometimes up to 1,000 hoursGenerally minimal
ResearchStatistics and theoryIn-depth, faculty-guided research projects
Online Programs AvailableYes, some programs are available primarily or totally onlineYes, some programs are available primarily or totally online
Final ProjectOften consists of a clinical paper, presentation, or other practice-based projectDissertation that contributes substantively to the field of nursing, plus dissertation defense
Typical Post-Graduate EmploymentLeadership in nursing practice
Management positions
Health care policy, administration, or government positions
Academia in practice-based nursing programs
Nursing researcher
Health policy positions
Nursing faculty positions
Occupational DemandAccording to the AACN, demand for nurses educated at the highest levels of practice is growing. The AACN has advocated for more DNP programs and the movement of a DNP requirement (as opposed to the current Master’s degree requirement) for all nurse practitioners in the coming years.The demand for nurses with PhD-level education is high, particularly in academia where waves of retirement are expected to have a major impact on the number of nursing faculty in the next decade (AACN, 2020).
Salary ExpectationAs the highest degrees in nursing practice, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD) degrees can catapult advanced practice nurses to the top of the pay range. Some prospective students, however, may wonder how the salaries of these different degree types stack up. The short answer is that the differences in salary between nurses who hold a DNP and those with a PhD are minimal, with an average difference of approximately $4,000 per year. However, things such as location, organization, and job title will ultimately determine a salary for a nurse with either degree type. (Source: RegisteredNursing.org)A PhD prepared nurse spends time researching, conducting analysis and performing scientific studies. They also commonly enter academia as professors and educators. According to Payscale, a PhD educated nurse’s average salary is $98,000 per year. This makes the salary very competitive in comparison to that of a DNP. Similar to a DNP-prepared nurse, there is variability in salary depending on setting and institution. A nurse researcher can expect to earn a yearly salary of approximately $95,000 per year. Some job titles a PhD may search for include: nurse researcher, nurse scientist, policy maker, academic professor, author.