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DNP vs. Ph.D in Nursing: The Difference and The Future of Nursing

Occasionally there is still confusion about the difference in doctoral-level nursing degrees. The two most common terminal degrees in nursing today are the DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) and the Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy). These doctoral programs fall into two distinct categories: research-focused and practice-focused.

The Ph.D. is research- and science-oriented, and it prepares graduates to develop new, evidence-based knowledge for the nursing profession. (There is also a DNS, which stands for doctor of nursing science, and it is roughly equivalent to a Ph.D. in terms of its scope and focus.) Ph.D. graduates can lead research teams and design and implement studies that address disease trajectories and care systems. They are well versed in statistics, data analysis, and scientific theory; and they will find jobs either in research or in education. American Sentinel University does not offer a Ph.D. in nursing at this time.

The DNP is focused on advancing an understanding of nursing practice. The curriculum emphasizes both clinical and leadership skills. Graduates will be poised to translate nursing research into evidence-based standards of care – allowing them to lead interdisciplinary care teams, improve care systems, and evaluate outcomes among specific patient populations. Additionally, the American Association of College of Nursing (AACN) recommends that the DNP should become the terminal degree for nurse practitioners by 2015. Previously a master’s in nursing science (MSN) was the minimum educational requirement for advanced practice nurses.

American Sentinel University currently offers two distinct DNP program tracks, one in executive leadership and the other in educational leadership.

An emphasis on IT
Most DNP programs, including those at American Sentinel, include additional coursework in information technology. Our healthcare system is rapidly developing technologies that have the potential to improve patient care and outcomes, including electronic medical records, telehealth technologies, decision support tools, and data mining systems. DNP graduates can act as leaders and role models, helping to change outdated policies and eliminate the barriers that stand in the way of technology. They can collect and analyze data on staffing practices, patient satisfaction, and disease management programs, in order to plan improvement initiatives. As the use of technology increases, DNP graduates will contribute the leadership needed to drive widespread organizational change – and to incorporate technology into nursing education.

An emphasis on clinical practice and applied learning
Because of their focus on nursing practice, most DNP programs are designed around a final scholarly project that is quite different from a lengthy, research-driven Ph.D. dissertation. At American Sentinel, our DNP participants are asked to complete a Capstone Project, an exercise in applied learning that allows them to design and implement a project that closely integrates their current work experience with their coursework, under the guidance of an academic advisor.

An emphasis on organizational and educational leadership
American Sentinel has designed its two DNP specialty tracks to meet the needs of an evolving healthcare system. Specifically, we hope to help fill a gap in nursing leadership. That’s why we developed a DNP program track that’s focused on executive leadership, designed to build critical thinking skills and make nurses highly marketable; and a DNP program that’s focused on educational leadership, designed to develop the six key competencies most needed by today’s nursing school deans.

At American Sentinel University, our DNP program tracks feature the flexibility of online learning, experienced faculty with significant nursing leadership and educational experience, and a nationwide representation of students.

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