Do Nurse Practitioners Need to Get a Doctorate?

Do Nurse Practitioners Need to Get a Doctorate?

If you’re exploring your Nurse Practitioner education options, you probably know a little already about the education requirements for Nurse Practitioners.

How to become a Nurse Practitioner (NP):

• Earn an advanced degree: either a Master of Science in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice
• Earn national certification in a patient population focus area
• Earn state Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) licensure

Your role as an NP might vary depending on where you live, as some states allow Nurse Practitioners to work independently while others require direct supervision or a collaborative agreement with a physician.

As for what degree you need, the short answer is that an MSN is the most common path way to becoming an NP. But to give a bit of background, here’s where things stand with some of the nursing professional associations.

American Association of Colleges of Nursing Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing

In 2004, the member schools affiliated with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) voted to endorse the Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing. This decision called for moving the current level of preparation necessary for advanced nursing practice from the master’s degree to the doctorate-level by the year 2015. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) include Nurse Practitioners as well as Certified Nurse Midwives, Nurse Anesthetists and Clinical Nurse Specialists.

Has the AACN’s recommendation been fulfilled? No. According to this 2015 editorial in the Journal for Nurse Practitioners, there has been rapid growth in the number of Doctor of Nurse Practice programs available (growing from 20 in 2006 to 251 in 2013…and probably more today, six years later). But the MSN remains the go-to degree to become an NP…and the AACN’s recommendation has not been fulfilled.

Requirements Not Changing Anytime Soon

The same editorial shares that the MSN is still the most popular option of preparation to practice as an APRN. “There is so far no indication that certifying boards are considering changing the educational requirements for taking the certification exam,” it states, and goes on to say, “ …we do not yet have evidence that acquiring a DNP degree either after certification (MSN-DNP) or as initial education for certification as an ARNP has any impact on patient, population or system health outcomes.”

The only ARNP mandate in place is that of the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs, which requires that all students accepted into accredited Nurse Anesthesia Doctor of Nursing Practice programs in 2022 or thereafter must earn doctoral, not master’s, degrees.

Bottom line: experts agree for now that the MSN prepares Nurse Practitioners and other APRNs effectively. To date, there has been no further movement toward a required DNP for NPs.

American Sentinel Offers Online MSN NP Programs

Without question, demand for NPs is on the rise. Learn more about American Sentinel’s two MSN Nurse Practitioner specializations: Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner and Family Practice Nurse Practitioner. These programs will prepare you to pursue licensure and certification in your state and begin your fulfilling career as a Nurse Practitioner.

While the MSN is one option, going on to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice is also an excellent choice and what is best for you really depends on your long-term goals. American Sentinel offers a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, which appeals to nurses who are interested in following an executive, informatics, education or professional leadership path. You could become an NP, then gain the leadership and management skills in our DNP program to go on to open your own practice, become a nurse executive or even teach.

If you are interested in one of our nurse practitioner degrees, the DNP, or possibly both, visit us online, where you can review the details and reserve your seat for our next Nurse Practitioner or DNP Open House. Explore your options and think about your short- and long-term goals, then make the decision that is best for you!


“AACN Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing.” American Association of Colleges of Nursing: The Voice of Academic Nursing, 2004,

Waldrop, Julee. “Update on The Doctor of Nursing Practice 2015.” The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, vol. 11, no. 3, 2015, doi:10.1016/j.nurpra.2014.12.015.

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