6 Careers You Can Do With a Doctorate in Nursing (DNP)

A DNP consulting with her patient
A DNP consulting with her patient

Earning a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) is a considerable achievement and is growing in popularity. A DNP and a Ph.D. in nursing are the highest level of nursing practice and signify an exceptional commitment to the profession. What can you do with a DNP? The benefits of earning a DNP include a higher salary and the ability to open doorways to leadership and professor roles. A doctoral degree brings prestige, personal accomplishment and recognition. The purpose of this blog is to explain the benefits of having a DNP degree and the various careers you can pursue with one.


What is a Doctor of Nursing Practice?

The curriculum of a DNP program emphasizes leadership, evidence-based practice and quality improvement. DNPs are experts in translating research into clinical practice through change management. DNP jobs include expert clinicians, educators, consultants, policymakers, researchers, entrepreneurs, consultants, speakers and administrators. The DNP opens doors to opportunities not easily achieved with solely an MSN because of the recognition of the terminal degree. 

The DNP and Ph.D. programs have differences. A DNP translates the research, while a Ph.D. creates new knowledge. The DNP must critically review the literature and determine how to implement the new knowledge through protocols and education. Change management is an essential component of DNP practice.

DNP-prepared nurses must navigate a complex health care system to optimize outcomes and reduce harm and costs. Many advanced practice nurses (APRNs) choose the DNP over the Ph.D. because of the close alignment between patient care and translating the research into meaningful outcomes. Nurse practitioners will benefit from having their DNP by improving their leadership, scholarship, evidence-based practice and income.

Ph.D. and DNP education differ in practice hours and final projects. DNP students are required to have an immersive practicum experience in a clinical setting. The final capstone doctoral project is an exploration of a practice-focused problem. Ph.D. nursing students, however, do not have the clinical practice requirement as they are committing to a future in research. A dissertation at the end of the Ph.D. program is rigorous. Both Ph.D. and DNP students must defend their doctoral work in front of faculty to complete their doctoral program.


What Are The Benefits of Having a DNP Over an MSN?

The benefits of having a DNP over an MSN are job opportunities, professional/personal satisfaction and an opportunity for higher salary. DNP nurses are primarily in demand due to the growing need for advanced practice nurses. The roles and opportunities for advanced practice nurses have exploded due to the aging population, physician shortages and a new push for preventative medicine. The certified nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) and nurse practitioners (NP) organizations have committed to making a point of entry for DNP nurses. 

Many other professions, like physicians, physical therapists and pharmacists, use the doctorate as an entry to practice. For nurses, the DNP provides the foundation for collaboration by making the educational preparation equal to our colleagues. Nursing is the largest profession in health care, and equal footing will level the playing field. A DNP degree gives nurses a voice in the boardroom as a health care leader with knowledge and clinical expertise to make the health care system work for everyone.


Career Paths for DNP-Trained Nurses

Advanced practice nurses fall into four categories: 

  • Nurse practitioners (NPs)
  • Certified nurse anesthetists (CRNAs)
  • Certified nurse midwives (CNMs)
  • Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs)

The competencies for advanced practice nurses include advanced training in patient assessment, pharmacology and pathophysiology. The roles become more specialized throughout the program, providing multiple career paths tailored to individuals’ preferences. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 40 percent growth in job outlook from 2021 to 2031 for APRNs.

Here are six careers you can pursue with a Doctor of Nursing Practice.


1. Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners prescribe medications and diagnose patient conditions. Nurse practitioners have proven that they can improve patient outcomes such as surgical mortality and, at the same time, reduce health care costs and improve patient satisfaction. Nurse practitioners can specialize in seeing different patient populations, such as neonatal, acute care in hospitals or mental health. They can also serve a broader population, be a family practice NP or work in a hospital. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that the job growth for nurse practitioners will be an impressive 28 percent by 2028. The average salary for NPs, meanwhile, is $120,680 per year.


2. Certified Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA)

CRNAs administer anesthesia in a surgical setting. They secure the patient’s airway, ensure the patient is adequately sedated and monitor the patient throughout the surgery for complications. CRNAs are the highest-paid APRNs, with salaries of up to $180,000 per year. The Council on Accreditation of the Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs has advocated for years that a DNP should be required to become a CRNA. As of January 1, 2022, all students matriculating into a CRNA program must have earned a doctoral degree. 


3. Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

CNMs deliver babies and provide prenatal care in outpatient offices, hospitals and rural areas. Many areas of the country do not have enough OB/GYN physicians and need CNMs to provide additional resources to those in need of care. CNMs also provide birth control and other aspects of reproductive health, such as gynecologic health and family planning services. CNMs make an average of $112,830 annually.


4. Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

The final APRN is the clinical nurse specialist (CNS). CNSs have similar training to nurse practitioners — instead of seeing one patient at a time, they create interventions to help entire populations through protocols and order sets. CNSs are experts in change management and can navigate a complicated system while staying clinically proficient. They work with all populations of patients in different settings such as mental health, cardiovascular, critical care, emergency department, obstetrical and pediatrics. CNSs have prescriptive authority in most states. 


5. Leadership Roles

In addition to advanced clinical practice, DNP nurses have leadership roles. They lead organizations through administration and professional practice. They are directors of nursing, chiefs of innovation and chief nurse executives. DNP-trained nurses have global views of health care and are experts in outcome management. Seekers of leadership roles who hold a DNP are at an advantage because of their knowledge of use of evidence-based practices to change systems and policies in their organization.


6. Academia

DNPs do not have to work in the clinical environment. In the academic setting, DNP jobs are for professors and researchers. DNP-prepared nurses can improve health care outcomes through groundbreaking research. Having a terminal degree opens doors to becoming a professor. Although the pay can be lower than the clinical setting, with an average of $77,440 to $87,000 per year, academia has added employment flexibility. It is an excellent option for those nurses with family obligations or wanting to practice part-time clinically. Teaching is rewarding — educators enjoy breaks and have opportunities to do scholarly work such as publishing. Most professor positions require a doctoral degree and are in demand.


Are You Ready to Become a DNP?

DNP programs emphasize the evaluation of research and scholarly writing. The intensive writing and dissemination of research help prepare nurses for consulting, publishing, policy development and public speaking. DNP-prepared nurses have unique clinical experiences and a global thinking model ideal for improving health care inequities through policy development. DNP nurses can influence policymakers through their political power and knowledge of the complex health care system. 

There are several different DNP programs. The first is a post-master DNP for nurses who have already earned their master's degree. A thousand precepted hours are required to achieve a DNP, and many APRN masters already have at least 500 hours. The other option is to do a BSN to DNP program. This program allows a seamless transition to the terminal degree while saving time and money. 

In conclusion, getting a DNP is worth the investment. DNPs can earn more money, have more opportunities and choose a more flexible schedule. Earning your DNP will open doors for innovation, entrepreneurship and scholarship. Pursue one of Marymount University’s DNP pathways to become a leader in the nursing field. Marymount University has an accredited online BSN-DNP and a post-master MSN to DNP program. The BSN-DNP can be specialized as a family nurse practitioner (BSN to DNP FNP) or as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (BSN to DNP-PMHNP). Marymount’s BSN-DNP can be completed in only 3.3 years. If you’re interested in earning a DNP at Marymount, contact one of our student advisors to discuss which pathway is right for you.