Difference Between DNP and PhD

DNP and PhD are the two advanced degrees that can be acquired by a practicing nurse in the field of healthcare.

DNP vs PhD

The main difference between DNP and PhD is, for obtaining a DNP degree, the applicant should complete a specific clinical project that can prove evidence-based practices done by the applicant. PhD programs are based on genuine research as well as research methodology followed by a final dissertation and its defense. 

DNP vs PhD

DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) is a terminal clinical practice degree whereas a PhD (Doctor of Nursing) is a research-focused degree and also a terminal degree in the field of nursing.

Anyone with proper qualifications working in the nursing field can apply for DNP or PhD in nursing. DNP programs can be pursued as part of specializing in nursing practice but applying for a PhD program, a post-graduate certificate is an essential qualification.


Comparison Table Between DNP and PhD (in Tabular Form)

Parameter of ComparisonDNPPhD
CurriculumApplying the experience obtained through research into nursing practice along with acquiring expertise in the field.Various theories related to nursing research, development of research faculty.
Final projectThe final project of DNP includes clinical paper and its presentation, other practical based works.The final product of PhD is mostly a dissertation that can make a notable contribution to the nursing field along with the defense of the dissertation.
Research practicesResearch practices of DNP include theory as well as statistics.Research practices of PhD includes in-depth and proper faculty-guided research products.
Clinical practiceDNP id generally requires clinical practice up to 1000 hours.PhD program of Nursing Practice requires only a minimum duration of clinical hours.
ScopeManagement positions in healthcare, Leadership in nursing field, government positions, academical positions, administration, etc.PhD degree in nursing is useful for the positions of nursing researcher, health policy posts, and nursing faculty posts.


What is DNP?

DNP is a terminal degree in the field of nursing practice to make the degree holders combine their leadership, organizational, clinical as well as economic skills to create better patient care programs and working with more power and efficiency to fulfil a leading position in the field of healthcare.

A DNP qualified nurse can perform nursing interferences that can influential in the healthcare sector for persons as well as the community. These outcomes may include:

  1. Providing better care for patients
  2. Ensure better management in the areas of patient care and patient populations
  3. Lend a hand in the administrative field of healthcare and nursing organizations
  4. To be active in the development and implementation of health policies.

DNP is for practicing nurses who are in search of some high-level degree in the field of nursing practice and prefer to acquire the highest positions in the same field such as administration, management, or leadership.

The incorporation of DNP degrees in the healthcare sector was based on the following factors.

  1. The fast expansion of knowledge in the nursing field.
  2. The amplified complication of the care of patients.
  3. National level concerns regarding the quality of nursing practice and concerns about patient safety.
  4. The shortage occurred in the number of practicing nurses and the demand for high-level educated leaderships with expertise and power.
  5. Shortage of nursing faculty with doctoral degrees.
  6. Potential to prepare a highly equipped and efficient healthcare team.

The DNP programs generally emphasize areas that can provide support in the areas of leadership in nursing, systems management, decision making based on supporting data, and the improvement of quality.

DNP is distinguishable from other terminal degrees for nursing professionals such as PhD, DNSc, ND, etc. as it provides more emphasis on practice-based training on the clinical applications. The duration of this course is between three to six years, but different countries and different universities follow different schedule and duration.


What is PhD?

PhD in nursing is a research-oriented terminal degree in health care field, similar to those from the other fields in course content and methodologies.

A PhD holder in nursing usually engaged in teaching, research programs, program evaluations, writing and publishing books related to the filed, leading different organizations in the healthcare sector as well as working for governments to assist in policymaking and ensuring quality and updating in the field.

A PhD degree holder is not typically work in the hands-on care of patients but more in helping to increase the quality and professionalism in the field.

A nursing PhD holder can work in the following fields.

  1. Member of Nursing Faculty
  2. Nursing Research Director
  3. Clinical Service Director
  4. Administrative positions in pharmaceutical companies
  5. Administrative positions in research institutes
  6. Administrative positions in advocacy organizations
  7. High-level positions in healthcare IT corporations and many more.

PhD degree in nursing is also a high level, research-oriented degree with the same potential of other PhD degrees that provides numerous high-level positions to its holder.

Main Differences Between DNP and PhD

  1. The main difference between DNP and PhD is the application and relevance of each of these terminal degrees in the healthcare sector.
  2. DNP is beneficial to improve the clinical practices in nursing and the high-level management and policy creation in the field. PhD is focused on nursing research and developing research related faculty.  
  3. DNP is more clinical oriented where PhD is more focused on following research methodologies and theories.
  4. The end product of DNP consists of a clinical paper and its presentation whereas PhD requires a dissertation and its defense.
  5. Clinical practice is more in DNP course, whereas PhD requires only a minimum amount of clinical practice.



Healthcare is a field that is always open to advancements and quality. Nursing practice is no exception. There are many advanced studies available in the field of nursing. DNP and PhD are two of such terminal degrees.

When DNP focuses on clinical practices and its effective management and quality improvement, PhD is more into research and theory-based progress and advancements. Both of these courses are highly relevant in the nursing field to improve their potential and quality. Anyone with proper qualifications can join the degree and according to their preferences and plan, can choose the course.


  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S8755722315000320
  2. https://journals.lww.com/jaanp/Fulltext/2019/02000/A_model_of_successful_DNP_and_PhD_collaboration.8.aspx
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