Nurses do not need an advanced degree to begin their careers. They can start work by getting an associate or bachelor's degree and becoming licensed. However, advanced degrees like a master's or doctoral degree provide the additional training they need to pursue other job opportunities. A doctoral degree is the most advanced degree possible, and completing it offers a number of advantages over a master's degree, such as providing more financial support and opening doors for more career opportunities.
More Advanced Training and Specialization
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) argues that the changing demands of the healthcare industry require the highest level of scientific knowledge by practitioners to ensure quality of care. A doctor of nursing program -- which can take four to six years to complete -- can provide the advanced training that nurses need, including education in evidence-based practice and systems leadership. A doctor of nursing program can also provide specialization for nurses, and it includes a minimum of 1,000 hours of clinical practice.
More Efficient Use of Time
The National Association of Neonatal Nursing (NANN) notes that most master's degree programs in nursing require far more credit hours than master's degree programs in other fields. NANN argues that if students are already putting in so much work, it makes sense for them to receive a more advanced degree. Some programs, like the one at Duke University, allow students to enter directly into the doctoral program so they can make more efficient use of their time, and some allow students to complete a master's degree on their way to a doctoral degree, cutting down the time for both.
Options to Teach or Conduct Research
In addition to providing more career opportunities, a doctoral degree in nursing prepares candidates to teach at the university level or to conduct research. Some doctoral programs have a clinical focus, while others have a research or theoretical focus. Nurses who are interested in teaching or conducting research should choose programs that have a more theoretical focus. Programs with a clinical focus prepare students for practice, though these programs can also be used to get work as a teacher.
Parity with Other Professions
NANN also notes that other medical professions now require a doctoral degree, including dentists, pharmacists, physical therapists and psychologists. More states are starting to require a master's degree in nursing for entry-level practice, and the NANN argues that a doctoral degree will soon be required. By completing a doctorate degree, nurses can attain parity with other medical professionals and prepare themselves for what many experts in the field argue will soon be the new professional standard.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Registered Nurses
- School of Nursing University of Washington: Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
- Duke University School of Nursing: Frequently Asked Questions about the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Program
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing: DNP Fact Sheet
- National Association of Neonatal Nursing: Understanding the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): Evolution, Perceived Benefits and Challenges
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