The Catholic University of America

  Frequently Asked Questions - Doctor of Nursing Practice

What is a D.N.P.?

The Doctor of Nursing Practice is a practice-focused doctorate, rather than a traditional research-focused doctorate. 

Why a D.N.P.?

The AACN (American Association of Colleges of Nursing) has cited many reasons among them are:

  • The expansion of scientific knowledge required for safe nursing practice in an increasingly complex health care system.
  • Provision of an advanced educational credential for those who require advanced practice knowledge but who do not need or want a research focus.
  • To be on par with other health care professions that the clinical doctorate be the minimum degree required, as it is in medicine, physical therapy, pharmacy. Outside the health care arena, support for a practice doctoral degree exists among law schools who grant a Juris Doctor (JD) degree.

What are the benefits of a D.N.P. degree?

The D.N.P. position statement (AACN, 2004, p. 4) identifies the benefits of practice focused doctoral programs as:

  • Development of needed advanced competencies for increasingly complex practice, faculty and leadership roles;
  • Enhanced knowledge to improve nursing practice and patient outcomes;
  • Enhanced leadership skills to strengthen practice and health care delivery;
  • Better match of program requirements and credits and time with the credential/degree earned;
  • Potential increased supply of faculty for practice instruction.

What is the difference between a Ph.D. program and a D.N.P. program?

The Ph.D. is the preferred research intensive doctoral degree in nursing. Research-focused programs are designed to prepare nurse scientists and scholars, and focus heavily on scientific content and research methodology. Research-based programs typically require an original research project and the completion and defense of a dissertation.

In contrast, a practice-focused doctoral program is designed to prepare experts in specialized advanced nursing practice. The focus is heavily on clinical practice, one that is "innovative and evidenced-based, reflecting the application of credible research findings" (AACN, 2006, p. 3). Practice-focused doctoral programs require a practice application-oriented "final D.N.P. project" instead of a knowledge-generating research effort (AACN, 2006, p. 3). The two types of doctoral programs differ in their goals and the competencies of their graduates, and hence, their coursework. However, they represent complementary approaches to the highest level of preparation in nursing. Both are considered terminal degrees in nursing, one in clinical practice, one in research, according to the AACN.

If I am an NP now, will I have to return to school to get a D.N.P. degree in order to practice?

Probably not. Advanced practice nurses with Master's degrees will be able to continue to practice in their current capacities.

If I do want to go back to get the D.N.P. degree and I currently have a Master's degree, how long will it take, and can I go part time?

Most of the post-Master's D.N.P. programs are about 35-40 credits. Some programs offer both full and part time plans of study.

Will the D.N.P. change the scope of practice for NPs?

No, the scope of practice for NPs will be the same. Scope of practice for NPs is determined by State Nurse Practice Acts, which differ from state to state.

Will doctorally prepared NPs confuse the public?

No. The title of Doctor is common to many disciplines and is not the domain of any one group of health professionals. Many NPs currently hold doctoral degrees and are frequently addressed as "doctors". Other health care providers are addressed as "doctor", including clinical psychologists, dentists, and podiatrists. APNs should retain their specialist titles after completing a doctoral program. For example, Nurse Practitioners will continue to be called Nurse Practitioners.

Will D.N.P. graduates be able to assume the nurse educator role in schools of nursing?

Yes, but the D.N.P. degree does not prepare educators per se any more than a Ph.D. program does. Graduates from all doctoral programs (D.N.P. and Ph.D.) who want to teach in schools of nursing should have additional preparation that adds coursework in education to their base of clinical practice. It is important to remember that expectations of faculty in terms of scholarship, i.e.- research and publications, and how scholarship is defined, varies widely across institutions.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2004). AACN position statement on the practice doctorate in nursing. Washington, DC: Author. Available on-line at:

American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2006a). AACN essentials of doctoral education for advanced nursing practice. Washington, DC: Author. Available on-line at:

American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2006b). AACN draft DNP roadmap task force. Washington, DC: Author. Available on-line at:

American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2006c). The Doctor of Nursing Practice teleconference 9/26/06. Washington, DC: Author. Available on-line at: