Nurses play a vital role in our health care system. The front line for a health care organization, nursing is a challenging hands-on practice that can make all the difference in patients. Within leadership roles, skilled nurses can help facilities navigate difficult operational challenges, manage patient safety, and tackle administrative issues such as budgeting and nursing shortages.
With years of experience and a well-rounded practical education such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.), nurses are able to take on senior and supervisory roles, channeling their knowledge toward improving patient care and outcomes. There are many reasons why nurses might get a D.N.P., including working in collaboration with other medical professionals and implementing health care innovations. An advanced education can help nurse leaders put patients’ needs first and improve care outcomes.
The Purpose of the D.N.P. Degree
A Doctor of Nursing Practice is a terminal, practice-focused doctoral degree with a foundation in practical knowledge and skills. While there are other research-based alternatives, such as a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D.), many nurses get a D.N.P. to hone the real-world skills they need to take on patient-facing leadership roles.
D.N.P. graduates can work in leadership positions that involve both care administration and care delivery. While research-based programs may push the science and innovation of nursing protocols and strategies, practice-focused programs help leaders implement those findings in health care settings. This means that they can guide organizations through evolving health care regulations and the integration of health care technology while prioritizing positive patient outcomes.
D.N.P.-qualified nurses have the practical skills and knowledge to address increased patient care complexities and the evolution of standards of care. Some of these concepts include:
Evidence-based practice is the process of making decisions based on empirical scientific evidence. Engaging in evidence-based practice means that nurses can make choices backed by prior experience, evidence and scientific findings, giving validity to their decisions and strategizing based on best practice.
Enacting systems-level change involves collaboration within systems that may be complex. When nurses get a D.N.P., they learn not only how to become a leader among nurses but also how to facilitate trust, communication and coalition-building between health care departments required to make positive change in an organization.
According to the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), quality improvement is “the framework used to systematically improve care” and “seeks to standardize processes and structure to reduce variation, achieve predictable results, and improve outcomes for patients, health care systems, and organizations.” Within a D.N.P. program, much of the practical focus is on that framework, working toward implementing procedures and strategies that provide positive patient care and improve the standards of care.
The Benefits of Earning a D.N.P. Degree
Why nurses get a D.N.P. involves a variety of factors. Choosing to pursue a terminal degree after already beginning a career in nursing may seem daunting. However, earning a D.N.P. can prepare nurses to pursue a range of advancement opportunities, such as leadership, executive and advanced practice nursing roles, which can lead to increased workplace autonomy and successful team leadership.
Through a D.N.P, nurses are able to expand their arsenal of skills. However, they may build specific knowledge in areas such as:
- Health care finance
- Health policy
- Health informatics
- Evidence-based practice
This expertise can give nurse leaders a deep understanding of health care systems, processes and trends. It gives them the opportunity to improve the policies and strategies that affect patients and the health care facilities that treat them.
D.N.P. Salary Potential
Another reason why getting a D.N.P. can be beneficial for nurses is the ability to apply for senior-level positions and the increased salary that is associated with them. Note that salaries vary based on location, years of experience, the specific role and other factors.
According to PayScale, the average annual salary for nurses with a D.N.P. was around $107,000 as of February 2022. By comparison, those with a Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N) earned an approximate average of $97,000 per year, showing the value of pursuing a practice-based terminal degree.
The Push to Making D.N.P. Standard
The U.S. health care system is facing a multitude of challenges, one of the most pressing being the country’s physician shortage. The U.S. could experience a projected shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, according to a report by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). With this shortage comes not only increased stress on nurses but also a push for increased workplace autonomy and privileges for nurses with advanced degrees.
In order for nurses to take on additional responsibilities such as diagnosing illnesses, ordering tests and prescribing medication, they must be sufficiently educated with the advanced skills and knowledge to safely do so. With this in mind, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) are involved in ongoing efforts to make the D.N.P. degree the baseline educational requirement for advanced practice nurses.
Therefore, earning a D.N.P. can allow job candidates to stand out among the competition. Whether they desire a role for personal reasons, such as schedule preferences or job location, or professional goals, such as advancing within their current organization, holding a D.N.P. means that a graduate already possesses high-level nursing and practical skills that will likely be required in the years to come.
Become a Leader in a Critical Field
Nursing leaders do more than care for patients. With their extensive knowledge and experience, nurses in leadership roles can put strategies into place that have the best interest of both patients and medical professionals at heart. For nurses wondering why getting a D.N.P. is worthwhile, the answer is in the opportunities available to them by earning an advanced education — and the ability to make a positive impact in the lives of others while reaching their professional goals.
Nurses interested in pursuing leadership roles in their field should consider the University of North Dakota’s online Post-Master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice. With a fully online program, experienced faculty and two tracks to choose from — Leadership and Advanced Practice Nursing — the University of North Dakota can prepare graduates for real-world challenges. Discover what you can do with a D.N.P. and take the first step toward reaching your goals as a leader in nursing.
D.N.P. Leadership: Skills and Roles
What Is the Difference Between a DNP and a PhD in Nursing?
American Association of Colleges of Nursing, AACN Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing
American Association of Colleges of Nursing, DNP Fact Sheet
American Association of Medical Colleges, “AAMC Report Reinforces Mounting Physician Shortage”
BMC Public Health, “Systems Leadership in Practice: Thematic Insights from Three Public Health Case Studies”
Houston Chronicle, “Positive Effects of Leadership on Nursing Practice”
Medicine Journal, “Evidence-Based Practice”
The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties, NONPF DNP Statement May 2018
Nurse Educator, “Strategies to Move Entry-Level Nurse Practitioner Education to the Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree by 2025”
PayScale, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree
PayScale, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree
Relias, “Nursing Leadership: What Is It and Why Is It Important?”
U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Quality Measurement and Quality Improvement