I want to preface this list by saying that the Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree is not for everyone. There is zero clinical content in the DNP degree. It entails growing in knowledge of leadership, clinical scholarship, nursing theory, cultural competence, population health, strategic health care management, and evaluation of outcomes. The final DNP project is NOT a literature review, but a practice improvement project in which you show your ability to analyze the literature on a certain topic, implement the findings to improve your practice, and analyze the patient outcomes to determine if the changes are positive or need to be modified. If none of this resonates with you, then I do not recommend pursuing the DNP.
For those of you that have made the decision to move forward with the terminal degree for nursing, many people may challenge your reasoning for going back or staying in school to obtain the DNP when they find out that there is no promise of increased salary or prestige for you.
When I had finished my Masters portion of my nurse practitioner program and began working on my DNP, I would get bombarded with questions aimed at my intentions for pursuing the degree.
“Are you going to make more money?”
“Will you get a promotion?”
“Are you planning on teaching?”
Or my favorite, “Oh, so you will be a doctor just like your dad?” 😂
The DNP degree is not unlike other professional degrees in that it is not the piece of paper or the title that holds the power to change you. Before the DNP program was ever in a person’s future, the drive that pushes them to apply for it is what begins the process of forging them into a DNP nurse practitioner. It takes self-awareness of one’s purpose and courage to make the decision to pursue a degree that has no promise of raises, promotions or rank. It takes a certain type of person to want to pursue knowledge and growth in leadership, management, healthcare economics, exploring different systems and models of care, and epidemiology, with no obvious dollar signs at the end of the road. Nurses and nurse practitioners who pursue their DNP do not do so for the money, special treatment, or even the employment opportunities that lie present but hidden like a hologram within the title. They do so because they want to grow as healthcare providers and as individuals, and they want to do more and be more for their patients, their colleagues, and the healthcare landscape.
If you are on the fence about going back to school to get your terminal nursing degree, here are some reasons to get you submitting your applications to the top schools in your area:
- Your résumé looks better when compared to other nurse practitioners and physician assistants applying for the same position. After you graduate, you will have more credentials, more published and unpublished research, and more presentations and leadership roles under your belt. All of these factors make you significantly more marketable when job-hunting. Every single nurse practitioner has a Masters degree. They don’t all have a DNP. And certain jobs either require a DNP or are highly favored for the position. So, with that being said, if anyone ever turns you down and tells you that you are overqualified for a job, take it as a compliment and reach higher.
- You learn more. You become more knowledgeable about advocacy, leadership, management, healthcare finances, and practice improvement. Maybe finances have never interested you, but learning how health insurances bill, how hospital units order and budget supplies, and how ICD and CPT coding affects practice will help you in your higher roles in healthcare. You will certainly become a more knowledgeable version of yourself and a better healthcare provider and advocate for your patients.
- You meet and build relationships with many inspirational people. You will be surrounded by other nurse practitioners who are starting businesses, negotiating contracts, becoming motivational speakers, getting C-level roles, becoming leaders in their organizations, etc. Think about it, the DNP is not a requirement. Therefore, anyone in your program has made the decision, has set aside the finances, has organized their life in a way to help them become better healthcare providers, leaders, and patient advocates. When you immerse yourself with extremely ambitious people, you will have no choice but to become one yourself.
- You will make more money. Although getting the credential does not mean you will be handed briefcases full of cash, it DOES mean you will become more marketable, have more items on your CV, and have much more advantage for negotiation and opportunities for high-paying employment prospects. And let’s not forget the ways in which sleepless nights and early mornings can shape us into people who are not afraid to ask for what we deserve and push ourselves to achieve more.
- You will have the opportunity to work in higher-level education and research. With your DNP, you will not just be a clinical instructor or adjunct faculty; you will be a director or dean of a college. The sky is the limit. In research, you will have the credentials to easily get approved for studies and help your research site stand out. The DNP is a title that shows that you do not work hard for merit or accolades, but for producing accurate, high-quality work and being a person who strives for excellence. This does not go unnoticed by research sponsors.
Personally, I have experienced a benefit in all five ways. As a doctorate-prepared nurse practitioner, it was not the degree that enabled me to negotiate my contract with my employer. It was the confidence I had built after investigating, planning, implementing and analyzing the results of a practice improvement project with two other doctorate-prepared professionals and my MD boss as the judges. My project helped decrease the rate of appointment non-compliance of skin cancer patients in addition to increasing their rates of risk perception and self-efficacy with regards to the need and use of sun protection. Most importantly, I had the data to prove it.
During my program clinical, I worked with doctorate-level nurse practitioners who were leaders in the transplant department of their hospital. Through them, I accepted an opportunity to create a presentation and speak at the National Kidney Foundation of Florida conference on relevant skin diseases and conditions affecting kidney patients. In a class on business development, I had an assignment to create a business plan for a novel healthcare company. I ended up creating and successfully launching that company one year after I graduated.
I maintain contact with nurse practitioners who continue to pursue more education and inspire me to push myself further. They have leadership positions in organizations that I have joined, and now I too am on the Board of Directors of two professional organizations. I even received an offer for an adjunct faculty position by another former DNP classmate who has years of teaching experience but went on to start his own direct primary care practice.
In the world of research, every little credential and every hour of experience in relevant practice counts. Therefore, having additional clinical experience from the DNP program can boost your knowledge and experience in preparation for being a rater in certain studies. In addition, having the research experience from your project will indicate to pharmaceutical sponsors that you are committed to quality data collection.
If someone has no interest in professional growth, than I do not recommend the DNP. But if you are a nurse practitioner interested in reaching the highest level and potential of your education and experience, I do highly recommend embarking on the journey. It will change you, and it will change the course of your life in ways you cannot even imagine.
If you are thinking about embarking on the journey, just do it!
If you have questions about pursuing your DNP or you are not sure where to start, leave a comment or fill out a contact form and let’s be in touch! I love to help people reach higher and build themselves in ways they never thought possible!
Thank you, you have inspired me to reach for the stars!!! Once I graduate from my master in PMHNP I will continue without stopping. Carmen
That’s wonderful to hear! I do suggest taking at least a one-semester break though to prepare for Boards and get acquainted with your first NP job. I remember I had told my advisor that I wanted to go straight through, and that was her advice to me. I am SO thankful I took that semester off!
Best of luck finishing your Masters and congratulations on your professional growth!