The Doctor of Nursing Practice: A Degree Whose Time Has Come

a nurse helping a patient

Apr 25, 2019

Kristen L. Mauk, PhD, DNP, RN, CRRN, GCNS-BC, GNP-BC, FAAN, Professor of Nursing and Graduate Program Director

The discipline of nursing has seen many changes throughout the years. Back in the 1930’s, nurses interested in earning a doctorate did not have many choices. There were only a handful of universities that offered doctoral degrees related to nursing. Later came several nurse doctorates (DNS, DNSc, ND), none of which stood the test of time due to the blurring between research and clinical emphases. Thus, the Doctor of Philosophy (or PhD) was one of the few viable options in nursing, being a widely and globally accepted doctorate. But, the PhD provided a research background versus a clinical emphasis that nurses often sought.

In 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) introduced the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), set forth as a terminal degree for practicing clinicians. With the upsurge of the nurse practitioner role, the option of obtaining a DNP as a clinical practice doctorate (and one which generally took far less time to complete than the more traditional PhD) has garnered wide appeal.

Benefits of the DNP

In contrast to the PhD, the universally recognized degree that prepares students to conduct original research, the DNP emphasizes expert clinical skills and evidenced-based practice through advanced education. It is appropriate for advanced practice nurses (such as nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists), nurse executives, clinical educators, and administrators. The AACN DNP position statement (2004) identified several benefits to the DNP:

  • 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 earned;
  • Provision of an advanced educational credential for those who require advanced practice knowledge but do not need or want a strong research focus (e.g., practice faculty);
  • Enhanced ability to attract individuals to nursing from non-nursing backgrounds; and
  • Increased supply of faculty for practice instruction. (p.4)

Why earn a DNP?

There are many reasons why a nurse would return to school to earn a DNP. Some common reasons stated by current prospective students include:

  • Personal goal to earn a doctorate
  • Desire to be a lifelong learner
  • Require a higher degree to teach
  • Obtain job opportunities
  • Feel called to engage in leadership at a higher level

Types of DNP programs

A student has several choices of DNP emphases. For example, most programs now offer the nurse practitioner preparation at the DNP level. Such programs emphasize direct patient care. There are programs that accept post-master’s students, while others offer an RN to DNP track. Other programs focus on aggregates, populations, or organizations. The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice (2006) state, “DNP graduates in administrative, healthcare policy, informatics, and population-based specialties focus their practice on aggregates: populations, systems (including information systems), organizations, and state or national policies” (p. 18). This is the type of DNP offered at CCU.

 The DNP in Visionary Leadership 

The new DNP offered at Colorado Christian University emphasizes visionary leadership and a biblical worldview. Our doctoral program, the first at CCU, provides education towards advanced competencies for increasingly complex practice and enhanced leadership to strengthen healthcare delivery within a variety of settings. This DNP can be completed online in 10 courses (30 credits) over two years of full time study.



American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2004). AACN position statement on the practice doctorate in nursing. Retrieved from

American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2006).The essentials of doctoral education for advanced nursing practice. Washington, DC: Author.


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