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What Is The Difference Between an MSN and a DNP?

difference between an MSN and a DNPWhen looking at the difference between the qualifications of Master of Science in Nursing and the Doctor of Nursing Practice, it’s important to note that they are not interchangeable qualifications. A Doctor of Nursing Practice and a Ph.D. in nursing are somewhat interchangeable qualifications. However, they serve two different purposes.

Broadly speaking, a Master of Science in Nursing is a masters-level qualification. It is excellent for a practitioner at the beginning of their career and eager to dive right in. The DNP doctorate qualification is a longer and more in-depth qualification. It involves a higher level of academia and research, usually leading the practitioner to more senior leadership and management role. 

As a side note, the Ph.D. in Nursing and the Doctorate of Nursing Practice differ in that the Ph.D. is more research-focused, with the Doctorate being more practice-focused. It’s quite a significant difference. Take a look below for more information on these differences between an MSN and a DNP.

What is an MSN?

The Masters of Science in Nursing program, or MSN,  is designed for practitioners who already have a bachelor’s degree level qualification. Or, for other health-care professionals with a similar level of qualification. They may wish to broaden their knowledge in the subject matter to improve their own patient care while gaining valuable skills in more advanced practice work such as…

  • advanced pathology
  • evidence-based practice
  • population health
  • health care organization management

The program will usually take between two and four years to complete, including a significant portion of on-campus learning. This depends on whether the practitioner wishes to take the qualification part-time or do a full-time course.

Other Qualifications for an MSN

Online qualifications are a little more flexible in that they allow students to complete the work when their other engagements allow within reason.

There are two styles of online learning courses:

  • asynchronous
  • synchronous

Asynchronous programs are more flexible. Synchronous programs have more set time frames for when work needs to be completed.

It’s worth noting here that some MSN programs allow students to fast-track their way to specialist qualifications. For example, Family Nurse Practitioners, as well as courses that boost up degree credits, allow under-qualified students to finish with a Masters-level qualification.

joining a health shareWhat is a DNP?

A DNP, or Doctor of Nursing Practice is a post-graduate doctorate qualification. It’s on the same level as a Ph.D. in Nursing. DNP practitioners are key to the mechanics of any hospital and healthcare setting.

They usually working in the roles of:

  • senior nursing practitioners
  • advanced care professionals
  • organizational leaders
  • senior management…

…as well as being found in the academic side of nursing, instructing and teaching the next generation of advanced care practitioners.

Doctor of Nursing Practitioners may play a key role in any health care environment. They work alongside medical physicians and create innovative care plans that bridge the gap between economical and sustainable.

Some of the Places You May Find DNP Practitioners Include:

  • Senior nursing management
  • State and National health policy advocates and experts
  • Direct patient care as Advanced Practice Nurses
  • Informatics systems for healthcare
  • Organizational leadership

A DNP’s role can be very varied as well as very hands-on. They may be required to manage a small team and ensure the organization is running adequately. This works well in order to provide advanced care to patients in a clinical setting. DNPs may be broadly qualified. They may choose to further specialize in areas such as Family Nursing or Neonatal Nursing Practice.

Is DNP Higher Than MSN?

In broadly simple terms, yes. A Doctor of Nursing Practice qualification is higher than a Master of Science in Nursing qualification.

Both degrees will prepare the Registered Nurse for more advanced practice work. However, the DNP qualification is for practitioners who wish to take on a higher-level role in either:

  • leadership,
  • administration, or
  • practice care.

It has traditionally been seen that the DNP qualification is the pathway to:

  • taking on more intense levels of competencies
  • tackling policy and systems leadership 
  • taking on inter-professional collaboration in evidence-based practice

The MSN qualification has, for many years, been an acceptable qualification for an entry-level Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). However, there are moves within this ever-changing, ever-evolving, and fast-paced industry to ensure that the DNP will soon form the basic entry requirements.

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Will DNP replace MSN?

The Doctor of Nursing Practice qualification is a higher-level doctorate level qualification designed for those wishing to enter a level of high-stakes leadership and advanced care. The health care environment as it stands is becoming ever more complex and increasingly devolved. Members specialize in their own fields, leading to a great understanding as well as a greater need for researchers and thought-leaders.

It is important that we look at the MSN qualifications and the DNP qualifications for what they are intended.

We can look at the differences between DNP vs. MSN roles. However, there is already a lack of qualified nurse educators and contributors. Fueling a DNP vs MSN debate may not prove to be in the interests of medicine going forward.

The Changing Medical Environment of Today

Today’s medical environment is ever increasing in complexity. It is clear that the MSN qualification will need to make significant changes to remain relevant in a field that is crying out for well qualified and well trained advanced care providers.

The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) has set a target to move all entry-level nurse practitioner programs from the MSN to the DNP by 2025. This further cements the idea that the bar for entry-level requirements for advanced care should be set higher than it currently is. It requires practitioners to have a doctorate qualification that is focused on the clinical aspects of disease prevention and treatment.

Is DNP’s Pay Higher Than an NP With Only an MSN?

Does an advanced level qualification call out for a higher salary? The answer is, on average, yes. It’s been reported that Doctorate of Nursing Practice practitioners can earn, on average, $7,000 more than their colleagues with only an MSN qualification. This is a figure which is likely to grow in the coming decades.

Difference Between an MSN and a DNP – Concluding Notes

The ever-increasing need for well-qualified nursing practitioners will only continue to rise. As with the pay as discussed above. It is still important to note the difference between an MSN and a DNP.

Are you considering either of these fields as a viable career option in your future? 


AUTHOR LaTia Longuemire

My name is LaTia Longuemire. I enjoy writing, singing, and cooking in my spare time. My passion is helping others. At this stage in my lifetime, I'm primarily focused on my children. They are everything that keeps my world spinning.

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