MSN vs DNP - Which is Better? (2023)


October 31, 2019

MSN vs DNP - Which is Better? (1)

Met:Chaunie Brusie BSN, RN

(Video) MSN or DNP? Which Nurse Practitioner Degree Should You Choose?

Choosing between an MSN and a DNP largely depends on your ultimate career goals - here's a guide to help you decide which degree is best for you.

If you are a nurse looking to further your education, you may be wondering which type of graduate program is right for you. If you choose oneMaster of Nursingor go for a PhD? What are the benefits of each?

While there is no clear privileged degree, the two degrees support different career paths, so it's important to understand the differences between the two before deciding which graduate program is right for you.

In general, an MSN degree has traditionally been aimed at nurses seeking to specialize clinically, while a DNP is aimed at nurses seeking leadership roles to integrate a more systematic approach to care that can extend beyond the bedside. However, these are not hard and fast rules about degrees, and ultimately the decision comes down to the type of education you want.

There has also been talk of changing the requirements for Advanced Medical Registered Nurses from MSN to DNP so that this is taken into account as you plan your education in the future. For example, if you are not pursuing postgraduate education for a few years, keep in mind that the requirements may change by then. But until that happens, here's a little more information about the two different numbers.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

An MSN degree, or Master of Science in Nursing, is a graduate degree in nursing that provides advanced training in nursing. There are many different paths you can take with an MSN degree to choose which type of major to focus on.

For example, you can focus a master's degree on a non-direct patient care role, such as teaching, management, or health information systems, or choose a direct patient care role throughAdvanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)path with as a nurse. All APRNs must earn their master's degree, as well as any additional certifications for their specialty, while non-APRNs can only earn the master's degree. Here are more details on what to expect from an MSN degree:

(Video) Should you get a Doctorate in Nursing?? | My DNP vs. MSN vs. PhD Decision

>>Related: The Ultimate List of Nursing Graduate Diplomas


Morerecent figures from 2019of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the median salary for a prepared nurse with an MSN degree is $115,800 per year. In general, you can expect to earn more with an MSN degree, but the exact amount you can earn depends on whether you work full-time or part-time, which specialty you choose, and what type of work environment you have, such as a hospital or private practice .

Practice area

The most common types of APRN MSN degrees are Nurse Practitioners and Nurse-Midwives. The BLS notes that most MSN prep nurses work full-time and work in a variety of settings, from hospitals to clinics to private practice or academic and research institutions.

An APRN MSN degree prepares a nurse for:

  • Act as a freelancer in your field.
  • To prescribe medicines, according to his specialty.
  • He owns and operates his own practice, in accordance with government regulations.

Program Duration and Requirements

Typically, it takes two to three years to complete a full-time MSN program. The program may take longer if you enroll part-time, but not all MSN programs allow part-time students, and those that do may also limit the maximum time you can have to complete the program.

To enroll in an MSN program, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Bachelor of Nursing
  • An active nursing license in your state
  • A completed application, along with any fees required by your school
  • One year or more of nursing experience (depending on the school and major you choose)

In addition, most schools will require you to provide letters of recommendation, a statement explaining your intent, and may require you to take certain required courses and/or the GRE.

Some schools also allow people who are not nurses but have a bachelor's degree in another area to enroll directly in an MSN program. These types of programs can take a little longer than a traditional MSN program because they prepare you for both the NCLEX certification and a select APRN certification.

(Video) NURSE PRACTITIONER: MSN vs DNP Questions Answered

Career prospects

The BLS lists the outlook for MSN-prepared nurses, particularly in the APRN role, to grow by 26% from 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than average job growth.

Certifications required

To earn your MSN, you must successfully complete a graduate program in nursing. If you choose an APRN MSN track, you must also pass the national certification exam in your field.

Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP)

The DNP is a doctorate in nursing and is the highest level of education in the field of nursing. ADNP degreecan function similarly to an MSN degree in that it can prepare a nurse to sit for certification as an APRN in a variety of clinical specialties such as geriatric NP, pediatric NP, critical care NP, or family care.

As John Hopkins University explains, nurses preparing for the DNP acquire advanced levels of clinical skills and systems thinking, enabling them to take on roles with greater responsibility for caring for both individual and public health needs. For example, a Nurse Practitioner with an MSN degree can work in a hospital as a Critical Care Physician to provide bedside care, while a Nurse Practitioner with a DNP degree can provide care and lead the nursing team in a larger role.

Ook de American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).explainsthat practice-oriented DNP programs focus on 7 core learning areas:

  • Scientific basis for practice
  • Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Organizational and system leadership/management, quality improvement and systems thinking
  • Analytical methodologies related to the evaluation of practice and the application of evidence to practice
  • Leveraging technology and information to improve and transform healthcare
  • Development, implementation and evaluation of health policy
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration to improve patient and population outcomes


The BLS does not track statistics specifically for DNP prep nurses, as many DNP prep and MSN prep nurses practice in the same APRN roles. However, you can expect the same base salaries to be around $113,930 per year for APRN positions such as nurse practitioners or$174,790 as BLACK- along with more opportunities for salary growth into senior management positions.

Practice area

A DNP prepared APRN can:

  • Practice as an independent practitioner for the most complex patients
  • Use advanced critical thinking skills and evidence-based practice and care
  • Implement new healthcare strategies and influence healthcare strategy and policy
  • It can initiate research and projects in the field of health
  • Can act in extended liaison roles, for example between medical devices and pharmaceutical companies

Program Duration and Requirements

While you may think you need to get your master's degree to enroll in a DNP program, most don't require MSN. The DNP program, on the other hand, is a comprehensive program similar to the MSN program. Therefore, a DNP program typically requires:

(Video) NURSE PRACTITIONER: MSN vs DNP | All Questions Answered

  • Bachelor of Nursing
  • An active nursing license in your state
  • Completed application and costs
  • One year or more of full-time nursing experience

In addition, most schools will require you to provide letters of recommendation, a statement explaining your intentions, and may require you to take certain foundation courses and/or the GRE, especially if it has been a while since you received your bachelor's degree .

Most DNP programs require three to four years of full-time commitment, and most schools do not allow part-time enrollment. It is recommended that nurses enrolling in DNP programs do not work outside of their academic work or on a very limited basis. As with any doctoral degree program, nurses in a DNP program must also complete a DNP capstone project that meets the requirements of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, including:

  • Changes that affect the outcome of care
  • Sustainability plan
  • A basis for future practice\

Show me DNP programs

Career prospects

Career prospects for DNPs are expected to be strong, especially as AACN supports themtransfer all APRN roles to require a DNP degree. The AACN advocates that APRN roles require a PhD as they are similar to professions such as physical therapists and pharmacists, which require a PhD. And some have already started making the transitions - by 2025, for example, all CRNA programs will beginthey offer a DNP trajectoryfor CRNAs. Currently, CRNAs do not require a PhD, but are offered as a primary option along with a master's degree.

AACN toonotesthat there has been a significant increase in enrollment in DNP programs, with an additional 3,000 students enrolling from 2017 to 2018 and 98 new DNP programs expected to be added to schools across the country.

Certifications required

To earn your DNP, you must successfully complete a doctoral program in nursing. If you choose an APRN DNP track, you must also pass the national certification exam in your field.

In general, there is no way to say with authority whether an MSN or DNP degree is right for you - both paths of study prepare you for an advanced practice role as an RN, and both can provide leadership and extensive clinical opportunities.

A DNP may be the right choice if you want to become a CRNA or hold senior leadership positions or attain the highest level of education available in the nursing profession. AACN also supports the move of all APRN roles to a DNP program, so it may be beneficial to pursue a DNP if this move occurs. However, a DNP program can be more expensive and time-consuming than an MSN, so you need to consider your expenses and your living conditions (whether you need to continue working or have family responsibilities, for example).

(Video) MSN vs DNP? Why I Chose the MSN Route Instead of DNP During My Psych NP Program


Is it worth it to get DNP over MSN? ›

While the salary is similar between the two degrees, the DNP degree may provide more opportunities in leadership and prove more competitive in the career search. Nurses committed to advocating and representing the nursing profession must look to the future and commit to learning what is necessary to lead the charge.

Is MSN enough to be a nurse practitioner? ›

In order to become a nurse practitioner, you'll need to obtain at least a BSN and MSN, pass certification exams, perform clinical research, and apply for licensure within the states you wish you to practice.

What takes longer MSN or DNP? ›

Earning an MSN takes about two years on a full-time basis. The DNP may take slightly longer, averaging two to three years.

How are the expectations of DNP practice different from MSN practice? ›

While MSNs may practice as family nurse practitioners, DNPs bring the leadership and organizational experience to manage a multi-provider practice, open a business or move into other leadership roles.

What percentage of nurses hold a DNP? ›

More than 64% of today's nursing workforce is prepared at the baccalaureate and higher-degree level, but only 1.2% have a DNP degree and 0.6% a PhD, according to American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) statistics.

What can a DNP do that an NP Cannot? ›

A nurse with a DNP degree can influence healthcare policies, take on administrative roles and provide clinical education for nursing programs. An NP without a DNP degree has not reached a terminal educational level that might be required for some roles.

What is the easiest nurse practitioner to become? ›

  1. Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner. ...
  2. Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. ...
  3. Family Nurse Practitioner. ...
  4. Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners (OHNP) ...
  5. Aesthetic Nurse Practitioner.

What is the highest paid DNP? ›

20 Best Paying Jobs You Can Take up Post-Completion of Your DNP
  1. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA) ...
  2. Neurology Nurse Practitioners. ...
  3. Oncology Nurse Practitioners. ...
  4. Orthopedic Nurse Practitioners. ...
  5. Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners. ...
  6. Trauma Nurse Practitioners. ...
  7. Acute Care Nurse Practitioners (ACNP)

Is MSN nursing hard? ›

Nursing requires more dedication than many other careers. However, it's one of the most rewarding jobs you can have. Nursing school is notoriously difficult—and it's not for everyone. Graduate school is challenging as well.

Will DNP replace MSN? ›

Right now, an MSN degree is sufficient, but you'll need a doctoral degree to earn APRN licensure in the field after 2025. While a DNP is a popular option, students can also choose to earn another doctoral degree, including: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Doctor of Education (EdD)

What is the pay difference between MSN and DNP? ›

According to, individuals with a DNP earn a higher average income than those with the MSN: DNP: $102,000 average salary. MSN: $93,000 average salary.

Can you skip MSN and go to DNP? ›

To enroll in a DNP program, you must have completed a BSN or MSN degree. If you don't have a BSN degree, you can't take a direct path from RN to DNP.

Why is there a push for DNP? ›

Some of the many factors building momentum for change in nursing education at the graduate level include: the rapid expansion of knowledge underlying practice; increased complexity of patient care; national concerns about the quality of care and patient safety; shortages of nursing personnel which demands a higher ...

How long does it take to go from MSN to DNP? ›

Nurses who've earned their MSN can take an even more direct route to their DNP degree, which is called a Post-MS to DNP track. This more direct pathway to a DNP degree takes only two years to complete for multiple reasons. For one, nurses at the master's-level typically have years of experience in the field.

What is the advantage of having a DNP? ›

The advanced skills acquired in a DNP program may also have a significant impact on a practical clinical level. DNP graduates can gain expertise in advanced clinical techniques that other nursing or medical professionals may not be able to undertake.

Is a DNP financially worth it? ›

According to the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey, registered nurses whose highest education was a DNP reported a median salary of about $100,000, 11% higher than the $90,000 median for those who had earned as much as a master's degree.

What is the average age of a DNP student? ›

The average age of a nurse practitioner is 43.4 years old, but the nurse practitioner age range starts between 20 and 24 years to 65 years old and over. Most nurse practitioners are between 35 and 44 years old, equaling almost 39% of all nurse practitioners in the United States.

What state pays DNP the most? ›

According to the BLS, Nurse Practitioners in California earn the highest salary. Their average salary is $151,830 per year or $72.99 per hour.

What is the hardest nurse practitioner specialty? ›

Critical Care Nurse Practitioner

Possibly one of the most difficult nurse practitioner specialties, a critical care nurse practitioner has to learn to deal with life and death situations daily due to treating the most acutely ill or traumatized patients.

Should a DNP be called doctor? ›

Nurses With a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) Should Not Call Themselves “Doctor” in a Clinical Setting.

Does DNP make more money than NP? ›

Do DNPs make more money than NPs? DNP salaries are generally higher than NP salaries, reflecting their additional training. However, nurse anesthetists, even those with MSNs, often earn more than family practice DNPs. Individual salaries depend on specialty, location, experience, and many other factors.

What type of NP is most in demand? ›

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and labor statistics, the most in-demand specialties for NP include: Family (70.3%) Adult-Gerontology Primary Care (8.9%)

What is the lowest paid nurse practitioner? ›

The lowest-paying states are Tennessee ($95,120), Alabama ($102,410), South Carolina ($102,850), Missouri ($103,490), and West Virginia ($104,750). NP salaries vary significantly across the country.

What type of NP makes the most money? ›

As a hospitalist NP, you can expect to have one of the highest-paying nurse practitioner jobs. The average yearly wage is about $117,880. And while hourly rates vary based on region and specific hospitals, it is $56.67 on average.

Is an MD higher than a DNP? ›

A DNP (doctor of nursing practice) and Ph. D. in Nursing are vastly different than an MD (doctor of medicine). The former are highly-trained nurses, and the latter is a physician, with all the scope of practice allowances that come with that title.

Why PhD is better than DNP? ›

Those more interested in teaching or exploring theories and making analyses might choose a PhD in Nursing for a career path. If you're more interested in interacting with other nurses, healthcare professionals, and patients on a regular basis, a DNP might be a better fit for your career aspirations.

Is MD or DNP better? ›

While the M.D. route leads to higher average salaries, it also often includes a more expensive education, so students who need loans are likely to graduate with more debt. While the DNP includes a lower average salary, it also allows you to work full time sooner while accruing fewer education costs.

What percentage of nurses have a MSN? ›

Approximately 18% of nurses hold a graduate level degree such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

What is the hardest nursing class to take? ›

Hardest Nursing School Classes
  • Pathophysiology. In this course, students learn how different anatomical systems work and how diseases or injuries affect these systems. ...
  • Pharmacology. ...
  • Medical Surgical 1 (also known as Adult Health 1) ...
  • Evidence-Based Practice.

What is the hardest class in nursing program? ›

Pharmacology: it even sounds scary

It shouldn't be too surprising that many nursing students consider Pharmacology to be the hardest class in nursing school. Honestly, the name of this course alone makes it sound challenging, and it is.

Is an MSN being phased out? ›

This marks a significant change from today's requirement of a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). In May 2018, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) announced that all entry-level nurse practitioner education programs would shift from the MSN to the DNP by 2025.

Which is better FNP or DNP? ›

The DNP is the highest professional degree in nursing, also called a terminal degree, and is considered the future of healthcare.

Are DNP programs hard to get into? ›

Well, there is no surprise in knowing that the process of obtaining admission into a good DNP school can be challenging and requires some serious hard work. But if you are prepared before you apply, you have a better chance of success at getting into a good DNP school.

What is a nurse with a masters called? ›

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse who is educated at the master's level or higher, and represents a step up in responsibilities and autonomy compared to registered nurses.

Is DNP harder than BSN? ›

Courses and content are more challenging. The level of knowledge you're required to have as a Nurse Practitioner is a huge step up from a RN. You'll take a lot of the same courses as you did with your BSN, but will go into each topic with a lot more depth because you'll be diagnosing and treating health problems soon.

Can a DNP intubate? ›

We can intubate, insert chest thoracotomies, manage ventilators and pretty much any critical care infusion.”

What is the attrition rate for DNP? ›

Findings: We found that the completion rate of DNP students of the 2006-2015 matriculating cohorts was 77.3% and the attrition rate was 19.3%. On average, after matriculation, it took 3 years for the students to graduate and 1.9 years for students who left without graduating to drop out.

Does GPA matter for DNP? ›

Many schools will require a 3.0 GPA to get into nurse practitioner school. Based on the type of NP program you are applying for (MSN or DNP), your GPA will be calculated from your bachelorly or master's degree coursework.

Can a DNP perform surgery? ›

Nurses cannot perform surgical procedures independently. Nurses can fill many different roles before, during, and after surgical procedures. Consider additional training or education to get the job you are most interested in.

How long is DNP after BSN? ›

While programs across the country vary in length, most BSN-DNP programs take three to four years of full-time coursework, while MSN-DNP programs take about one to two years.

How long does it take to get a PHD in nursing? ›

D. nurse, of course, nurses must complete a Ph. D. in nursing program, which generally takes 4 to 6 years to finish.

Is DNP worth it over MSN? ›

Both provide advancements in your career, salary, and opportunities. With the DNP, which is a terminal degree, there are more opportunities for executive leadership roles, nurse faculty roles, and healthcare advocacy programs in the clinical setting, hospitals, and throughout many organizations.

Who makes more DNP or MSN? ›

While an MSN and a DNP can prepare nurses for some of the same advanced practice roles, more education typically results in a higher earning potential. According to EMSI, the median advertised salary for an RN with an MSN is $95.5K, compared to $117K for an RN with a DNP.

How long is DNP after MSN? ›

Nurses who've earned their MSN can take an even more direct route to their DNP degree, which is called a Post-MS to DNP track. This more direct pathway to a DNP degree takes only two years to complete for multiple reasons. For one, nurses at the master's-level typically have years of experience in the field.


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