Nurse Practitioner Degree Program | MSN vs. DNP

nurse practitioner with a doctorate degree

Nurse practitioners can be a valuable part of patient care as they operate under the supervision of practicing doctors. They support doctors, allowing practitioners to see and treat patients in private practices and facilities.

When considering becoming a nurse practitioner (NP), one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is what type of degree you want to pursue. There are several different types of nurse practitioner degrees and certifications, each with advantages and disadvantages. Let’s look at each one. 

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner  

To become a nurse practitioner, you’ll first need to become a registered nurse (RN). You also need to have your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) so that you can continue to more advanced degrees in many cases. Although some bridge programs can take you from an Associate Degree in Nursing to your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program, almost all programs will require that you’re already a registered nurse. 

It’s also helpful to have hands-on working experience as an RN, as this will improve the care you can provide your patients. That said, past employment as a nurse is not a requirement for some programs; plenty may allow you to go straight from school to an advanced nurse practitioner program.

Once you complete your chosen degree, you will need to receive certification in the specialty of your choice. The certifications required will depend on your chosen specialty and location; different states may have different requirements for this. 

The Two Types of Nurse Practitioner Degree Programs

There are two types of nurse practitioner degree programs that you can complete to become an NP: a Master of Science in Nursing and a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP).

Almost all programs require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing to begin their programs. 

An MSN degree typically requires several years of advanced coursework and 100-500 clinical hours with patients. Some may require previous experience working as a registered nurse. The programs typically take between two to three years to complete.  

A DNP degree is the highest level of education you can receive as a nurse, and the degrees typically take between two to five years to complete depending on how much time you can allocate to school. You can go straight from a BSN to a DNP in specialized programs without receiving your MSN first; these may be considered accelerated programs in some cases. 

While it varies depending on your degree type, DNP programs typically require a minimum of 1,000 clinical hours. However, some programs may allow you to transfer a certain number of clinical hours previously earned during an MSN degree. 

Both programs allow you to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) and a nurse practitioner. However, if you want to pursue nursing education or other leadership roles in your career, it may be a good idea to consider your DNP. 

Common Types of Nurse Practitioner Certifications 

Once you graduate with your MSN or DNP, you will need to receive certification in order to work as a nurse practitioner. You will also need to receive specialty certifications depending on the specific job role you want to pursue and the state where you’ll practice.

Some states may allow nurse practitioners to see patients in most specialties with a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) certification, even if they aren’t certified in a particular specialty, like a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner. However, other states have more stringent requirements. 

These certifications may require a certain number of clinical hours in that specialty, and all require sitting for an exam to receive certification. 

Some of the most common types of nurse practitioner certifications include the following:

  • Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP)
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (A-GNP)
  • Emergency Nurse Practitioner Certification (ENP)
  • Adult Nurse Practitioner Certification (ANP)
  • Advanced Diabetes Management Certification (ADM)
  • Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (PPCNP)
  • Accurate Care Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (ACCPNP)
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
  • Dermatology Certified Nurse Practitioner (DCNP)

MSN vs. DNP: Which Is Right for You?

If you’re considering a career path as a nurse practitioner, both MSN and DNP degrees are outstanding options. 

There are pros and cons to consider for each. For example, an MSN degree may be more cost-effective, as it costs significantly less than its equivalent DNP counterparts and may be faster to complete. In turn, a DNP may make you more competitive and lead to a higher salary long-term. 

Bridge programs are also available, allowing you to go from an Associate Degree in Nursing to an MSN or from a BSN to a DNP. These programs can have accelerated schedules, allowing you to complete your education faster. 

Whichever you choose, it may be helpful to take some time to work as an RN before going on to complete your advanced degrees. You get hands-on experience that will give you a more robust medical background as a clinician, and you can get a feel for what types of work you’re most interested in specializing in once you graduate. You can even use PRN work to pick up shifts at different kinds of facilities and in various roles to get an idea of what you love best. 


What do you think? Which degree would you want to get—an MSN or a DNP? Join our community and let us know!

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