DNP vs. NP- What’s the Difference?

Breaking down the confusion around these two important nurse acronyms.

Doctor conducting researchIf you could further your nursing education at the highest level to advance your career, what path would you take? Some may consider becoming a nurse practitioner (NP), while others may lean toward earning the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. DNP vs. NP—the acronyms are so similar, but how do they differ?

You might be surprised by the answer. And not knowing the differences could lead to a massive waste of valuable time and energy searching for the right educational program to move you forward. Here’s everything you need to know.

Is DNP the Same as a Nurse Practitioner?

First, what is a nurse practitioner?

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) who use clinical expertise to diagnose, prescribe medication, and treat health conditions. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), NPs bring a comprehensive perspective and personal touch to health care. 

To practice, NPs have advanced clinical training, complete a master's or doctoral degree program, and pass a certification exam. The education and training NPs undertake prepares the nurse practitioner with specialized knowledge and clinical competency in a chosen specialty. The AANP currently lists ten NP certifications:

  • Family
  • Adult
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care
  • Acute Care
  • Pediatrics — Primary Care
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care
  • Women's Health
  • Psychiatric/Mental Health — Family
  • Gerontology
  • Hospice and Palliative Care

NP programs develop students clinically and prepare graduates to practice in primary and specialty care settings. The nurse practitioner curriculum may include:

  • Advanced clinical practice
  • Advanced health or clinical assessment
  • Pharmacotherapeutics
  • Diagnosis management
  • Advanced Physiology and Pathophysiology across lifespans

What is a DNP?

The Doctor of Nursing Practice is a terminal degree that gives nurses the foundations for clinical practice while developing leadership skills. The DNP is a practice-focused program that uses a scholarly approach to nursing. The DNP program prepares its graduates to use evidence-based research and practice in a clinical setting. 

Many who pursue a DNP are educators, administrators, and policymakers. Some nurse practitioners may choose to earn the DNP, however, not all registered nurses who obtain a DNP are nurse practitioners or APRNs.

DNP curriculums include:

  • Organizational and Systems Leadership
  • Strategic Leadership and Business Management
  • Strategic Planning and Financial Management
  • Health Information Management and Informatics
  • Evidence-Based Practice for Quality Improvement
  • Health Policy and Advocacy
  • Global Population Health

Who came up with the DNP?

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing developed the DNP to revamp nursing education while targeting increasing healthcare needs. The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice outlines the eight key elements required by all DNP curriculums regardless of clinical specialty.

DNP vs. NP: The Bottom Line

Goal: Serve as a leader and scholar by using evidence-based research and practice Serve as primary care providers  for patients, often filling in the gaps in healthcare
Curriculum may include:
  • Organizational and systems leadership
  • Evidence-based research and advocacy
  • Health policy
  • Business management
  • Population health
  • Advanced nursing practice
  • Information systems
  • Advanced clinical practice to practice in primary care, acute care, and long-term health care settings
  • Advanced health or clinical assessment
  • Pharmacotherapeutics
  • Diagnosis management
  • Advanced Physiology and Pathophysiology across lifespans
  • Other courses apply to preferred specialty
Clinical hours: 1,000 minimum 500 minimum
Role or degree: Degree Role
Career opportunities:
  • Nurse faculty
  • Educational leaders such as Dean or Department Head
  • Management and administration roles
  • Research
  • Policy/Politics
  • Thought Leader/public speaker
Depending on their specialty and certification, nurse practitioners can practice in many settings and serve as primary care providers in:

  • Women’s health
  • Acute Care
  • Psychiatric/Mental Health
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care
  • Family medicine
  • Adult care
  • Pediatrics–Primary Care
  • Gerontology


If you are interested in advancing your clinical expertise and learning the skills to be a leader, consider an online DNP program.


The article originally appeared on Aspen University's Altitude blog, written by Portia Wofford. Aspen University is a United States-based private, for-profit, accredited distance-learning university, reputable for its affordable nursing programs, including its online DNP program. Altitude is the official blog of Aspen University that features informative nursing articles, compelling tips, and professional accomplishments.

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