Nursing MSN & DNP

| 24 August 2023

The data in this blog is for general informational purposes only and information presented was accurate as of the publication date.

DNP vs. NP: What is the Difference?

doctor working with a patients

Among the various medical professionals who play critical roles in patient care and treatment are doctors (MDs), physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs) with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and nurse practitioners with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). 

There are distinct differences between DNP and NP. For instance, an NP is a job title and professional role, while a DNP is an educational degree.

In this guide, you can learn about the similarities and differences between the DNP degree and the NP role to help guide your career path. 

Table of Contents

What Is an NP?

A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who has completed advanced education, MSN or DNP, and clinical training beyond the registered nurse (RN) level. Nurse practitioners differ from physician assistants (PAs) as they are trained in advanced nursing practice in specialized roles, whereas PAs receive education in general medicine. Collaborating with a physician, PAs can work across various fields and switch specialties without the need for additional coursework or certification, relying on on-the-job training.

With a cooperating physician, PAs can work in almost any profession, and they can change specialties without needing to complete additional coursework or certification.

NPs are healthcare professionals who are authorized to provide comprehensive healthcare services, including:  

  • Assessment
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment
  • Management of medical conditions

There are different types of NP role specialties, including: 

  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP): An FNP handles the care of patients across the lifespan, from infants to adults to seniors.
  • Psychiatric Mental Health NP (PMHNP): These nurses specialize in mental health and substance abuse issues.
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP): Nurses and neonatologists treat newborns and infants under this specialty.    

At the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS), FNP, AGNP, and PMHNP role specialties are offered through the MSN program. The FNP role specialty is also offered through the DNP program. 

How To Become a Nurse Practitioner 

Becoming a nurse practitioner requires dedication, a strong educational foundation and a commitment to lifelong learning. These are the necessary steps to become an NP

  • Step 1: Get your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and get your RN license: Obtain your BSN and apply to the appropriate nursing regulatory body and successfully complete the NCLEX-RN examination, and meet any other state requirements. 
  • Step 2: Gain work experience: Certain schools require applicants to have clinical experience before entering their graduate nursing program or beginning clinical experiences. Make sure to look into each school’s requirements before applying.
  • Step 3: Earn a graduate degree (MSN or DNP): You’ll also need to pursue an advanced nursing degree, which could include an MSN or DNP. These programs typically take two to four years to complete. 
  • Step 4: Take a certification exam to get your CNP: To become a certified nurse practitioner (CNP), you will have to take a certification exam through the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the National Certification Corporation (NCC), or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). 

Nurse Practitioner Salary  

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for an NP is $124,680 as of May 2022.1  

Nurse Practitioner Benefits 

There are many benefits to becoming an NP, such as: 

  • Could offer a higher level of autonomy: Compared to RNs, NPs have more autonomy and responsibility in their practice. They might operate independently or in partnership with other healthcare specialists. 
  • May offer more job opportunities: According to the American Medical Association (AMA), there’s a primary care doctor shortage, especially in underserved areas.2 This demand for NPs has increased in recent years, and there are ample work prospects for NPs in a variety of healthcare settings. 
  • Likely to provide flexibility and versatility: NPs are adaptable enough to operate in various healthcare environments and specialties. They can focus on areas such as mental health, women’s health, family practice, pediatrics, geriatrics, neonatal or acute care, for example.  
  • Patient relationships and continuity of care: NPs often develop long-term relationships with their patients. This continuity of care allows them to provide personalized and holistic care, understand their patients’ unique needs, and build trust over time. 

What Is a DNP?

what is a dnp

A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a terminal nursing degree required for the highest level of clinical practice and leadership. The DNP degree helps students prepare to assume advanced clinical practice, leadership and research translation roles to improve patient outcomes. DNP programs typically focus on enhancing clinical expertise, evidence-based practice, leadership and healthcare system improvement. 

There are many types of DNP specialties, including:  

  • Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP) 
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)
  • Pediatrics 
  • Nurse Executive
  • Nurse Manager
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Nursing Education 
  • Healthcare Policy 

The tuition and fees associated with a DNP program vary depending on your entry level. At USAHS, they range from $46,000 to $80,650.

How To Earn a DNP 

the 7 levels of nursing

Learn more about the seven levels of nursing. A DNP and a PhD in nursing are the most advanced degrees attainable within the field of nursing. To earn a DNP at USAHS, candidates must meet various requirements, including:

  • BSN-entry DNP: BSN degree with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale
  • MSN-entry DNP: MSN degree with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale 
  • Official transcripts from all schooling 
  • Evidence of an unrestricted/unencumbered RN license in the state of residence
  • Two professional references from: 
    • A nurse educator
    • Preceptor
    • Immediate supervisor
  • Professional resume or curriculum vitae showing an equivalent of one full-time year of experience as a registered nurse by the time you start your first practicum course
  • Comprehensive background checks: Fingerprinting and drug screens are administered after acceptance into the program and at the applicant’s expense 
  • Career goal statement: A 500-word essay in which you describe your  short- and long-term career goals and your plan for achieving them
  • An interview if requested

DNP Salary  

Individuals with DNP degrees have more options when it comes to higher-level roles. For example, those with a DNP degree could become a chief nursing officer (CNO) and earn an average salary of $139,824.3

Benefits of Earning a DNP

Earning the highest degree in nursing has a number of benefits, including: 

  • Advanced education and expertise: A DNP degree may allow nurses to advance their education beyond the master’s level and develop expertise in their chosen area of specialization. 
  • Expanded career opportunities: A DNP may offer additional career opportunities. Those with DNP degrees often hold leadership positions in healthcare organizations and shape healthcare policies.
  • Leadership and advocacy roles: The DNP program may strengthen leadership and advocacy skills, preparing nurses to take on influential roles within the healthcare system.   
  • Higher compensation: Nurse practitioners with a DNP degree may receive higher pay than those with an MSN. The advanced education, expertise and leadership roles NPs with a DNP degree assume can lead to increased earning potential and opportunities for salary advancement.   

NP with an MSN vs. DNP: Similarities and Differences

The main difference between a DNP-trained NP and an NP with an MSN is level of education and scope of practice. Below is a chart highlighting NPs with an MSN vs. a DNP at a glance: 

Type NP  DNP
Salary  $102,0005 $111,0004*
Education Requirements  BSN and/or RN experience BSN or MSN and RN license
Program Length 2–3 years 2.3–4 years
USAHS Specializations  -FNP



-Nurse Educator


-Nurse Executive

Work Environment  Primary care clinics, hospitals, specialty clinics, and private practices Hospitals, healthcare organizations, government agencies, universities, primary care clinics, specialty clinics, private practices

DNP vs. NP Frequently Asked Questions

If you’re still wondering how an NP with a DNP degree differs from an MSN-trained NP, check out these frequently asked questions about DNP vs. NP. 

Is a DNP the Highest Degree in Nursing?

The DNP degree represents the highest level of nursing education and prepares nurses for advanced clinical practice, leadership roles and research translation to improve patient outcomes. 

DNP programs generally require a few additional years of study beyond the bachelor’s or master’s level.

Do Those With a DNP Degree Earn More?

NPs who have a DNP degree will likely earn more than an NP with an MSN. However, the pay difference between an NP and those with a DNP degree can vary based on several factors, including the individual’s experience, specialization, geographic location and the specific job setting. 

Are There Differences in Job Opportunities? 

Yes, there are differences in job opportunities between NPs with a DNP degree and NPs with an MSN degree. While both provide advanced practice nursing roles, a DNP degree may open up additional career paths beyond clinical practice. 

Those with DNP degrees often pursue roles in:

  • Leadership and administration
  • Healthcare policy and advocacy
  • Research
  • Academia
  • Consulting

Those with a DNP degree may work in hospitals, healthcare organizations, government agencies, universities and other settings.NPs with an MSN primarily work in clinical practice settings, including primary care clinics, hospitals, specialty clinics and private practices. 

Start Your DNP Journey Today

There’s a lot to consider when thinking about furthering your healthcare career, and sometimes choosing the right path for you can feel overwhelming. However, USAHS can make it easier for you. Learn more about USAHS’ graduate nursing programs and apply now. Get started on your journey today.

*The information provided on this website is based on self-reported data and is intended for general informational purposes only. PayScale is a limited data source that relies on voluntary submissions from individuals and employers.

Please be aware that the accuracy, completeness, and reliability of the data may vary due to its voluntary nature and limited scope. While efforts are made to maintain the data’s accuracy, we cannot guarantee its absolute correctness or currency.


  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2022,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last modified April 25, 2023, 
  2. A Robeznieks, “Doctor shortages are here—and they’ll get worse if we don’t act fast,” American Medical Association, last modified April 2022, 
  3. Payscale, “Average Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) Salary”, Payscale, last modified July 25, 2023, 
  4. Payscale, “Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree” Payscale, last modified June 11, 2023, 
  5. Payscale, “Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree”, Payscale, last modified August 1, 2023, 




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