Advanced-practice nurses are post-baccalaureate nurses who hold either a master's degree (MSN) or a doctoral degree (DNP) in nursing. Both degrees allow the APRN to practice in one of the four recognized roles:

With the many educational opportunities available for potential APRNs, many are curious about the difference between the two degrees and why one degree would be chosen over another. The answer is that it depends on the end goal of the nurse.

A doctoral degree in nursing is considered the "terminal" degree for nurses-meaning there is no higher degree for registered nurses than a DNP. While both DNP and MSN-prepared nurses can work in any of the four recognized APRN roles, the DNP APRN may have a bit longer to go in school. They may also have more focus on leadership and administration (along with the clinical components of the APRN role). DNP students concentrate on evidence-based practices and becoming leaders in the interdisciplinary team. In today's complex world of healthcare, they learn to improve healthcare systems and problem-solve using a systematic approach.

Obtaining a DNP allows the APRN to take on roles in leadership and administration, such as a Director of Nursing Practice, or help gather information to develop evidence-based policies and procedures for a facility or organizations.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing recommends that all advanced-practice nurses eventually achieve a doctoral degree in nursing. Raising the educational "standard" ensures that APRNs are not only equipped to manage complex clinical situations but recognize complex issues in healthcare delivery and work to problem-solve to improve patient care outcomes. However, MSN degrees will not be "phased out." APRNs can still obtain a master's degree and become licensed to practice in one of the four APRN roles.

When looking to advance one's practice to an APRN, it's important to reflect on what the ultimate goal is to determine the educational path that best fits his or her needs. Fortunately, the field of nursing has many opportunities for career growth and development.

Amanda Bucceri Androus, RN, BSN
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