In the United States, Dual Degree Nursing Programs (or DDNPs), sometimes called combined degrees, are degrees that mix nursing education with education in a complementary subject – all completed at the same time. They are designed for students who require nursing knowledge but who prefer administrative and management roles as a career path. Typically, they will combine some elements from a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree and the rest from management, business, public health, or health administration. Some examples of popular dual-degree nursing programs include:

  • MSN-MBA (Master of Business Administration)
  • MSN-MPH (Master of Public Health)
  • MSN-MHA (Master of Healthcare Administration)
  • MSN-MPA (Master of Public Administration)
  • DNP-PhD (Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing)

Dual degree nursing program graduates may apply for the NCLEX-RN exam after three or four years depending on the program and schedule. This may sound ideal to many prospective students. There are, however, some drawbacks of which you must be aware.

Applicants to a dual degree nursing program should consider the following pros and the cons of this type of qualification.

The Pros of a Dual Degree Nursing Program

There are three main benefits to enrolling in a dual degree nursing program:

1. Expertise in Two Areas

The first and most obvious benefit to combining the essential parts of two different degrees is the mixed expertise. Not only will you gain valuable clinical experience and nursing knowledge, but you will also gain an understanding of the administration of health, the business side of nursing and healthcare, and other organizational roles. This knowledge is a valuable asset and something that single-degree students will not typically gain without further study.

2. Less Time Studying

If your long-term goal is to move out of clinical practice at some point and into decision-making, policy, or administration, you will already have the groundwork with a dual degree. Others coming from a purely clinical setting who wish to make the jump into management or policy may need further education in the form of lengthy degrees and certificates. There is also the associated expense with such further study that an employer may not necessarily be willing to cover.

3. Faster Progress

In theory, studying two related elements of healthcare should put you in good stead for faster career progression. Your broad knowledge set will make you eligible for roles that require multiple skills, multitasking, and flexibility in the job. With more skills comes more responsibilities. Potentially, that can mean faster career progression to where you want to be.

The Cons of a Dual Degree Nursing Program

Nothing in life is certain. Inevitably, there are also some potential drawbacks to dual degree nursing programs; or at the very least, some things to take into consideration.

1. Competition

Due to the benefits described above, prospective students gravitate towards dual nursing degrees in high numbers, especially considering that dual degree programs are not as common as single degree programs. That means there are typically far more applicants than capacity permits. The admission requirements are also higher than average for obvious reasons – colleges and universities want the best of the best. They also want to know that they're admitting those who can cope with the demanding environment of a dual degree.

2. Higher Workload

Unfortunately, you are not combining half of one degree and half of another. You're actually taking on over 50% of each, meaning more work than a standard degree program. This can lead to overwhelm, and some students eventually switch to a single degree program because they cannot cope with the grueling pace. You will spend more time in lectures and in the library, and coursework and deadlines can be especially demanding. Students who work to pay for their studies will find less time for this; those with kids or other family obligations may find it a struggle to balance those commitments alongside their studies. Think carefully about the impact such a workload would have on your extracurricular activities or finances. Financial aid is not always sufficient to carry you through a dual degree.

3. You Will Spread Yourself Thin

It is said if you try to do everything you will end up the master of nothing. A dual nursing degree is not suitable for everyone, especially where your desired career path(s) might not require the added education. You could lack vital skills, knowledge, and experience on either side and hold some that may do your career no good. Further, those extra academic skills are not guaranteed to benefit you in your career if you eventually choose to go down another path.

A dual degree nursing program is a huge and expensive commitment. Prospective students should carefully consider all their options in line with their career goals before applying to any program.

Which is Right For You?

Determining whether a dual degree nursing program is right for you depends on your individual goals, interests, and circumstances. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Career Goals: What are your long-term career aspirations? Do you envision yourself working in a specialized area of nursing that could benefit from additional expertise in another field?
  • Interest in Other Fields: Are you passionate about a particular subject outside of nursing, such as business, public health, or technology? Would combining nursing with another field enhance your professional satisfaction and fulfillment?
  • Time and Commitment: Can you commit to the additional time and effort required to complete a dual degree program? Are you prepared for the potential challenges of balancing coursework from two different disciplines?
  • Financial Considerations: Are you able to afford the higher tuition and expenses associated with a dual degree program? Have you explored financial aid options and scholarships to help alleviate the cost?
  • Learning Style: Do you thrive in structured academic environments, or do you prefer more flexibility and autonomy in your coursework? Are you comfortable with the academic rigor and potential challenges of a dual degree program?
  • Future Marketability: Will a dual degree enhance your competitiveness in the job market and increase your earning potential? Have you researched the demand for professionals with expertise in both nursing and your chosen field?

Reflecting on these questions and conducting thorough research into dual degree nursing programs can help you determine whether pursuing a dual degree aligns with your interests, goals, and circumstances. Additionally, speaking with academic advisors, current students, and professionals in the field can provide valuable insights and guidance as you make your decision.