5 Ways a DNP Degree Can Change Your Career

Earning a DNP degree (Doctor of Nursing Practice) may lead to a better salary and more opportunities.

DNP nurse overseeing employee

There are many routes nurses can take for advancing their careers, and obtaining a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is one of the highest educational paths to venture. The terminal degree is an excellent choice for those who wish to specialize in roles beyond traditional ones and pursue leadership in nursing practice or advanced clinical practice positions. DNP programs focus on clinical practice, preparing nurses with advanced and specialized knowledge in patient care. 

If you’re looking to transform your own professional path, here are five ways earning a DNP degree can change your career.

Leadership opportunities

As DNP programs prepare you with advanced clinical knowledge and emphasize evidence-based practices, you’ll be able to take on higher-level leadership in nursing practice or executive roles. Nurses who complete DNP programs learn how to navigate stressful situations, make researched-back decisions, and work in fast-paced environments. These skills qualify for positions that may not be available to nurses who have an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. The DNP enables registered nurses to:

  • Demonstrate clinical leadership
  • Provide expertise in clinical practice
  • Use scholarly research, advanced technology, and evidence-based practice to improve patient outcomes

Whether your career path is in clinical leadership, an executive-level position, or outside of direct patient care, earning a doctorate in nursing prepares you to pursue various career pathways.

Some common career routes pursued by DNPs:

  • Chief Executive Officer
  • Nurse anesthetist
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Informaticists
  • Health policy 
  • Public health
  • Nurse educator

Nurses can find these roles in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, private healthcare firms, academia, insurance companies, and more. In addition to having more career opportunities, the demand for advanced practice nurses is increasing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for advanced practice nurses, including nurse practitioners (NPs) and nurse anesthetists, is expected to increase by 45 percent through 2029. 

Note: if you’re unsure about the difference between achieving a DNP and becoming a nurse practitioner, here’s a DNP vs. NP guide to help you. 

Potential salary increase

While salary is determined by location, experience, and organization, earning a DNP places you at an advantage to potentially earn a higher salary. The 2018 AORN Salary and Compensation Survey notes the base compensation for DNP nurses was nearly $7,500 more than the base compensation for nurses with a master’s degree. Additionally, according to the 2020 Nurse Salary Research Report, DNPs’ total average salary was $98K compared to $90K for MSNs and $73K for BSNs. 

Specialize in clinical leadership 

DNP curriculum equips nurses with research knowledge and the resources needed to specialize in clinical practice areas, perform advanced patient care, and serve as executive leaders. Because DNP graduates have advanced expertise in their chosen specialties, they understand how to present clinical and evidence-based research. Some roles in clinical leadership include:

  • Chief Clinical Officer
  • Director of Nursing 
  • Director of Clinical Operations
  • Director of Patient Care Services
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist 
  • Director of Clinical Education

Stay current and become a leader in healthcare trends

Healthcare and nursing are constantly and rapidly changing. To keep up with the industry, DNP-prepared nurses are leaders in understanding:

  • Disease processes
  • Best practices
  • Future trends and advances
  • Clinical technologies
  • The latest and trending healthcare, medical, and scientific advances

DNP nurses provide up-to-date information and evidence-based research to nurses and other healthcare professionals. This is especially important because staying informed allows nurses to stay on top of trends and provide the best care to patients. 

Muriel Moyo, Aspen University DNP candidate, strives to make an impact by applying her degree knowledge to her role as the Clinical Director of Outpatient Surgical Services at a California hospital. She already has published work and research, including her American Journal of Nursing (AJN) piece Adapting the Nurse Manager Role to Attract Generation X and Millennial Nurses.

“I believe being a doctoral-prepared nurse will help me drive nursing excellence within my organization and help with forward mobilization of our profession,” says Muriel. 

Pursue a job outside of the hospital setting

Nurses who aspire to have advanced leadership roles may decide to pursue a role outside of the traditional hospital setting. Though all positions do not require a DNP degree, earning one may help set you apart from the competition. DNP nurses are prepared to use their advanced clinical and research skills to support healthcare organizations. They improve workforce and patient outcomes and identify healthcare trends. These roles range from running specialty clinics to overseeing and consulting on clinical research and operations. Nurses may find these jobs with:

  • Insurance companies
  • Government agencies
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Consulting firms
  • Medical supply companies

Additionally, DNP-prepared nurses may decide to pursue entrepreneurship. After Dr. Pamlea Manning obtained her DNP degree from Aspen, she was inspired by her doctoral research on the health implications of nurse burnout. She created the non-profit group Escape for Nurses, where members can participate in self-care and educational activities to reduce burnout. As an entrepreneur, Dr. Manning is also the CEO of her own primary care office and the Director of Nursing at a private school. 


If you’re interested in pursuing your DNP, Aspen’s online DNP program may be the right fit for you.


Portia WoffordPortia Wofford is an award-winning nurse, writer, and digital marketer. After dedicating her nursing career to creating content and solutions for employers that affected patient outcomes, these days, Portia empowers health practices to increase growth opportunities and become the number one providers in their communities through engaging content that connects and converts. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for her latest.

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