DNP vs. Nursing Master’s Degree: Which Graduate Online Nursing Degree is Right For You?


As you look toward the next step in your nursing career, you have probably considered earning an advanced degree in nursing. The latest evidence shows that there is a strong connection between improved patient outcomes and higher levels of nursing education. So, what level of nursing expertise is right for you? Is earning your nursing master’s degree online the right level to achieve your career goals? Or should you earn your online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)?

You may also wonder what your job would look like with a nursing master’s degree or a doctorate in nursing. The idea of a nurse practitioner is likely already familiar to you, but you might wonder “What does a DNP do?”

Doug Hettich, academic program coordinator for the College of Nursing, explained the differences between the college's top-ranked DNP and nursing master’s degrees, and the job duties and career outcomes you can expect with each credential.

What is a Doctor of Nursing Practice?

The Doctor of Nursing Practice is the terminal degree option for those who wish to excel in practice. The College of Nursing offers a combined online program called BSN to DNP, which awards both the nursing master’s degree and the DNP degree and prepares the student to sit for advanced practice certification (in select specialties), all in one streamlined program.

For nurses who already have a master’s degree, the online Post-Master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice will advance your knowledge and skills in leadership, interdepartmental collaboration, innovation, and evidence-based practice.

If you desire to deepen your practice expertise, translate research into quality care to improve patient outcomes and provide leadership to address key healthcare systems, then the DNP may be a good program for you to consider. In addition, the DNP will prepare you to serve as a mentor, while improving the quality of your practice.

If you desire to deepen your practice expertise, translate research into quality care to improve patient outcomes and provide leadership to address key healthcare systems, then the DNP may be a good program for you to consider.


What is a Nursing Master’s Degree?

The Ohio State University’s Master of Science in nursing prepares RNs for an advanced practice role in a chosen specialty: Clinical Nurse Specialist, Certified Nurse Midwife, or one of the many types of Nurse Practitioner. Students in the master’s program are also eligible to sit for advanced practice certification. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) have more responsibility and can dictate the care of their patients – they may order or interpret lab work and x-rays, or prescribe medication. In primary care, for example, the nurse practitioner is typically the residing practitioner, responsible for care coordination and disease management.


Who is the DNP degree for? Who is the nursing master’s degree for?

The online nursing master’s degree and the online BSN to DNP degree programs are for BSNs that are ready to move on to the next level of clinical expertise. The Post-Master’s DNP program is for an RN with any master’s degree that is ready to advance their career into leadership roles within their field.


What can you do with a doctorate in nursing? What does a DNP do?

A major role of the DNP in the clinical setting is the translation of research into practice, or using the newest data and science to improve patient outcomes. DNPs who work in administrative, policy, technical, educational, and other roles can advance into leadership positions where they will use that same evidence-based approach to improve the methodology of their organization.


What can you do with a master’s in nursing?

Put simply, earning a nursing master’s degree at Ohio State can prepare you to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse. You could become a nurse practitioner, or you could instead choose to become a clinical nurse leader.

Upon graduation from Ohio State’s online nursing master’s degree, you will be eligible to sit for national certification in your chosen specialty. The specialties currently offered online include:

Most types of advanced practice nurses have more autonomy than RNs, and have the ability to diagnose, prescribe, and to dictate the care of their patients.


How do I decide between the DNP and the nursing master’s degree?

Ask yourself the following questions to decide between the two online nursing graduate degrees: 

  • What are your career goals? As an RN, are you ready to take on the responsibility of managing the care of your patients? Are you interested in only working towards the next level of licensure/certification, or are you interested in reaching the highest level of education in nursing practice?
  • What type of nursing professionals or specialists are needed where you live, or where you plan to live in the future?
  • How long of an education commitment are you ready to make currently? Ohio State’s nursing master’s degree requires 55-63 credits, depending on chosen specialty, and would take a full-time student 5 semesters to complete. The BSN to DNP program – in which students earn a master’s degree on their way to a doctorate – requires a minimum of 72 credit hours, which would take a full-time student 11 semesters to complete.


In addition to the questions outlined above, you may also consider: 

Industry Trends: What degree will best prepare me for the future of the nursing field?

The DNP is the best choice to future-proof your nursing career. Serious consideration is now being put towards shifting the educational requirement for advanced practice certification from the master’s to the doctoral level. If you are considering becoming an APRN, also getting your DNP now is a good idea, as in the very near future it will likely be required anyway.

Career Outcomes: How will my choice impact my career and my salary?

As a career field based on licensure, many career paths require higher and higher levels of education to work in more advanced roles. So, depending on your field of expertise and your state of residence, you may need a nursing master’s degree or, eventually, a DNP to advance or have more authority in your practice.

Salaries can vary based on specialty and geographic location. Both the nursing master’s degree and the DNP degree will prepare you for nurse practitioner roles. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners earn an average of $114,510 annually. Due to a growing emphasis on preventative care, employment of nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives is projected to grow 45 percent from 2019 to 2029.

Doctor of Nursing Practice: terminal degree option, trains students to translate research into quality care to improve patient outcomes, prepares students to become mentors and requires a minimum of 72 credit hours for the BSN-DNP pathway or 36 credit hours for the Post-Master's pathway. Nursing Master's: provides next step for RN’s who wish to advance their careers and requires 55-63 credits, depending on chosen specialty. Both: top-ranked by U.S. News & World Report, prepares students to become APRNs, contributes to eligibility for specialty certification, provides opportunity to become a nurse practitioner, 100% online, with mostly synchronous coursework and students must have a BSN to apply.

Both a DNP and nursing master’s degree can have a positive impact on your nursing career – as well as patient outcomes. All online nursing degrees at Ohio State are taught by the same faculty experts who teach on campus, and instruction is delivered in a supportive and collaborative environment. No matter which path you take to advance your education and improve your practice, the College of Nursing is with you every step of the way.

Still need help deciding between these two nationally ranked programs?
Reach out to us directly, and we’ll be in touch shortly to help you on your path of nursing leadership.


Last modified: 
October 13, 2021