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DNP vs NP - Which Nursing Program is Right for Me?

What's the difference between an NP & a DNP? The high overlap between terms can be confusing when planning a nursing career. Arizona Online explains the difference!

Every profession loves using acronyms to shorten titles. The nursing profession is no different! The nursing alphabet soup of abbreviations spans from nursing degrees to certifications. Sometimes, different degrees and certifications also sound very similar. If you’re not “in the know,” the high overlap between terms could confuse you when planning your potential nursing career. 

Let’s take, for example, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) vs. a Nurse Practitioner (NP), which is a tricky distinction to make, as some NPs hold a DNP degree. So, what’s the difference between a DNP and an NP?


Nurse Practitioner (NP) refers to the professional, clinical role of nurse practitioner, while Doctor of Nurse Practitioner (DNP) refers to the highest level of clinical nursing education.

What is an NP?

A nurse practitioner is a medical professional educated to assess and diagnose patients, prescribe and manage medications, advise, counsel, and guide patients and their families in making care-related decisions, and many more. There are different NP specializations, and NPs can attain certifications in different foci. Over half of U.S. states extend full practice authority to NPs, allowing them to see patients, evaluate tests, and prescribe medications without a supervising physician or physician assistant.

What is a DNP?

A Doctor of Nurse Practitioner is a post-master’s or terminal degree for clinical nurses and is one step above a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). A DNP is for nursing practice as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), nursing leader, nurse educator, nurse executive, or nurse director. With a DNP in hand, you’ll be empowered to influence patient care significantly.

As a DNP degree holder, you can ensure that evidence-based practice is applied to patient care. Earning a DNP and becoming a nurse practitioner offers many benefits for a nursing professional. DNPs are in demand across the healthcare industry, and with a DNP, you’ll be able to transition to an Advanced Practice confidently while being prepared to provide exceptional high-quality care to your community. 

DNP Programs

Arizona Online offers a Doctor of Nursing Practice program with seven different specialties, giving you a range of interests to explore. 

What to Expect in a DNP Program

The DNP degree program is designed to prepare nurses for the highest level of professional nursing practice and are trained as advanced practice nurses. A DNP program requires a Bachelor of Science or a Master of Science in Nursing.

The University of Arizona Online’s DNP program is a hybrid program utilizing a mixture of online didactic coursework, on-campus intensives, and on-ground practicum and clinical placements. With a DNP, you will be prepared to generate and disseminate nursing practice knowledge to stimulate research, improve clinical outcomes, improve health outcomes through scientifically based advanced practice within your chosen specialty, engage in and lead collaborative practice teams, and influence clinical practice transformation and policy initiatives.

Even though most of Arizona Online’s DNP is online, you must attend three on-campus Clinical immersions in Tucson, Arizona, to complete the program. Clinical Immersions are designed to help you develop specialty-specific clinical skills. Once finished, you’ll be prepared to continue to enhance your clinical skills under the supervision of preceptors in clinical environments.

Amanda Zeagler Banner Health Portrait


The AGACNP program is elite! The faculty are committed to the success of the students.


-Amanda Katherine Zeagler, Arizona Online Graduate

Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner DNP Program


NP vs DNP Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners had an annual mean wage of $125,900 in 2022, approximately double the U.S. average wage of $61,900. However, a nurse practitioner’s salary can vary based on their job location, years of experience, education level, certifications, and specializations, among other factors. A nurse practitioner’s area of specialty and the job demand for that specialty also can have an impact on yearly earnings.

According to, DNP nurses make, on average, $117,859 annually. Of course, factors like location, industry specialization, and experience play a crucial role in determining actual DNP pay.

Is it worth getting a DNP?

While national salaries might look similar for an NP and DNP holder, since a DNP is a higher degree than an NP, graduates of a DNP program will be able to compete for higher-paying and more powerful jobs. Remember, education and experience are factors in determining a nurse’s salary. Leadership roles are also pursued more frequently by DNP graduates.