MSN Vs. DNP Programs: Difference & Salary

Oct 22, 2018

Selecting whether you want to earn your master's degree or doctorate in nursing is a big step. If you are deciding which path you may want to take, consider the comparison in this article.

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The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree programs are both created to help advance careers in the nursing field. If you're trying to decide how far you'd like to advance your degree, this article may be able to help you decide between the two.

MSN Program vs DNP Program

While the MSN and DNP programs are both focused on nursing, you'll typically find different paths of study. It is also worth noting that there are bridge programs for both of these degrees, so that you can skip over a degree step if it fits into your current situation. Let's look deeper into each of these programs.

MSN Program

If you already have a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN), you can apply directly for an MSN and can be eligible for registered nurse (RN) licensure at the end of the program. For those holding an associate's degree (ADN) or are already a licensed RN, there are bridge programs that can help you earn your BSN and MSN degree simultaneously.


It's important to recognize that MSN programs typically prepare you for a career as a nurse practitioner (NP). This means you will find an opportunity to focus your elective courses in the medical field you wish to work. For your main curriculum, you can expect to take the following types of courses:

  • Community health nursing
  • Improving nursing practice
  • Pathophysiology
  • Advanced health assessment
  • Sexual and reproductive health
  • Issues in primary care
  • Gerontology

You will also find the clinical experience in MSN programs to be prominent, and sometimes several clinicals are completed.


Depending on the route you choose to take, your program length will be quite different. Should you choose to go directly to a master's degree after your BSN, you can find programs to be completed in as little as 15 months. Typically, an ADN/RN-to-MSN degree can be completed in about three to four years.

DNP Program

Just like the MSN programs, there are DNP bridge programs and stand-alone degrees that can be taken. The bridge program asks that you have at least a BSN, so these are typically called BSN-to-DNP programs.


The DNP program is very research intensive. This program looks more at theory and very specialized nursing fields, such as nursing anesthesia. Typical courses can include the following:

  • Population health
  • Interpreting research reports
  • Epidemiology
  • Clinical informatics
  • Pharmacology for nurse anesthetists
  • Evidence based practice
  • Scholarly writing
  • Data driven health improvements

On top of the courses and clinicals, you'll also culminate your program with a dissertation in the nursing field. You'll select a research topic or theory and spend the majority of your studies working toward your dissertation.


A BSN-to-DNP typically takes between three and four years. However, DNP programs include a dissertation. Some find that this can take a year to complete, but others take years beyond the class attendance. So you'll have to keep this in mind regarding time and cost of this degree.

MSN Salary vs DNP Salary

MSN and DNP degree programs result in several differences in salary amounts. According to in 2018, MSN degree holders made an average of $91,000 a year, while DNP holders earned an average of $100,000. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also provides an in-depth look at individual careers for MSN and DNP degree holders and their related statistics.

MSN Salary and Careers

There are many careers where an MSN will open doors of opportunity. Take a look at the following four careers and their statistics.

Position Average Salary (2017)* Career Outlook (2016-2026)*
Nurse Practitioner $107,480 36%
Medical and Health Service Manager $111,680 20%
Registered Nurse $73,550 15%
Health Educator $57,900 14%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

DNP Salary and Careers

DNP degree holders are qualified to teach nursing at the secondary level or practice nursing anesthesia. Other careers where a master's degree might suffice could also have slightly higher salaries for those with a DNP.

Position Average Salary (2017)* Career Outlook (2016-2026)*
Nursing Professor $77,360 24%
Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) $164,030 16%
Nurse Midwife $103,640 21%
Nurse Practitioner $107,480 36%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

MSN and a DNP degrees are both advantageous depending on your career goals. If you wish to be more practical and hands-on, you may decide that the MSN degree is better for you, while a research or academia position utilizes the DNP better.

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