Which Degree is Right for You?

Congratulations on deciding to pursue a career as a family nurse practitioner (FNP)! As you embark on this exciting journey, you may face an important question: Should you pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree? 

Learn the differences between an MSN FNP and DNP FNP and which degree is right for you.

What’s the Difference Between an MSN FNP and a DNP FNP? 

Graduates with both degrees allow the student to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). However, education level is one of the primary initial differences between an MSN-FNP and a DNP-FNP.

MSN FNP vs DNP FNP Compared




Education Requirements



Program Length

2-3 years full-time

3-4 years full-time

Program Cost

About $260 to $1800 per credit

About $350 to $1800 per credit 

Clinical Hours

500 hours 

1000 hours

Expected Salary

$102,000 per year, $45.69 per hour (Payscale)

$111,000 per year, $55.42 per hour (Payscale)

Scope of Practice

Depends on state regulations.

Depends on state regulations.

What is an MSN FNP?

An MSN FNP provides you with the skills and knowledge necessary to practice as an FNP. MSN-FNP degrees emphasize clinical training, advanced nursing practice, and patient care management and take 2-3 years to complete.

What is a DNP FNP?

The DNP-FNP degree is a doctoral program that goes beyond the master’s level curriculum and takes 3-4 years to complete. 

A DNP is a terminal degree. It provides an additional emphasis on leadership, evidence-based practice, systems thinking, and healthcare policy. DNP programs prepare advanced practice nurses to become leaders in clinical practice, education, research, and healthcare administration.

Coursework Differences

MSN-FNP Programs

An MSN-FNP program focuses on providing a solid foundation in nursing theory, advanced clinical practice, and patient care management. You’ll learn essential skills such as:

  • Health assessment
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment planning
  • Primary care management for individuals and families across the lifespan
See also  The Ultimate BSN Degree Guide

MSN-FNP coursework typically includes:

  • Advanced Health Assessment
  • Pathophysiology for Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Pharmacology for Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Women’s Health
  • Primary Care of Children
  • Primary Care Management for Family Nurse Practitioners
  • Family Nursing Theory and Practice
  • Clinical Rotations in Primary Care Settings
  • Research 
  • Evidence-Based Practice in Advanced Nursing

DNP-FNP Programs

A DNP-FNP program builds upon the MSN-FNP curriculum by incorporating additional coursework. DNP-FNP classes emphasize leadership, evidence-based practice, healthcare policy, quality improvement, and systems thinking. In addition to advanced clinical practice skills, you’ll develop deeper competencies in areas such as:

  • Healthcare economics
  • Informatics
  • Population health 
  • Healthcare ethics

DSN-FNP coursework typically includes:

  • Advanced Health Assessment and Diagnostic Reasoning
  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Primary Care Management for Family Nurse Practitioners
  • Healthcare Policy and Advocacy
  • Leadership in Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Epidemiology and Biostatistics
  • Informatics in Healthcare
  • Program Evaluation and Quality Improvement
  • Ethics in Healthcare
  • DNP Capstone Project or Clinical Residency

Program Lengths

MSN FNP degrees take 2-3 years to complete, while DNP FNP degrees take 3-4. MSN vs DNP program lengths differ due to several factors:

  • Scope of education: DNP-FNP programs usually take 1-2 years longer due to additional coursework requirements.

  • Degree Requirements: DNP-FNP programs typically require additional leadership, research, and healthcare systems coursework.

  • Capstone & Practicum: DNP programs typically require a capstone project or clinical residency.

Although MSN-FNP programs are shorter, they still give you a solid foundation for clinical practice and meet the requirements for FNP certification.

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Program Costs

On average, MSN-FNP programs cost $260 to $1800, while DNP-FNP programs cost $350 to $1800. But tuition fees vary widely based on the location and type of program you choose. Also, public universities are often less expensive than private universities. 

DNP programs often have higher tuition fees as compared to MSN programs. However, many programs have similar cost-per-credit rates for both their MSN and DNP programs. Since DNP programs require more classes, they are also usually more expensive.

Program Competitiveness 

Many MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP programs are competitive. However, the overall competitiveness of both MSN and DNP programs can vary among institutions. Some programs have higher admission standards and a competitive applicant pool, while others are more lenient and easier to get into.

See also  Pros & Cons of Getting an MSN Degree From a Nurse

Additionally, DNP programs may be more competitive than MSN programs due to increasing demand and limited availability. 

To better understand how competitive your application experience will be, it’s best to conduct individual research. Look into each program you apply to, focusing on acceptance rates and criteria, to determine its competitiveness.

You can work in a variety of facilities as either an MSN-FNP or DNP-FNP, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Private practices
  • Correctional facilities
  • Urgent care centers
  • Outpatient facilities
  • Academic institutions
  • Government facilities
  • Skilled nursing facilities
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Correctional facilities
  • Hospice center
  • Retail clinics

How This Degree Choice Can Impact Your FNP Career

DNP-FNPs may have expanded career opportunities than MSN-FNPs because they have a higher education and degree level. Both degrees allow FNPs to work in similar areas. However, DNP-FNPs may have more options due to their advanced clinical training, leadership skills, and research expertise. 

Therefore, DNP-trained FNPs may be more competitive for advanced practice, healthcare leadership, policy-making, research, and academic roles. However, both MSN and DNP-FNPs can have fulfilling careers and contribute significantly to patient care and nursing.

Salary Potential

DNP salaries are often higher than MSN nurses due to their additional training and practice hours. Salaries can also vary widely based on the type of facility where you work, experience level, location, and other factors.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not differentiate between MSN and DNP-trained nurse practitioners. But they do report that the mean annual salary for all NPs is $124,680 annually or $59.94 per hour.

2023 Payscale data reveals that DNP-trained nurses earn $111,000 annually on average. In contrast, MSN nurses make $102,000 yearly, $9,000 less than DNPs.

State regulations and licensing boards govern all FNP scopes of practice, whether you have an MSN or DNP. These regulations differ depending on your state and may impact the responsibilities, prescribing privileges, and level of autonomy granted to FNPs. 

Check out the American Association of Nurse Practitioners state practice environment map to see the NP practice environment in the state where you plan to work.

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Whether you earn an MSN or DNP to become a family nurse practitioner, advancing your education creates several opportunities to grow your nursing career. Here are some potential avenues for advancement:

  • Expanded scope of practice as an APRN
  • Leadership and management positions within healthcare organizations that require higher education
  • Engagement in policy and advocacy initiatives

In addition, having a DNP may offer additional career growth benefits and opportunities, including:

  • More choices in career positions and specialization
  • More opportunities for advancement
  • Increased job security

If you are an MSN-trained FNP, you may also want to consider attending an MSN-DNP program to advance to the highest level of FNP.

How to Choose Between FNP MSN and FNP DNP 

Try asking yourself some of these questions to help you decide between MSN and DNP family nurse practitioner tracks:

What Are My Career Goals?

Understanding your long-term career goals can help determine whether an MSN or DNP aligns better with your desired trajectory. An MSN may be sufficient if your goal is primarily clinical practice. However, a DNP can offer expanded opportunities for leadership, research, and advanced practice roles.

How Important Is Academic and Research-Focused Learning to Me?

A DNP program may be more suitable if you are interested in academic pursuits, research, or evidence-based practice. The DNP curriculum typically emphasizes advanced research, healthcare policy, and systems leadership. Therefore, it provides a broader foundation in these areas than an MSN program.

Am I Seeking Greater Credibility and Influence in the Nursing Profession?

A DNP degree may offer increased professional credibility, as it is a terminal degree in nursing. This recognition can open doors to leadership positions, research opportunities, and policy advocacy roles, potentially giving you greater influence within the nursing profession.

How Much Time Am I Willing to Commit to My Education?

Consider the time commitment required for each program. An MSN program is typically shorter in duration compared to a DNP program, allowing you to enter the workforce sooner. 

Ultimately, the choice between an MSN-FNP and a DNP-FNP depends on your career goals, interests, and the advanced practice level you wish to pursue. Best of luck to you in your next APRN career!

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