Question: What is the Difference between an EdD in Nursing Education and a DNP in Nursing Education?

Answer: Doctor of Education (EdD) in Nursing Education and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Nursing Education programs represent two different types of terminal degree programs with similar, yet distinct, goals and aims. Both types of programs provide Registered Nurses (RNs) and Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) with advanced academic training in the theories and practices of nursing education. However, an EdD is an education degree with a focus in nursing education, while a DNP is a clinical degree in nursing with courses in nursing education.

While there are similarities between EdD and DNP programs in nursing education, there are also differences that are important for nurses to understand when exploring these degree programs. In general, EdD programs are offered by Schools of Education and are thus positioned primarily to equip teachers, educational researchers, administrators, and other experienced professionals, including nurses and professionals working in healthcare, with the most up-to-date pedagogical tools, educational methodologies, and curriculum design strategies to become educational leaders in organizations. In contrast, DNP programs are practice-based clinical doctoral programs offered by nursing schools and are designed for nurses, including RNs, Nurse Practitioners (NPs), and other APRNs, who want to advance into leadership positions in their field. Thus, DNP programs with an emphasis in nursing education are clinical DNP programs that include courses in nursing education designed to teach nurses how to teach in clinical and/or academic settings.

DNP programs are designed to prepare RNs to train nursing students in clinical and academic settings using the latest innovations in pedagogy and teaching technologies in nursing education, and train RNs how to design and assess nurse training curricula. EdD programs, on the hand, are designed for RNs who want to explore and conduct research on how to improve nursing training and pedagogy. Therefore, most EdD programs require students to conduct an original research project and complete a dissertation, a dissertation in practice, or a doctoral capstone project in nursing education. While DNP programs also require students to conduct research and complete a scholarly project, they do not typically require students to complete a dissertation.

There are also differences in terms of the academic and professional prerequisites for EdD and DNP programs. The majority of EdD programs require a master’s degree for admission and typically EdD programs in Nursing Education require students to have earned a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. (There are EdD programs with an emphasis in Health Professions that may accept RNs who have a non-nursing master’s degree.) For DNP programs, there are several pathways with many nursing schools offering BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP programs.

Regardless of their differences, EdD and DNP programs in nursing education can prepare RNs for a range of nurse educator roles. These include academic and clinical faculty positions at hospitals, nursing schools, universities, and medical centers, as well as administrative roles in the field of nursing education. To learn more about EdD and DNP programs, continue reading below.

Doctor of Education (EdD) in Nursing vs. Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Nursing Education Programs

The major differences between EdD and DNP programs in nursing education stem from the fact that the EdD degree is grounded in the field of education and the DNP degree emerged from the field of nursing. As a result, EdD programs in nursing education are more likely to be housed in schools and colleges of education, like the online Doctor of Education in Nursing Education program that is offered by Teachers College at Columbia University, while DNP programs are based almost exclusively in schools, colleges, or departments of nursing. Thus, while schools that offer DNP programs receive programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and must adhere to specific standards for the academic training in nursing in order to maintain their accreditation, EdD programs do not go through the same accreditation process.

It should be noted that EdD programs in Nursing Education may choose to follow curricular guidelines established by the CCNE and/or one of the several other professional nursing organizations and accrediting agencies. As Dr. Kathleen O’Connell, the Director of the Online EdD in Nursing Education program at Teachers College Columbia University, noted in an interview with OnlineEdDPrograms.com:

“We aligned our curriculum’s learning outcomes with the core competencies set forth by the National League of Nursing (NLN). Our courses are designed to teach students how to apply higher education theories to the creation and management of effective learning environments in health care contexts. We have students who want to teach in an academic, higher education setting, as well as students who are interested in staff development at hospitals, medical centers, and community health centers. We expect our graduates to be able to apply theories and innovative teaching strategies from nursing and higher education to enact an effective nurse educator role.”

Dr. O’Connell emphasized that, “The major difference between the DNP and the EdD is that the DNP was established to be a clinical degree, the highest clinical degree in nursing that you could get.” To put the differences between the two types of degrees in historical context, she explained:

“There was a shortage of faculty in nursing higher education. Schools of nursing initially came up with the DNP in nursing education, which still had a clinical emphasis with a smattering of education courses to teach students how to create a syllabus and teach a class. In contrast, the EdD in Nursing Education is specifically about nursing education. It requires people to do research in areas of nursing education and how to improve it. While there are people who have DNPs and are in faculty positions, the majority of DNP programs prepare students for advanced clinical work and non-pedagogical nursing leadership. The EdD in Nursing Education is specifically for those individuals who want to be leaders in nursing education.”

There are some structural differences between EdD and DNP programs as well. While crediting requirements vary by school and by program, EdD programs typically require 60 credits of coursework, which is more than the 33 to 45 credits that MSN-to-DNP programs commonly require. This translates to a completion time of one to two years for DNP programs and two to three years for EdD programs.

Finally, to graduate from a DNP program, RNs are required to have at least 1,000 hours of post-BSN clinical hours, of which a minimum of 500 hours must be completed as part of the DNP program. EdD programs with a nurse educator specialization typically require one or more practicums in which students receive hands-on training in teaching in academic and/or clinical settings. However, the number of hours and the clinical settings in which those hours are accrued are not necessarily the same for students in EdD programs versus DNP programs.


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Side-By-Side Comparison of EdD in Nursing Education vs. DNP Nurse Educator Programs

The table below highlights the similarities and differences between EdD and DNP programs in nursing education. It is meant to provide an overview of some of the key characteristics associated with these programs. Program details are drawn from research into EdD and DNP programs offered by accredited, non-profit schools, colleges, and universities.

For the sake of clarity and equivalence, the programs used for this comparison are MSN-to-DNP and MSN-to-EdD programs. BSN-to-DNP programs have different admissions and academic requirements, more extensive curricula, and longer completion times than programs designed for RNs who have already completed their MSN degree.

 EdD in Nursing Education ProgramsDNP in Nursing Education Programs
(MSN to DNP)
Admission Requirements:MSN degree + RN licenseMSN degree + RN license
Credit Hours:50 to 70 semester credits33 to 45 semester credits
Completion Time:Three to five yearsOne to three years
Sample Courses:
  • Teaching & Learning Methods
  • Educational Administration
  • Research Methods in Health & Behavior Studies
  • Nursing Theory in Nursing Education
  • Curriculum Development
  • Clinical Teaching in Nursing Education
  • Assessment & Learning Evaluation Methods
  • Ethics & the Role of the Nurse Educator
  • Advanced Research Methods & Literature Reviews
  • Innovation & Technology in Nursing Education
  • Legal Issues in Nursing Education
  • Health Systems Policy
  • Healthcare Research Methods
  • Curriculum Design & Learning Outcomes
  • Healthcare Data & Statistical Analysis
  • Learning Assessment
  • Technology & Simulation in Nursing Education
  • Organizational Dynamics in Higher Education
  • Strategic Leadership
  • Health Policy
  • Healthcare Finance
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Population Health & Public Health Policy
  • Collaborative Healthcare Practice
Culminating Experience:Applied capstone project, research project, or doctoral dissertationApplied capstone project
Clinical Hours:N/AMinimum of 500 clinical hours (students must complete a total of 1000 post-baccalaureate clinical hours and are given credit for 500 hours if earned during their MSN program)
Programmatic Accreditation:N/ACCNE or ACEN

Additional EdD and DNP Specializations

Another useful way to illustrate the conceptual differences between DNP and EdD programs is to look at the various specializations that these programs offer. DNP programs, as noted above, are housed within nursing schools, and are specifically designed to provide doctoral training to nurses. Thus, in addition to nurse educator DNP programs, there are DNP programs with specializations in Executive Leadership, Health Policy, Informatics, Public Health, and various APRN specializations, including Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP), Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP), and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP). Nurse Educator/Nursing Education is just one of many areas within nursing that DNP students can choose as a specialty.

In contrast, there are EdD programs that are designed for professionals in a wide range of fields, including several non-nursing healthcare areas of practice. There are, for example, EdD programs in Healthcare Administration, Health and Human Performance, Organizational Leadership for Behavioral Health, and Human Services Administration. For more detailed information on these types of programs, refer to our Online EdD Programs in Healthcare Professions: Health, Healthcare Administration, and Nursing Education page.

Finally, as the focus of EdD programs is on education leadership first and foremost, there are also numerous EdD specializations designed for educators in fields outside of the healthcare professions. These include: Adult Education; Community College Leadership; Curriculum Development and Instruction; Diversity and Multiculturalism; Early Childhood Education; Education Administration and Leadership; Education Policy; Education Technology and e-Learning; Entrepreneurship in Education; Higher Education Leadership; K-12 Leadership; Organizational Leadership; and Special Education.