What Is the Highest Nursing Degree?

A Doctor of Nursing Practice is one of the highest degrees for nurses.
i Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images

Go to almost any hospital, and you’re going to find different types of nurses. Some are responsible for critical care, while others are skilled in emergency medicine. You have nurses specializing in pediatrics, geriatrics, oncology and occupational health. In nursing, as with almost any career, the type of degree you choose can affect your opportunities. From an associate to a bachelor's to a master's, each program can take you up the nursing ladder. The highest degree, of course, is a doctorate.


    The highest degree you can earn in nursing is a doctorate, and two basic options are available. The first is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, DNP for short. The focus of this program is clinical, meaning it further prepares you for the practice of medicine. The second is a Doctor of Nursing Science. This degree is more research based, preparing you to advance the practice of nursing -- and medicine as a whole, for that matter.


    Prerequisites for either program can vary by institution. But most require a master’s degree in nursing, as well as a license to practice and one year of clinical experience. Some programs also require a minimum GPA and even a published -- or sometimes unpublished -- scholarly paper on medicine. An entrance exam, such as the GRE or MAT, which is the Miller Analogies Test, is often needed as well.

Job Prospects

    Either graduate degree allows you to practice nursing, but can open up your job prospects further than a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s of science. For one, you could decide to take a leadership role in a health facility and work toward becoming an administrator. A research doctorate, on the other hand, opens up avenues to teach at the college level or conduct research at a research facility. The choice is up to you.


    A survey conducted by "Advances For NPs & PAs," a monthly trade journal, found that the average salary of a Doctor of Nursing Practice was $98,826 a year as of 2011. Those with other doctorates, such as a Doctor of Nursing Science, earned about $3,000 less, averaging an annual salary of $95,449. As would be expected, both salaries were higher than nursing professionals holding a master’s degree -- an estimated $90,250 a year. Nurses with bachelor’s degrees made even less, earning an average of $84,695 a year.

the nest