Program Insights

EdD vs. DNP: Choosing the Right Doctoral Program for You

By The Room 241 Team January 10, 2020
  • An EdD is designed for those who desire to be leaders in changing education and preparing for leadership and administrative roles.
  • A DNP focuses on preparing advanced practice nurses to become independent providers and direct and indirect clinical practitioners.

A terminal degree can often open doors and help build career opportunities. But before diving into a degree program, it is important to consider your educational needs in terms of your career goals, learning style, and work and family responsibilities.

When evaluating a Doctorate of Education and a Doctorate of Nursing Practice, it is important to understand the nature of each program. Recognized as thought leaders in their field, holders of either doctorate are seen as transformational innovators. Both terminal degrees are demanding and rigorous with a focus on higher learning. And both degrees focus on the application of research and the development of strong leadership skills to positively impact organizations.  

Differences between an EdD and DNP

EdD focuses on educational leadership

An EdD is designed for those who desire to be leaders in changing education and preparing for leadership and administrative roles.

If you are interested in applying knowledge from existing research to improve the educational dynamic and facilitate student achievement in the classroom, a Doctorate of Education may be the right choice for your terminal degree.

The role of the EdD is to incite change in education and leadership. An EdD is designed for those who strive to be experts in leading change in education and seeking faculty and/or educator roles. Doctor of Education degree-holders are in great demand as faculty members, policymakers, and global healthcare leaders. 

DNP focuses on clinical expertise

A DNP focuses on preparing advanced practice nurses to become independent providers and direct and indirect clinical practitioners.

If your goals are to possess the highest level of nursing expertise and work either in a clinical setting or leadership role, a Doctorate in Nursing Practice may be the right terminal degree choice.

Essential to advancing the science of nursing, building collaborative partnerships with other sciences, and improving the health of the communities they serve, a Doctor of Nursing Practice advances the knowledge and skills in research for the application of nursing knowledge. Doctors of Nursing Practice are clinical experts, advancing the nursing profession with evidence-based clinical research for enhanced patient care. 

Overview of EdD and DNP degree programs 

EdD curriculum

The EdD curriculum is centered around the practical application of problem-solving and development in the areas of evaluation, advocacy, and leadership within the educational environment.

A Doctorate of Education is best suited for professionals pursuing leadership roles in colleges, healthcare administration, government agencies, and school districts. Completed in three years, the program is designed for working professionals.

The EdD program begins with one to two years of coursework in fundamental research and application skills as well as concentration courses. Year 3, and possibly 4, is dedicated to research regarding a real-world problem and an actionable plan of execution. A defense of the final project to a committee of experts is required to demonstrate the competence and collegiate rigor of the final culminating requirement.

Concentrating on the practical application of concepts to develop strong leadership and decision-making skills, EdD candidates develop skills in addressing the daily challenges that leaders face, as well as solutions in the management of business and educational organizations.

Professionals earning an EdD learn to lead in a new way through exploring problems and constructing strategies to address them. The application of theory, training in identifying and eliminating discrimination, advocating for social justice, and viewing situations from multiple perspectives is fundamental to the curriculum.

A Doctorate of Education prepares its candidates to be expert researchers and scholars productively adding to the existing body of knowledge in their field while using evidence-based practices to solve problems of practice.

Within the Doctorate of Education curriculum, research is understood to be an influential tool in shaping the education and management systems of organizations. As well as teaching the application of existing research to solve problems, the curriculum of an EdD program emphasizes research methodology as a step toward actionable plans of implementation. 

DNP Curriculum

A Doctorate of Nursing Practice curriculum places its emphasis on direct and indirect clinical practice and strengthening executive nursing leadership roles to directly influence healthcare outcomes through scientific findings.

Best suited for nursing professionals choosing to work in leadership and administrative positions as well as clinical practices, a DNP program typically takes three to five years, and can be completed full time or part-time for working professionals.

The first one to two years of coursework includes the foundational competencies of research, teaching pedagogy, and content courses. The remaining courses focus on the competency demonstrated frequently through an intensive practice immersion experience exhibiting clinical improvement as opposed to a dissertation defense.

Doctor of Nursing Practice candidates build upon their master’s education by including training in evidence-based practice, systems leadership, informatics, and quality improvement. DNP candidates synthesize research into practice and apply evidence to improve bedside processes and patient outcomes, evaluate results, and publish recommendations or use doctoral knowledge to lead clinical institutions toward higher quality care.

Candidates delve into leadership systems through innovation, policy writing, administrative skills, and scholarship-supported decision-making. 

What are some common career paths for EdDs and DNPs?

EdD career path

Professionals with a Doctorate of Education learn to lead in the classroom or as leaders in various industries. A majority of EdD graduates are administrative and upper-level professionals developing strategies to meet leadership and organizational goals.

Many EdD graduates find careers in educational leadership, such as university faculty, education executive leaders, superintendents, or curriculum designers.

Graduates also progress toward scholarly practitioner roles, direct leadership, and management positions such as chief learning officer or executive superintendent. 

DNP career path

Professionals with a Doctorate in Nursing Practice usually pursue practice-oriented leadership roles as an executive in healthcare organizations, clinical program directors, quality management, state and national health policy, and NP clinical practice.

Graduates also invest their expertise in nursing education programs, clinical education, community health leadership, and healthcare education programs. 


Earning a terminal degree is an important step in advancing your education goals and furthering your career opportunities. A doctoral degree must be purposeful, meaningful, and help you make a contribution to the career trajectory that is right for you. If you’re in doubt about which degree type is right for you, speak with your employer about your career goals and the best route to help you achieve them.

Earning a Doctorate of Education through an accredited institution, such as Concordia University-Portland, can help you contribute to the evolution of nursing science while improving leadership and educational practices.

Have questions about earning your EdD? Check out Earning Your EdD: Top 12 FAQs or join an info session.

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