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MSN-FNP vs. DNP-FNP: Which FNP Degree is Better?

Written By: Caitlin Goodwin DNP, CNM, RN

Choosing between an MSN-FNP vs DNP-FNP can seem like an impossible decision. The best news? When you complete each degree, you have a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) certification to show for it.

With health care reform in the United States, there are more leadership roles for nurses and advanced practice nurses. There is an incredible need for FNPs. As the baby boomers age, they experience more chronic conditions, and health care needs as a whole are increasing.

Secondly, most primary care physicians enter the field in their late 20s and practice for about 40 years. In 2017, more than a quarter of all primary care doctors were over 60 years old. As more primary care physicians retire, the need for FNPs will increase further. FNPs fill the gap in coverage for primary care in many communities.

There are so many benefits to becoming an FNP. But what are the differences between MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP? There are pros and cons to pursuing a master of science in nursing (MSN) versus a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) when becoming an FNP. However, each student’s path varies tremendously. This article will cover how to become an MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP, the strengths for each track, and what the job entails.

MSN-FNP vs. DNP-FNP: Program Outcome

The differences between MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP are primarily that the MSN-FNP prepares the student to become an FNP, whereas the DNP-FNP takes it a step further. Both MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP graduate from an accredited FNP program. The only difference is the training and clinical experience.

The program outcome is, in some ways, the same for both. Both programs prepare you to work in primary care for individuals and families across the United States. The MSN builds upon your existing undergraduate nursing education and experiences to empower you to excel as an NP.

The DNP-FNP goes a step further by integrating leadership, policy, and educational theories. The DNP-FNP can be taken by a bachelor’s prepared RN who wishes to achieve their DNP and FNP simultaneously. However, the DNP-FNP can also be taken by a master’s qualified nurse who is not yet an advanced practice nurse. The DNP-FNP will complete the program with a terminal degree.

MSN-FNP vs. DNP-FNP: Program Length

The program length for a DNP-FNP is much longer than an MSN-FNP. However, the path to either MSN-FNP or DNP-FNP varies depending on one’s starting degree and background.

● If you are a registered nurse (RN) with an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) attending RN to MSN-FNP school full-time, it will take nearly three years.
● If you have a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) attending school full-time, it will take 15 months to two years to become an MSN-FNP and three to four years to become a DNP-FNP.
● If you have a bachelor’s degree, but not a BSN, attend a direct entry MSN program that builds upon your previous education. If you go to school full-time, it will take twenty months to two years.
● If you already have your MSN and are attending the DNP-FNP track, it will take one to two years.

Degree Pathway Full-Time Part-Time
MSN-FNP RN to MSN-FNP 30 to 36 months 36 to 48 months
BSN to MSN-FNP 15 to 24 months 24 to 48 months
Direct Entry MSN 20 to 24 months 24 to 48 months
DNP-FNP BSN to DNP-FNP 3 to 4 years 4 to 7 years
MSN to DNP-FNP 1 to 2 years 2 to 4 years

MSN-FNP vs. DNP-FNP: Program Cost

There is a significant difference between MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP tuition costs that depend on what degree you currently hold and your nursing background. MSN-FNP programs range from $18,810 to $231,600. DNP-FNP programs range from $17,660 to $254,260, depending on what degree you possess.

However, these financial figures are comparing a variety of different programs. For example, to compare similar programs, look at the BSN to MSN-FNP and the BSN to DNP-FNP. Those who already obtained their BSN and are obtaining their:

● MSN-FNP pay between $18,810 to $185,280
● DNP-FNP pay between $26,490 to $254,260

Degree Pathway Tuition Ranges
MSN-FNP RN to MSN-FNP $22,070 - $231,600
BSN to MSN-FNP $18,810 - $185,280
Direct Entry MSN $22,570 - $222,340
DNP-FNP BSN to DNP-FNP $26,490 - $254,260
MSN to DNP-FNP $17,660 - $169,510


The initial coursework of both the MSN-FNP and the DNP-FNP is the same. Both programs include the following courses:

● Health care policy
● Advanced pharmacology
● Advanced pathophysiology
● Advanced health assessment
● Biomedical statistics
● Nursing Ethics
● Nursing Theory
● Nursing leadership
● Clinical training
● Care of the childbearing women
● Pediatric care
● Chronic care of the adult
● Acute care of the adult

However, the DNP-FNP stands apart from the MSN-FNP because it features advanced theoretical and clinical training to meet the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nurse Practice core competencies. When it comes to choosing between the MSN-FNP or DNP-FNP, you must consider the additional advanced coursework related to obtaining a doctorate. While the doctorate has many benefits, it requires more of your time and energy.

Clinical Hours

Clinical hours are the hands-on encounters that nursing professionals experience to prepare them for the realities of their jobs. The MSN-FNP program’s clinical requirements vary by institution and specialty but require between 200 and 600 clinical hours before graduation. The American Association of Colleges of Nurses requires that DNP-FNP graduates have a minimum of 1,000 clinical hours. When choosing between the MSN-FNP or DNP-FNP, know that the DNP-FNP requires significantly more clinical hours.

MSN-FNP versus DNP-FNP: Admission Requirements

Getting into nursing school is never easy. However, when evaluating the difference between MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP programs, the admission requirements are similar. Those who wish to enter the MSN-FNP should meet the following:

● An earned bachelor’s degree in nursing (or associate’s degree and non-nursing bachelor’s degree) from an accredited institution
● Final cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher
● Unencumbered licensure as an RN
● Some universities require the GRE or GMAT
● Undergraduate transcripts
● Letter of intent or personal statement
● References and CV

There are typically two routes to DNP-FNP, by starting with a BSN or starting with an MSN. BSN to DNP-FNP candidates should prepare with the following:

● An earned bachelor’s degree in nursing (or associate’s degree and non-nursing bachelor’s degree) from an accredited institution
● Final cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher
● Unencumbered licensure as an RN
● Some universities require the GRE or GMAT
● Undergraduate transcripts
● Letter of intent or personal statement
● References and CV

Those who wish to enter the MSN to DNP-FNP should meet the following:

● An earned master’s degree in nursing
● Final cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher
● Unencumbered licensure as an RN
● Transcripts from all programs
● Letter of intent or personal statement
● References and CV

MSN-FNP vs. DNP-FNP: Can you Pursue it Online or Part-Time?

Yes, you can pursue both the MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP part-time and online. One of the major similarities between MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP is the ability to stretch out both tracks’ requirements on a part-time basis. The ability to take fewer courses is ideal for those who are still working full-time.

Online schooling is becoming more popular. Some nurses are unable to attend a brick and mortar university. Luckily, both the MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP come with the option to take the didactic classes virtually due to cutting edge technology and a push for online education.

How to Fund Your Degree?

Whether you choose MSN-FNP or DNP-FNP, attending graduate school is a costly endeavor. The first step is seeking federal student loans. You can apply for student loans from the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA). Graduate students are eligible for several different types of loans:

● Unsubsidized Stafford loans (subsidized loans are only available to undergraduates)
Grad PLUS loans - requires good credit
● Private loans

Annual Limit Aggregate Limit Interest rate
Stafford loans $20,500 $138,500 6.08%*
Grad Plus Cost of attendance determined by school No limit 7.08%*
Private Loans Set by lender and based on credit Set by lender and based on credit Subject to a private agreement
*Fixed by government

Federal loans are typically at a higher interest rate than private loans, but they are easier to get and qualify for deferral until you are out of school. Federal student loans also offer a variety of repayment options. Private loans are based on your credit and may require you to pay them back while still in school. You can also check with your university’s financial aid department to see any additional options or scholarships.

MSN-FNP Graduates vs. DNP-FNP Graduates: Job Duties

MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP perform many of the same duties as long as they are working in the scope of an FNP. Both MSN-FNPs and DNP-FNPs:

● see patients
● perform health assessments
● write prescriptions
● order diagnostic tests
● diagnose conditions
● create treatment plans

However, a DNP-FNP also qualifies these professionals to work in upper management or work as a university professor. In those cases, the job duties will be different and focus on administrative and executive leadership.

Nurse executives create innovative solutions to problems, improve quality and efficiency, increase patient and staff satisfaction, promote safety, and decrease cost. Professors perform research and publish findings, supervise and advise students, prepare and teach courses, grade exams and pacers, and support students in the clinical field.

MSN-FNP vs. DNP-FNP: What Career Specialization Options are Available?

While FNPs of both types can specialize, more than 40% of FNPs provide primary care.

Both MSN-FNPs and DNP-FNPs specialize in the following careers:

● Dermatology
● Cardiology
● Oncology
● Women’s health
● Nephrology
● Pulmonology
● Renal
● Gastrointestinal
● Endocrinology
● Orthopedics
● Neurology
● Infectious disease
● Emergency department

MSN-FNP vs. DNP-FNP: Where Do They Work after Graduating?

Whether you are an MSN-FNP or DNP-FNP, you can work for independent practice, health system owned practice, or the hospital itself. MSN-FNPs and DNP-FNPs work in the following settings:

● Clinic
● Hospital
● University
● Public health department
● Healthcare technology
● Government
● Medical spa

Work Hours

Both MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP have the potential to work a standard 9 to 5 workweek. However, those who work in a clinic typically work the regular, 40-hour workweek. The specific hours depend on the specialty and type of practice. Shifts can last between eight to 24 hours. Typically, hospital shifts are longer but require only two to four per week.

MSN-FNP vs. DNP-FNP: Job Satisfaction & Job Stress

The difference between MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP job satisfaction and job stress is primarily related to the type of job the individual is working in. Job stress tremendously affects job satisfaction. Job stress is affected by an FNP’s autonomy, communication with peers and supervisors, locus of control, professionalism, the stress in the environment, recognition, and experience. However, the U.S. News & World Report rated NPs fourth in the ranking of best jobs for 2018 due to high demand and salary. Because MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP may work closely with clients, students, or research subjects, their stress and satisfaction level may vary tremendously.

Job Prospects & Job Security for Graduates

Whether you choose MSN-FNP or DNP-FNP, the overall job outlook of advanced practice nurses is projected to grow a whopping 52 percent, much faster than the average of other occupations. Each year for the next ten years, NPs can look forward to 24,200 openings in the United States. In the decade between 2019 and 2029, there will be approximately 110,700 more NPs. While both degrees qualify you for the job, DNP-FNPs are even more sought after.

MSN-FNP versus DNP-FNP: Starting Salary

When comparing the MSN-FNP vs DNP-FNP salary, the average annual pay is fairly similar. Despite their time and cost of further education, DNP-FNPs make slightly more money.

Degree Hourly Monthly Annual
MSN-FNP $37.61 $6,520 $78,230
DNP-FNP $39.74 $6,890 $82,660

Average Hourly Pay

When considering hourly pay, MSN-FNPs make less money. DNP-FNPs make nearly three dollars more per hour which adds up over time.

Degree Hourly Pay
MSN-FNP $51.67
DNP-FNP $54.59

MSN-FNP vs. DNP-FNP: Average Annual Salary

The average salary of both MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP is attractive. However, the difference between MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP is just over $6,000.

Degree Annual Salary
MSN-FNP $107,468
DNP-FNP $113,556

Salary by Level of Experience

The salary difference between an MSN-FNP or DNP-FNP is not significant early on. For example, an entry-level MSN-FNP makes $37.61 hourly and $78,230 each year, while a DNP-FNP makes only two dollars more an hour at $39.74 and $82,660 annually.

But that changes with time and experience. Once you hit 20 years of experience as an MSN-FNP, you make $70.29 hourly, which becomes $122,060. However, a DNP-FNP makes $74.27 hourly and $154,490.

Degree Type Hourly Monthly Annual
MSN-FNP Starting (Entry-Level) $37.61 $6,520 $78,230
1-4 Years of Experience $42.87 $7,430 $89,160
5-9 Years of Experience $50.74 $8,790 $105,530
10-19 Years of Experience $58.68 $10,170 $122,060
20 Years or More Experience $70.29 $12,180 $146,210
DNP-FNP Starting (Entry-Level) $39.74 $6,890 $82,660
1-4 Years of Experience $45.29 $7,850 $94,210
5-9 Years of Experience $53.61 $9,290 $111,510
10-19 Years of Experience $62.01 $10,750 $128,980
20 Years or More Experience $74.27 $12,870 $154,490

The Bottom Line

Committing to higher education is challenging enough, but deciding between an MSN-FNP vs DNP-FNP can be overwhelming. Regardless of your preference, becoming an FNP is a noble profession. Whether you receive a master’s degree or pursue a terminal degree, you will certainly make a difference to your clients.

Caitlin Goodwin DNP, CNM, RN
Caitlin Goodwin is a Certified Nurse-Midwife who has been a nurse for 12 years, primarily in women’s health. She is passionate about caring for children with developmental disabilities, as her son has Autism Spectrum Disorder. She is currently working as a freelance writer and consultant and is passionate about advocating for her patients, students, and profession.