PhD in Nursing

Who Gets One & What to Expect

Doctoral degrees in nursing prepare graduates to deliver the highest level of patient care and advance the nursing profession through rigorous, practice-oriented research. For advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who hold master of science in nursing (MSN) degrees, doctoral programs can further their clinical experience and deepen their nursing knowledge. It is also possible to earn a Ph.D. in nursing online if you hold a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) through a BSN-to-Ph.D. bridge program.

By pursuing a doctoral degree, nurses get the chance to focus on a particular patient population. They can also pursue an organizational specialty, such as nursing administration, nursing education, or informatics. Doctoral nursing programs benefit individual nurses, the patients they serve, and the nursing field in general.

DNP vs Ph.D. in Nursing: What's the Difference?

Nurses seeking to earn a doctorate can choose from two paths: a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) or a Ph.D. in nursing. DNPs are suited to APRNs who wish to improve their ability to provide effective complex care to patients across the lifespan. They also suit nurses who want to practice their profession without being involved in direct patient care, in roles like administrator, informaticist, or public health advocate.

On the other hand, Ph.D. degrees in nursing focus on research. These science-oriented degrees prepare nurses to conduct medical research or pursue careers as college-level nursing professors.

Reasons to Pursue an Online Ph.D. in Nursing

Nurses can pursue a Ph.D. in nursing online. Many accredited colleges and universities recognize the need for highly trained nursing professionals as both direct patient caregivers and cutting-edge researchers. Online doctoral programs give nurses the chance to earn their doctorates without giving up their professional or personal responsibilities. Below are just a few benefits of a doctorate in nursing.

Professional Recognition

Earning a doctoral degree in nursing puts you on equal footing with other doctorate-educated medical practitioners, earning more respect for your insight and contributions.

Higher Salary Potential

Completing a doctoral nursing program qualifies graduates for leadership roles and greater responsibilities in almost any nursing environment. These types of positions often come with higher incomes, too.

Deliver Better Patient Care

Doctorate-trained nurses understand how to translate and integrate research findings into regular nursing practice. They can also influence the quality of patient care on the policy level by implementing regulations to help healthcare providers and their patients.

Contribute to the Body of Nursing Knowledge

DNP and Ph.D. in nursing programs allow students to perform scholarly research that can enhance nursing practices and add to the existing body of knowledge in the field.

Address the Nursing Shortage

The current nursing shortage is due in part to the lack of qualified nursing instructors. Nurse educators who have completed a doctoral nursing program can train and educate the next generation of nurses, which helps alleviate the nursing shortage.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Nursing?

Whether you earned your DNP or Ph.D. in nursing online or on campus, you can qualify for several professional options as a doctorate-trained nurse. Because DNPs focus on practice, they prepare graduates to work as direct patient care providers or in administrative capacities as informaticists or nurse administrators.

Ph.D. degrees in nursing keep students on the forefront of modern research in the nursing field, qualifying them for policy-setting roles on the state or federal level. They also equip graduates with college-level teaching credentials.

Common Career Paths and Salaries

Doctorate-trained nurses can work in a variety of healthcare and non-healthcare settings, including hospitals, research facilities, public health offices, academia, and doctor's offices. Twenty-two states also allow qualified nursing professionals to engage in private practice. There is no shortage of professional opportunities for doctorate-trained nurses. You can explore potential careers below.

Nursing Director

Nursing directors supervise all personnel providing direct patient care and work with other medical professionals to coordinate patient services. They develop, implement, and evaluate patient care standards and oversee personnel training.

Average Annual Salary: $89,393

Hospital Administrator

Hospital administrator duties often include the following: supervise medical and non-medical personnel, set and maintain budget goals, ensure compliance with regulatory agencies, and coordinate with other departments to provide quality patient care.

Average Annual Salary: $87,873

Nurse Educator

In clinical settings, nurse educators develop and evaluate continuing education programs with the goal of supporting and upgrading the skills of direct patient care providers. In academic environments, they prepare and deliver lectures on a variety of nursing subjects.

Average Annual Salary: $74,324

Research Director

Research directors develop research goals and design methodology for evaluating research findings. They oversee budgets, allocate funds, and ensure their projects comply with relevant institutional and governmental regulations.

Average Annual Salary: $101,523

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Doctorate-trained psychiatric nurse practitioners lead group or individual therapy, prescribe medications, devise personalized treatment plans, and consult with other clinical providers to coordinate care and monitor patient progress.

Average Annual Salary: $102,163

Source: PayScale

Nursing Ph.D. Program Requirements and Outcomes

Every institution offering a doctorate in nursing online or on campus follows its own application process and implements its own admissions requirements. However, most schools require doctoral candidates to hold the following qualifications: a master of science in nursing, a valid nursing license, a minimum 3.0 GPA in their most recent academic degree, letters of recommendation, an updated resume, and a statement of purpose.

Some schools also require applicants to submit results from standardized graduate admission tests, such as the GRE.

The time it takes to complete a Ph.D. in nursing online depends on several factors, including program type, whether a student enrolls on a part-time or full-time basis, and how long it takes the student to write and defend his or her dissertation. A BSN-to-Ph.D. program typically comprises 90 credits, while an MSN-to-Ph.D. program consists of 60 credits. After completing the coursework requirements, most Ph.D. candidates take an additional 2-4 years to research, write, and defend their dissertations.

Common Courses

Just like application processes and admission requirements, DNP courses vary between schools. However, most schools offer doctoral courses that teach students to translate research findings into nursing practice. They also offer classes covering research methodologies and healthcare policies. Explore five common doctoral courses below.

Biostatistics

Many doctoral programs offer basic and advanced classes in this subject. A basic biostatistics course covers the application of statistical methods to health studies, probability concepts, linear regression and correlation analysis, and central limit theorem. An advanced biostatistics class focuses more on topics like regression diagnostics, factor analysis, and structural equation modeling.

Clinical Applied Epidemiology

This course provides an overview of fundamental epidemiological designs used in the study of general population health. Students learn new applications for tested epidemiological methods and explore the complex socio-ecological factors impacting individual and community health. The course teaches students how to track diseases by examining factors such as distribution and frequency

Ethics in Research

Learners study critical ethical issues in healthcare research, including scientific and philosophical principles and ethical theories. Students also explore relevant topics related to healthcare research and practice, such as end-of-life issues, patient confidentiality, informed consent, and allocation of resources.

Leadership in Health Systems

In this course, students explore strategic thinking, negotiation, and power dynamics with a view toward developing effective leadership, enhancing health outcomes for patients, and improving the overall health system. This course teaches students how to integrate long-standing theories with fresh research findings to deliver timely and quality healthcare.

Methodological Perspectives in Nursing Inquiry

This course provides students with the opportunity to examine how various theoretical and philosophical perspectives impact research design and methodology in nursing. They also study various issues that arise from contemporary empiricist, postmodern, and feminist philosophies in research design.

Other Requirements

The rigor of a doctoral program does not end with the completion of all required coursework. Graduation requirements at the doctoral level vary between schools for both online and on-campus degrees. Below are a few common requirements.

On-campus Residencies

Many online doctoral programs in nursing require students to attend on-campus residencies at pre-arranged intervals. Some schools require students to attend an orientation residency before beginning their doctoral coursework, and summer residencies are also quite common. Additionally, most schools require doctoral candidates to defend their dissertations in person.

Comprehensive Exam

Some higher education institutions require doctoral candidates to pass a comprehensive exam. This comes after completing coursework requirements but before beginning the formal dissertation process. Some schools administer written comprehensive exams while others require students to undergo an oral examination.

Dissertation

A dissertation is an original and scholarly treatise resulting from independent research. It's the culmination of a doctoral candidate's contribution to their field of study. It demonstrates the candidate's intellectual acumen, academic competence, and professional knowledge. Many schools give doctoral candidates up to seven years to complete their dissertations, though most students finish in 2-3 years.

Skills and Competencies

A Ph.D. in nursing online provides students with ample opportunity to develop the professional skills necessary to meet the challenges of the nursing field. A doctorate-trained nurse possesses the skills and competencies to perform tasks like:

Craft viable healthcare policies that affect the delivery and quality of patient care, contribute to the professional development of medical practitioners, and support personnel in a variety of workplace settings.

Expand the knowledge base of nursing theory and practice by performing scholarly research on timely topics impacting the nursing arena and the medical field as a whole.

Generate practical solutions to problems facing healthcare facilities throughout the country. Such problems include nursing or staffing shortages, professional burnout, budget overruns, high operational costs, and legal and regulatory constraints.

Demonstrate leadership capabilities by addressing challenges as they arise in practice, providing clear guidelines regarding professional ethics, and setting an example by upholding the highest ideals of the nursing profession.

Communicate theoretical, practice, and policy developments in the nursing field to all stakeholders, which makes sure the delivery of patient care services meets institutional goals and falls within regulatory requirements.

Translate the most recent and relevant research findings into nursing practice guidelines that can inform and improve the quality of general healthcare services and nursing care.

Nursing Professional Organizations

Medical practitioners, including nurses, often work in fast-paced environments and face constant challenges such as staffing shortages, increasingly restrictive legal and ethical boundaries, and fiscal shortfalls. They can access professional support by joining organizations that cater specifically to nursing or medical practitioners.

Such organizations offer many advantages, giving members opportunities to build professional networks, find new jobs, establish mentoring relationships, and collaborate on special projects. Most professional organizations hold regional and national conferences where members can learn and share research findings and developments in the field. You can explore five professional nursing organizations below.

American Academy of Nursing

The academy serves the nursing profession in many ways, including taking on an advocacy role to advance health policies benefiting nursing practice and patient care. More than 90% of AAN's members hold doctoral degrees in nursing.



American Association of Nursing

AACN membership includes nursing college deans and faculty members, nurse scientists, and nursing school administrators. The organization offers many benefits, including members-only leadership networks, continuing education opportunities, and faculty development programs.



American Nurses Association

ANA provides several member benefits, including free webinars on current topics and emerging trends impacting the nursing field. It also offers continuing education units, independent study modules, and discounted rates for initial certification.



National League for Nursing

One of the oldest professional nursing associations in the country, NLN counts individual nurses, nursing education providers, and various healthcare agencies among its members, making it convenient to share information and find networking opportunities and employment options.



Professional Nurse Educators Group

PNEG provides a virtual network for clinical nurse educators, nursing school faculty, and other stakeholders invested in the field of nursing education. It also hosts an annual conference where educators can build their professional networks and share the latest developments in nursing education.