Guide to PHD in Nursing Programs – Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing

We have 128 PhD Programs in our database.

What is a Ph.D. in Nursing?
A Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D.) degree prepares nurses to conduct and publish original research that will advance knowledge in a particular area. These research activities are performed while you work in positions such as a university professor, a high-level healthcare administrator, or a policy developer in the private or public sector.

Depending upon the complexity of your research, you can typically complete a program in two to three years. If you are interested in pursuing this degree in nursing, it is important to take into consideration the goals that you have set for yourself and the educational requirements you need to achieve them.

A Ph.D. is generally seen as a research-oriented degree. If you know that you want to contribute more knowledge to your field, this could be a great option for you. Since most people seeking this path have already completed a degree in nursing or are interested in pursuing one, our team has provided some general information to get you on the path for greater opportunities as a nursing professionals.

Read more about this path in our guide below.

Common Concepts You Can Expect Earning Your PhD in Nursing

Many Ph.D. programs are online or hybrid courses designed to help students balance work, study, and family duties. A survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) found that enrollment in these programs increased by over 10 percent from 2009 to 2010.

The popularity of online and hybrid programs is likely due to students’ ability to learn at their own pace. Since the Ph.D. is centered around the need for research and further knowledge, degree programs can encourage learners to surround themselves in literature and publications regarding studies on nursing. The Ph.D. program requires that students show proof of completion of accredited degree programs in nursing at either the bachelor’s or master’s level. In order to be approved for these programs, applicants must also be licensed to practice as a registered nurse within their state.

The Graduate Record Exam is an acceptance requirement for most universities, but students should research what their college of choice requires prior to enrolling. Finding an educational program that includes all of the components you require can sometimes be a daunting task on its own. In the online domain, more colleges are offering these programs, which can make the decision a difficult one if you are new to research in education. We pulled a few example PhD in Nursing programs along with their estimated tuition costs to give you an idea of the ranges you might be looking at.

Vanderbilt University – PhD in Nursing Science

Vanderbilt University provides reliable Ph.D. programs that focus on either Clinical Research or Health Services Research. Each can take up to 56 credit hours to complete. This requirement can take 3-4 years from beginning to end. As part of the requirements for these degree programs, students must take part in seminars scheduled by the university, a practicum, and dissertation. Total yearly tuition for this university is $46,500.

Loyola University Chicago – PhD in Nursing

The Ph.D. program at Loyola University Chicago gives students the option of pursuing their degree at a full-time or part-time rate. Students that are in this program must meet on-campus one weekend each month throughout the duration of the program. Instruction during the week is conducted online, in order for students to receive maximum convenience. The entire program can take 3-4 years at a full-time rate. Tuition for this university is billed at a rate of $1,103 per credit hour.

Johns Hopkins University – PhD in Nursing

This university has a standard educational plan for Ph.D. students that includes preparation for the Doctor of Philosophy Board Examination, a research resideny, and disseration courses. This degree program can be completed in around 4 years at full-time enrollment, with credit given to students that have already obtaining their MSN. Tuition costs for this university are $41,580 per year enrolled.

Our team of education experts have been researching colleges and educational programs for decades. They have put together a list of colleges offering Ph.D. programs in Nursing for you to browse through. See this helpful list of colleges beneath this section.

How You Can Prepare for a PhD in Nursing

You need a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degree in Nursing to be considered for entry into a Ph.D. program. An excellent GPA and a good Graduate Record Exam (GRE) score helps. Many programs want candidates who have already published scholarly articles in their area of expertise, or have demonstrated skills in obtaining grants or other funding for research.

With all this being said, the best way to prepare for a Ph.D. program is to engage in the proper education requirements prior to enrolling and take part in further research opportunities once you have experience working in the field. Having this higher degree in nursing can help you work in fields that seek to further improve what people know about nursing and inform the publin on changing policies related to their personal health.

Your PhD in Nursing Dissertation

Ph.D. programs are approximately 60 credits, many of which are dedicated to your dissertation – an academic project in which you conduct original research on a particular topic. You must write the dissertation and defend it in front of an academic committee.

It can be used in your future academic career, or be the basis for more articles or a book. Because it is such a large and central portion of a Ph.D. program, many candidates complete all of the other requirements quickly but then take additional months or years to complete a dissertation.

This important part of your Ph.D. program is what sets it apart from lower degree programs in the field of nursing. There are plenty of academic support systems at universities and colleges offering this program that are willing to assist you during the creation of your dissertation.

Common PhD in Nursing Courses

Most Ph.D. programs are designed to give students more experience in research for nursing science. These programs can include courses that seek to increase students’ ability to write professionally and scientifically, help students understand the technical language found in nursing, and assist in providing resources for students to use throughout the creation of their dissertation. Our team has provided some common courses for this degree program in the list below.

  • Research for Health Professionals: In order to be a reliable and dedicated research professional, students must be able to identify proper research methods for nursing-related fields. The scientific method may be discussed in depth throughout this course, as well as factors that can contribute to a lack of validity or reliability for research projects. Students may be expected to take part in individual research projects during this course in order to test their knowledge of the various principles provided in research methodology.
  • Ethics for Health Professionals: For any nursing professional, especially those in research, it is important to consider the ethical priniciples surrounding their field. This course teaches students how to address particular problems and issues within the field of nursing in an ethical and legal way. Students are encouraged to weigh their personal beliefs in relationship to their decision making to increase their use of practical decision making while working in the field.
  • Qualitative Research Methods: This course seeks to introduce students to the various factors involved in qualitative research. The different between quantitative and qualitative research may be explained throughout this course, as well as the different types of qualitative testing available to researchers. Students may also have to apply their knowledge through a research project of their choice throughout this course.
  • Research Design and Statistics: Students taking this course can learn the different types of research designs available, including those that are descriptive and relational within their field. Students can learn how to use proper methods of measurement, inference, statistics, and analysis of data within their work.
  • Design and Testing in Clinical Interventions: There are many different components involved in the creation of clinical interventions. Students within this course can learn how to use the proper methodology, the influence of ethics, and practical knowledge in the design and testing of interventions in a clinical setting. Students are encouraged to use critical thinking skills and research to develop their understanding in this course.

PhD in Nursing Potential Jobs and Salary Information

Some people are completely content with their current standing as a nursing professional. Working directly with patients in hospitals, doctor’s offices, or specialty clinics is what a lot of nurses are looking for with their degree.

If you have a different frame of mind and pursue a Ph.D. so that you can pursue different availabilities, you might be wondering where you can apply your degree in the workforce. As some professionals at this level may say, there are endless possibilities once you have obtained this level of a degree. Some common areas are listed below for you to read.

Research

Nursing, just like any other field, requires continuous improvement in terms of treatment methods, patient care, communication, and overall development. Ph.D. earners can find roles in research-oriented fields that seek to identify areas that are in need of change and find solutions using reliable methods. For example, clinical research fields test different methods for treatment for efficiency and safety. Research specialists play a large role in developing and administering these tests through clinical trials. These tests can be run on pharmaceuticals, devices, or even common therapies. If you work in research, you could work for hospitals, clinical research organizations, pharmaceutical companies, or even local/nation government.

Education

Since having the Ph.D. in Nursing can lead to having a more in-depth perspective on the art and science of nursing, students that achieve this level would make great educators within collegiate nursing programs. These professionals can create their own curriculum, administer educational plans, and contribute to the further learning of upcoming nursing professionals. Employers in this realm include colleges, trade schools, and nursing programs across the country. Some Ph.D. earners could even work for positions that are within school administration during the development of educational policies regarding nursing programs.

Policy Development

The medical field is full of ethics, programs, and policies that medical centers must abide by. The government regulatory agencies that are responsible for the creation of these policies may call upon knowledgeable professionals within society to help with the creation or improvement of these policies and programs. In this position, you could work to determine areas of weakness within different programs by analyzing patient data found within a hospital’s database. You may even conduct your own analysis using feedback from patients or regulatory agencies during your experience.

Writing/Publications

Nearly every field within medicine has their own journals or publications for professionals to submit their work to. In nursing, you could be a part of informing the public and other professionals about changing therapies or techniques, recent research, clinical trials, or even individual stories regarding new and effective treatments. There is truly no end to the possibilities for writers within the nursing field. Not only are magazines and online publications a large source of information for nursing professions, but also books and other literature. If you have a skill for writing and research, there are a wide variety of opportunities for you as a professional writer in nursing research.

Making the Final Decision About Earning Your PhD in Nursing

The practical application of nursing can be a rewarding experience for nursing professionals. However, there are plenty of opportunities in the field of nursing the involve research, teaching, and contributing to a better understanding of nursing policies throughout the United States.

With a doctoral level degree in nursing, you can be a large part of the changing research that continues to increase the usefulness and reliability of this field. Ph.D. programs in Nursing can be found at many different universities throughout the country, even in an online setting.

By completing this degree program, you could be preparing yourself for a career that can change the face of nursing as it currently stands or even help to educate the public on the various nursing procedures and changes that are taking place at a constant rate. If you have the desire to do something different with your lifestyle and career, you should consider enrolling in a Ph.D. program in Nursing today.

Click here for a list of DNP programs by state.

Which Doctorate is Right for Me? DNP vs. PhD

By Andrea Kelley

Andrea Kelley wants to improve cancer care by better understanding the patient’s cancer experience through research. To accomplish this goal, she is working toward a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Nursing at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth. “I wanted to pursue a PhD to be at the top of my field, to increase awareness of nursing as a legitimate science, and to change the way care is delivered to patients,” she explains.

Kelley is doing what nurses desiring a doctoral education have traditionally done—attain research-focused terminal degrees such as a PhD or a Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS, DNSc). In recent years, a variety of factors have led to the burgeoning development of a practice-focused degree option: the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Today over 150 DNP programs exist, another 160 are in the planning stages.

In contrast to PhD or DNS/DNSc programs, which prepare nurse researchers to develop new knowledge and advance nursing science, the DNP program prepares nurses to incorporate evidence into practice and policy in order to improve outcomes.

“The PhD [program] will prepare me to be a nurse scientist,” says Kelley. “[whereas] the DNP [focus] is to translate research into practice through research utilization.” Kelley’s comparison reflects that of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), which defines the DNP role as one translates research to practice, evaluates and applies evidence, and implements innovative interventions to transform nursing practice.

“The DNP program prepares nurses to incorporate evidence into practice and policy in order to improve outcomes.”

When Nancy Cabelus, RN, MSN, DNP, learned about the DNP program in Forensics Nursing at the University of Tennessee, she thought it would be a better fit for her. “I was not striving to work in research or academia full time,” she explains. “The DNP degree has given me the knowledge, tools, and resources to conduct myself as an advanced practice nurse in leadership and program development, and also to work with systems and policy change.”

DNP programs are comprised of eight essential content areas: From The AACN DNP Essentials:)

  1. Scientific underpinnings for practice;
  2. Organizational and systems leadership for quality improvement and systems thinking;
  3. Clinical scholarship and analytical methods for evidence-based practice;
  4. Information systems technology and patient care technology for the Improvement and transformation of health care;
  5. Health care policy for advocacy in health care;
  6. Interprofessional collaboration for improving patient and population health outcomes;
  7. Clinical prevention and population health for improving the nation’s health; and
  8. Advanced nursing practice

Despite its appeal, the DNP program has generated some controversy. The AACN endorsed the DNP degree in 2004 and proposed that it be the minimum entry-level education for all APNs by the year 2015. Though lauded by some as putting APNs on equal footing with other health care-related disciplines such as pharmacists (PharmD) or physical therapists (DPT), not everyone agrees with this requirement. “I don’t feel the DNP should be mandated as the entry level degree for APNs,” says Cabelus, “but [it] should be considered an option.”

Regardless of whether an NP holds a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) or a DNP, the scope of practice (as defined by the state) has not changed. However, a survey conducted by ADVANCE for Nurse Practitioners magazine in 2009 indicated that DNP-prepared nurse practitioners were earning nearly $8000 annually more than their master’s prepared counterparts.

Despite the controversies, the decision to pursue a PhD, DNS/DNSc, or DNP is largely based on an individual’s professional goals and interests. For Cabelus, the DNP was the right choice. “I feel that I am prepared to accept new challenges and opportunities that may come my way,” she says.

According to the AACN, following are the core ways in which DNP programs differ from PhD programs:   (AACN, 2004)

  • DNP programs have less emphasis on theory and meta-theory
  • Considerable less research methodology content, with a focus being on evaluation and use of research rather than the conduct of research
  • Different dissertation requirements, ranging from no dissertation to theses or capstone projects (termed dissertations in some programs) that must be grounded in clinical practice and designed to solve practice problems or to inform practice directly
  • An emphasis on practice in any research requirement
  • Clinical practica or residency requirements
  • Emphasis on scholarly practice, practice improvement, innovation and testing of interventions and care delivery models, evaluation of health care outcomes, and expertise to inform heath care policy and leadership in establishing clinical excellence

List of PHD Programs

Programs That May Be Currently Accepting Applicants

Sacred Heart University

Online RN-MSN: Nursing Management and Executive Leadership Specialization
CCNE Accredited
Programs That May Be Currently Accepting Applicants

Still Looking for a Nursing Program?

Here are some of the most popular nursing programs. On each page you will find a detailed writeup of the program, specific courses, and even schools that offer that program that are currently accepting applicants.