How to Choose a PhD in Nursing Degree

If you want to get to the top of the nursing profession, you should consider a doctorate in nursing. There are three types of nursing doctoral degrees: Ph.D., doctorate of science in nursing (DSN), and doctorate of nursing practice (DNP).

Doctoral nursing programs are designed to ready you for a career in health administration, clinical research, advanced clinical practice, and education. You will be prepared to become a leader in many academic and clinical areas. You will be trained as a researcher and a scholar to deal with the most complex questions in the health care field today.

The nursing field is one of the fastest-growing in the US, with a 25% increase in employment expected by 2020. Those professionals with the highest education level – the Ph.D. – will have the most career opportunities and at the highest pay.

Why Earn a Ph.D. in Nursing

There are nearly limitless possibilities in nursing after you earn your Ph.D. in this field. Most nursing professionals who earn their doctorate already have years of experience in clinical nursing, and usually, most of them no longer will be working in clinical care directly.

Nurses earn their Ph.D. in nursing so that they move into higher paying, upper management and academic roles where they can have a major influence on the quality of nursing care at a higher level. For many nurses, a doctoral education is less about direct clinical care and is more about other ways to move the nursing profession and patient care forward.

Above all else, a nurse with a Ph.D. has the advanced training needed to do research and to add to the extensive body of nursing knowledge. Not all nurses with Ph.D.’s will decide to work in research, but the high level of exposure to research in their Ph.D. program will provide them with a much higher knowledge level of nursing they can apply to many other nursing roles.

With a Ph.D. in nursing, you can transition into a variety of exciting nursing careers, including these three:

  • Nursing faculty: One of the most common roles for a nurse with a Ph.D. is to become a nursing instructor. You may work in a college or university and teach nursing students who are earning their associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s or Ph.D. in nursing. Nursing faculty members are responsible for the creation and implementation of new program curricula and providing nursing students with very important mentoring experiences. As nursing faculty, you may also conduct research in addition to teaching classes.
  • Director of nursing research: You may serve as the administrator of a nursing research department in a healthcare facility. The director must supervise other employees engaged in nursing research. You may also be responsible for the oversight of nursing research projects. You will usually be the main point of contact within the health care facility for any questions regarding the design and implementation of a research study.
  • Director of clinical services: This is a clinical administrator who handles the oversight of daily operations of patient care departments in a variety of health care facilities. You are essentially the liaison between senior executives and the department managers. You will not be directly involved in patient care, but you are involved in handling the patient care workflows in each department involved in the care of patients. You will likely generate or obtain reports that address efficiency matters in the workflows for each department.

Featured Online Nursing Ph.D. Degrees

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice: At Walden University, you can increase your knowledge and expertise in nursing to strengthen your practice and improve patient outcomes. This program covers many of the most important topics in advanced nursing practice today, such as healthcare policy and advocacy, quality improvement, evidence-based practice, information systems and technology and leadership for both for systems and organizations. You will be able to assume practice and leadership roles in health care organizations and to evaluate and apply research and to move up in management.
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Education – Nursing Education Specialization: This program from Capella University will prepare the master’s degree-level nurse for a career in nursing school education. The curriculum in this fully online program will study advanced nursing theory and concepts, curriculum design , strategies of teaching and assessment of the classroom. You will be prepared to be a faculty member, dean or associate dean, director or nursing or possibly an education analyst.
  • Doctorate in Nursing Science: At Vanderbilt University, you can graduate with a doctoral degree in nursing science that can be completed fully online. Graduates from this program are able to both conduct and disseminate research that works in response to national, regional or international needs. The faculty of this program is fully dedicated to preparing educators in nursing who can lead this country in improving the body of knowledge in nursing.
  • Doctorate in Nursing: The nursing PhD program at the University of Texas at Tyler is one of the most unique doctoral programs in the US. Nurses in this program are able to study online, and work on independent research in nursing in their local area. Graduates from this program usually are employed as researchers, consultants, administrators, professors and policy makers. You can complete this rigorous doctoral degree in four years.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice: This program from UMassOnline will teach you the cutting edge skills that you need to both lead and manage health care systems, evaluate and apply leading research, and cut down on barriers for care as you work to promote more effective patient outcomes. You will be able to complete your doctorate in about four years, and you will be highly qualified for many top leadership positions in the field of nursing. UMass is featured as a top school in our report of the best online masters’s for 2017.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice: This unique doctoral degree from Drexel University combines a highly practice-focused PhD education with high quality clinical research training and practicum. In this program, you will be required to finish a pilot-sized practice dissertation that focuses on one area of nursing expertise. You should be able to finish this dissertation in about one year. You should note that this program was developed by the College of Nursing and Health Professionals, which is one of the leading organizations in healthcare education for more than 100 years.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice: This DNP program from Loyola University will provide you with a tough Jesuit education and to prepare you as a new advanced nursing practice leader to be a director of an innovative health care system. You will learn how to refine your critical thinking and decision making skills to cut down on health disparities and to advance high quality care. You also will learn how to translate nursing science and health care into effective clinical practice.
  • Doctorate in Nursing: This program from the University of Milwaukee prepares the doctoral nursing student as a scientist who is able to generate knowledge to advance the practice of nursing in the 21st century. People who graduate from this program will be highly skilled researchers who are able to conduct meaningful inquiry into policy, clinical, education and healthcare delivery requirements. You will have the chance to work closely with highly experienced faculty, and will investigate clinically important phenomena using the latest methods of research.
  • Doctorate in Nursing Education: This PhD in nursing education from NOVA Southeastern University is designed to provide you with the highly educated and informed training that you need to qualify for a nursing faculty position. This innovative online program will stress nursing research and also higher education leadership in the field of nursing. This is a degree worth considering if you want to enter into the nursing education profession, which is undergoing a severe shortage for qualified faculty.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice: This online program from Wilkes University is designed for you to become a highly knowledgeable, competent and clinically proficient nurse in the area of advanced practice. The main elements of this program are in clinical practice and applied research. These elements are embedded in all of the courses in the program. This program is designed for professionals who want to work on a practice-focused doctoral degree to ready them as clinical experts in a specialized field of nursing.

Popular Career Paths for Ph.D. in Nursing

Some of the common career options for nurses who earn their Ph.D. include:

Healthcare Executive

A healthcare executive may be referred to in some facilities as a medical and health services manager, or a healthcare administrator. These healthcare professionals are responsible for planning, directing, and coordinating medical, health and nursing services.

They often manage all aspects of a health care facility, including patient care, or they may be in charge of a certain clinical department, such as nursing. Some healthcare executives are in charge of a large medical practice of healthcare professionals.

One of the most important duties for healthcare executives is to stay current on all of the changes in healthcare laws, regulations and technology.

The most common duties of healthcare executives include:

  • Work to boost efficiency and quality in the delivery of patient care
  • Develop new goals and objectives for departments that improve the care of patients as well as reduce costs
  • Ensure that the entire healthcare facility is up to date and is fully compliant with new regulations and laws
  • Manage all of the financial aspects of the facility, including patient billing
  • Prepare and oversee budgets and spending to be certain that all areas of the facility are not spending more money than necessary

A healthcare executive can work as a nursing home administrator, a clinical manager, or a health information manager, as well. If you work as a nursing home administrator, you will need to have a license to work in your state of residence.

Job demand for healthcare executives is strong and will grow by 17% by 2024. Our population is getting older and living longer, and this will require more health care services being delivered. And that will require more administration and oversight for many new and expanding healthcare facilities.

The median salary for healthcare executives in 2015 was $94,500.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse

Some nurses who earn their doctoral degree in nursing choose to work as an advanced practice registered nurse. These are highly compensated nurses with a high level of responsibility in clinical nursing care. Some nurses earning their Ph.D. may already work in advanced practice but want to earn their Ph.D. so that they can work in a supervisory role.

The major types of advanced practice registered nurses are:

  • Nurse practitioner (NP): They serve as primary care providers and deliver advanced nursing care to patients and families. NPs are allowed to do many of the jobs that doctors do but at a lower cost. They can do patient exams, prescribe drugs, and order and interpret many diagnostic tests.
  • Nurse midwife (CNM): Provide primary care to women, including pre and post natal care and gynecological examinations, family planning and also deliver babies.
  • Nurse anesthetist (CRNA): Provide anesthesia services to patients before, during and after surgery. They provide similar services as anesthesiologists, but at lower cost. Nurse anesthetists work carefully with the patient to ensure that they do not have any allergies to popular and common anesthetics. They also must use great care during surgery to ensure that the patient is receiving the proper level of anesthetic.

Job demand for all of these advanced nursing practice jobs will soar by 31% by 2024. There is much more demand today for all kinds of health care services and surgeries. Also, advanced nursing practice professionals generally work at a lower cost than full MDs. But keep in mind that advanced nursing practice nurses are still very well compensated, and they can often work more than one job if they like. The opportunity for overtime pay will usually be there for these roles.

The median pay for all advanced nursing practice professionals in 2015 was $104,700.