PhD in Nursing Programs – Doctorate in Nursing

A PhD in nursing provides advanced training for nurses interested in pursuing academic, leadership, and research positions within the healthcare industry. These programs focus on generating new knowledge and promoting evidence-based practice through original research findings in specialized areas such as healthcare administration and public health policy. Graduates of PhD in nursing programs may work as university professors or healthcare administrators or contribute to policymaking at the national level. 

Those seeking a PhD in nursing should note that this terminal degree takes several years of dedication and intense study to complete. Additionally, PhD in nursing programs typically require applicants to have a bachelor’s or a master’s degree and may have specific prerequisites such as clinical and leadership experience. Unlike a clinically-based doctorate of nursing practice (DNP), a PhD in nursing emphasizes scientific research to make a lasting impact in the healthcare field.

Earning a PhD in nursing can open doors to leadership roles in clinical settings or advanced positions in academia. These programs also offer opportunities for collaboration with experts within the field and for presenting findings at national conferences. While time to completion varies from two to six years, a PhD in nursing is a worthwhile investment that pays well. Salaries for nurses with PhDs vary based on several factors, including position title, employment location, industries, and experience. According to data from PayScale.com (Feb. 2023), a self-reported aggregator of salaries shows the average annual salary for a nurse researcher is $81,500. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that a nurse educator can earn $82,040, and the top-paying states are California, Massachusetts, and Hawaii (BLS May 2021). 

Read on to learn more about PhD programs in nursing, including types of programs, accreditation, featured online programs, accreditation, admissions requirements, and three career options for this research-based nursing degree.

What is a PhD in Nursing?

A PhD in nursing is a terminal degree, with the primary goal of adding original research findings to the scientific foundation of nursing and healthcare. Some nursing PhD programs offer specializations in high-priority areas emphasizing research and teaching critical attributes such as leadership, education, healthcare administration, interdisciplinary health, and public health policy. 

Please note that a PhD in nursing is a research-based degree, not a nursing licensure program. This means a PhD in nursing will not prepare students as nurse practitioners or other clinical APRN roles.

Types of PhD in Nursing Degree Programs

There are several factors to consider when choosing a PhD in nursing program, including online or on-campus programs, the type of degree required for admission, and specializations. 

On-Campus and Online Programs

PhD nursing programs are offered on-campus and online. Some PhD in nursing programs are hybrid, a blend of on-campus and online formats, due to in-person clinicals, laboratory requirements, and required weekend residencies. 

On-campus programs offer in-person convenience for students who live in or can commute to campus to complete their studies. By comparison, online degree programs are more accessible to students who don’t live near a college or university campus and are gaining in popularity. In fact, 52 percent of post-baccalaureate students exclusively took courses via distance education in 2020, according to the National Center for Education Statistics

Type of Degree Required for Admission

PhD in nursing programs admit students based on the nursing degree they currently hold: a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or a master of science in nursing (MSN). The two most common program titles are: 

  • BSN-to-PhD in Nursing
  • MSN-to-PhD in Nursing

PhD in Nursing Specialization Areas

Many PhD in nursing programs offer specialization areas, including but not limited to nursing education, healthcare administration, interdisciplinary health, leadership, and population health.

DNP vs PhD in Nursing: What’s the Difference?

A DNP, or doctor of nursing practice, and a PhD, or doctor of philosophy in nursing, are both advanced degrees for nurses. DNP programs heavily focus on clinical practice and leadership skills, while PhD programs emphasize research and academics. DNP programs typically take less time to complete than PhD programs, with DNP students completing about 75 credit hours compared to the 90 credit hours required for a PhD in nursing. As previously mentioned, DNP programs have clinical hour requirements, whereas most PhD in nursing programs do not. 

Many colleges and universities offer DNP and PhD programs. For example, the University of Central Florida offers two types of online doctoral degrees: a PhD in nursing, and two doctorates of nursing practice (DNP) degrees: an advanced track for clinical leadership roles and an executive track for those pursuing healthcare administration nursing roles. 

The PhD in nursing program is considered research-based, requires a dissertation, and leads to careers in research science. By comparison, the DNP programs are practice-based, require a final DNP project that demonstrates the application of advanced clinical and evidence-based practice, and leads to careers in nursing case management, clinical nursing, and nurse practitioner clinical leadership.

DNP graduates often go on to work as advanced practice nurses or healthcare administrators, while PhD graduates often pursue careers in academia or research positions. Both DNP and PhD degrees are respected qualifications within the nursing field, but they lead to different career paths and opportunities. It is important for prospective students to carefully consider their individual goals before deciding on a DNP or PhD program.

PhD in Nursing Program & School Accreditation

Attending a PhD in nursing program that has received both types of accreditation can give students peace of mind that they are receiving a quality education. It also allows them to easily transfer credits, take out financial loans, and apply for licensure upon graduation.

Programmatic accreditation for clinical nursing degree programs, such as BSN, MSN, post-master’s certificate programs, and DNP programs, is provided by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). 

Institutional accreditation ensures that the school as a whole meets educational standards set by the six regional organizations approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA): 

  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)

It’s important to note that PhD in nursing programs only hold institutional accreditation, but may be housed in a school of nursing that also holds programmatic accreditation. For example, the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s College of Nursing offers an online PhD in nursing. The university holds institutional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), and the College of Nursing is programmatically accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Since the PhD in nursing is not clinically focused, it is only essential that this program has institutional accreditation, not programmatic accreditation. 

When considering a clinical nursing graduate or doctoral program, it is important to look for both programmatic and institutional accreditation. However, in the case of a research-based PhD in nursing, institutional accreditation is the most important factor in a research-based PhD in nursing.

Lastly, the NC-SARA (National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements) is a voluntary state-level agreement that allows institutions to provide distance education to students across state lines without seeking separate state approval. This is called state authorization status, and it helps improve access and flexibility for both students and institutions by simplifying the state approval process for distance education programs. Institutions offering distance education often advertise their NC-SARA status; if they don’t, please contact the program before applying. 

Ultimately, accredited PhD in nursing programs provide a strong foundation for successful nursing leadership and research careers across state borders.

Typical Admissions Requirements for PhD in Nursing Degrees

Overall, entry into a PhD in Nursing program is competitive and requires dedication to both academic and professional achievement. Admissions requirements for PhD programs in nursing vary depending on the university and program, but there are some common expectations. 

Most programs require applicants to have the following:

  • A bachelor’s or master’s of science degree in nursing from a CCNE- or AACN-accredited program
  • A copy of an active registered nurse (RN) license 
  • An essay outlining the applicant’s career goals and potential contributions to the field of nursing
  • Application fee
  • Clinical hours verification form
  • Evidence of research experience and expertise in the specialization area
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0 
  • Official transcripts
  • One year or more of clinical nursing experience 
  • Online application
  • Standardized test scores, such as the GRE or GMAT
  • Strong letters of recommendation from previous professors or supervisors

Supervised Hour Requirements for PhD in Nursing Degrees

While supervised clinical hours may be valuable for those pursuing a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree, they are typically not necessary for those obtaining a PhD in nursing. The reason is that PhD in nursing programs focus on furthering scientific inquiry and gaining knowledge through research, rather than improving practical skills. 

In place of the clinical hours component, PhD nursing candidates complete a dissertation to demonstrate expertise in the field. It is important to note that supervised hours may still be helpful or even required for certain courses within a PhD in nursing program, but overall they are not mandated as part of the degree requirements.

Featured Online PhD in Nursing Degrees

Liberty University – PhD in Nursing Education

Liberty University offers a PhD in nursing education, designed for nurse educators who want to advance their career and impact the next generation of nurses. The program is 100 percent online, with eight-week courses and the potential to transfer up to 50 percent of the degree’s credit hours. 

Students in the PhD program take courses such as learning theories and teaching methods for nurse educators, curriculum development, program evaluation, and advanced evaluation strategies.  

The nursing faculty at Liberty University are nationally recognized educational leaders, and as a Christian university, they are also committed to promoting personal and professional success for their students. With a PhD in nursing education from Liberty University, graduates will be well-equipped to become leaders in nursing education.

  • Location: Lynchburg, VA
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $595 per credit; $300 per credit (military)

University of Central Florida – PhD in Nursing

The University of Central Florida offers an online PhD in nursing for individuals looking to advance their careers in the field. The program offers two tracks: BSN-to-PhD and MSN-to-PhD, comprising 63 to 72 credits and 16-week terms. 

Coursework includes nursing science theory and scientific writing for nurses and healthcare professionals. The curriculum prepares graduates for leadership roles that contribute to the body of nursing knowledge through research. 

Graduates from this program can become nurse scientists, faculty members at a research-focused university, or leaders within healthcare systems or industries. While students can complete the program primarily online, there are two mandatory onsite intensives per year. With this PhD in nursing, individuals can continue advancing their careers and making a significant impact in the field.

  • Location: Orlando, FL
  • Duration: Two to five years
  • Accreditation: Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $327.32 per credit (residents); $1,151.72 (non-residents)

Walden University – PhD in Nursing

As one of the leading online universities for PhD in nursing, Walden University offers a range of options and specializations for nurses at all levels. Whether students are looking to start their PhD journey with a BSN, MSN, or DNP degree, Walden University offers specializations in areas such as nursing education, healthcare administration, and population health so students can tailor their PhD program to align with their career goals. 

In addition to this flexibility, Walden University also supports its PhD students through dedicated mentors and access to research resources such as the nursing simulation lab and virtual clinical trials center. As a result, nurses can pursue their PhD while advancing in their careers and positively impacting healthcare.

  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
  • Duration: 2.5 to eight years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $24,240 per year

University of Arizona – PhD in Nursing

The University of Arizona offers a PhD in nursing program focusing on research in a clinical, academic, scientific, or industry environment. Coursework for the program is almost completely online, except for resident intensive summer experiences. 

Students can pursue BSN-to-PhD, MSN-to-PhD, PhD-DNP dual degree, or post-DNP PhD paths, with individualized study plans. The program also offers three tracks in precision science, data and systems science, and health determinants science. With this PhD program, nurses have the opportunity to advance nursing science and improve health outcomes through research and innovation.

  • Location: Tucson, AZ
  • Duration: Four to six years
  • Accreditation: American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)
  • Tuition: $858.00 per unit (residents); $1,215 per unit (non-residents)

Indiana University – PhD in Nursing Science

Indiana University offers an online PhD program in nursing science, allowing students to earn their degree online or through a hybrid distance-accessible program. This 90-credit program accepts applicants with a BSN or MSN from accredited programs and prepares them for careers in nursing education, research, health systems, or clinical science. 

PhD students are paired with faculty mentors throughout the program and can choose from clinical nursing science, health systems, and nursing education concentrations. With this online PhD in nursing science, IU provides top-notch education with in-person campus residencies to advance the field of nursing and improve care for individuals and families across the lifespan.

  • Location: Campuses across Indiana
  • Duration: Two to six years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $625 per credit (residents); $1,664 per credit (non-residents)

University of Missouri – PhD in Nursing

The University of Missouri offers a PhD in nursing, preparing individuals for research, leadership, and clinical roles depending on their specialization. The interdisciplinary program is made possible by the diverse academic backgrounds represented in the program. Though some on-campus visits are required, students can complete most courses online. 

Students can choose from three options for credit requirements: BSN-to-PhD (77 credit-hours), MS-to-PhD (56 credit-hours), or post-clinical PhD (48 credit-hours). With this versatility, the University of Missouri’s PhD in nursing program prepares students for successful careers as clinical scholars, educators, and researchers.

  • Location: Columbia, MO
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC) 
  • Tuition: $41,148.80 total (BSN entry); $29,926.40 (MS entry); $25,651.20 total (post-clinical entry)

Duquesne University – PhD in Nursing

The PhD in nursing program at Duquesne University offers a unique and exciting opportunity for those looking to advance their careers in nursing education, research, and leadership. With a focus on rigorous and intensive engagement, students will develop the skills necessary to become independent nurse scholars. 

The program also offers flexibility, with options for a three or four-year curriculum and a DNP-to-PhD track. Over the past 25 years, more than 100 nurses have graduated from this program and gone on to successful careers in the field. 

PhD students can choose to specialize in healthcare decision science or clinical nurse leadership and complete a dissertation research project on a topic of interest. Students also have the option to fulfill residency requirements at the Pittsburgh campus or Duquesne’s Dublin, Ireland campus as part of a study abroad experience. 

  • Location: Pittsburgh, PA
  • Duration: Three to four years
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $1,635 per credit

Jobs for PhD in Nursing Graduates

Nurse Educator

A nurse educator is a nurse with advanced education and training who educates nursing students and practicing nurses. Ever wondered why nursing careers are in demand but nursing program admissions are so competitive? According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, one of the biggest reasons is a shortage of qualified nursing faculty. Nurse educators work in nursing schools, hospitals, or other healthcare settings as faculty members, clinical instructors, or nurse managers. In addition to providing educational instruction, nurse educators may also develop curricula, conduct research, and provide professional mentorship to new nurses. 

Becoming a nurse educator often requires graduate-level education at the MSN, DNP, or PhD level, and certification. The role can be gratifying as it combines clinical expertise with the opportunity to shape the future of healthcare. Nursing education is essential for providing safe and high-quality patient care, making nurse educators a valuable asset to the profession.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows nurse educators are in demand, with a growth rate of 22 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is more than five times the national average (5 percent) and will create 18,700 new positions (BLS 2022). 

Nurse Scientist

A nurse scientist is a nurse dedicated to using scientific inquiry and evidence-based practice in nursing. They strive to integrate their research findings into clinical practice and contribute to the overall body of knowledge in the field. 

Nurse scientists often hold advanced degrees in nursing research and evidence-based practice, such as a PhD. In addition to conducting their research, nurse scientists facilitate and support others’ research efforts and provide staff development opportunities related to evidence-based practice. Nurse scientists are essential in improving patient care and outcomes by promoting a culture of clinical inquiry.

Whether their research field is patient-based, provider-based, or clinically based, nurse scientists can be classified as medical scientists or advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). The BLS predicts a 17 percent growth rate for medical scientists and a staggering 46 percent growth rate for nurse practitioners. Both jobs are predicted to grow beyond the national average (5 percent) from 2021 to 2031, adding 20,800 new medical scientists and 112,700 nurse practitioner positions. 

Medical scientists (except epidemiologists) earn median annual salaries of $95,310, while nurse practitioners earn median annual salaries of $120,680, according to BLS statistics from May 2021—the latest data available as of February 2023. 

Medical and Health Services Managers

Representing a wide range of healthcare administration leadership roles, medical and health services manager titles include but are not limited to nurse managers, nursing directors, and the c-suite leadership title: Chief Nursing Officer (CNO). According to O*Net Online, an affiliate of the US Department of Labor, medical and health services managers’ responsibilities include directing, coordinating, supervising, and evaluating work activities of medical, nursing, technical, clerical, service, and maintenance personnel. 

Medical and health services managers in nursing have a DNP or PhD and several years of experience working as a nurse manager, hospital administrator, or in another healthcare leadership role. These individuals oversee the day-to-day operations of hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, medical offices, and other healthcare facilities, ensuring that they run efficiently and effectively while providing high-quality patient care. 

The BLS shows that careers in medical health and services management are predicted to grow by 28 percent in the coming decade, creating 136,200 new jobs from 2021 to 2031. The median annual salary is $101,340, with the lowest 10th percentile earning $60,780 and the highest 10th percentile earning $205,620 (BLS May 2021).

Rachel Drummond, MEd

Rachel Drummond, MEd

Writer

At NursingColleges.com, Rachel Drummond has applied her extensive experience in education and mindfulness to elucidate the importance of self-care for nursing students since 2022. Through her writings, she underscores the role of mental and physical well-being in fostering resilient and compassionate healthcare professionals.

Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.