PhD Nursing Programs

Nursing PhDs are scholarly doctoral degrees. They serve a different purpose than the DNP, which is a practice-focused degree. The PhD is not intended to prepare the nurse for advanced practice or improve his or her direct practice skills. The PhD may continue to serve in a clinical role, but the PhD will support other pursuits: notably research. For many, the word PhD signifies research or researcher. Some nurses pursue the PhD as preparation for serving as nursing faculty at the university or graduate level.

Because PhD study is highly individualized, particularly at the latter stages, nurses can use their studies as a springboard for pursuing any of many individual interests. They can contribute to knowledge and policy in unlimited ways. A person doesn’t need a PhD to make a presentation at a conference or shape policy. However, the extra study can hone one’s skills and develop their knowledge base – and the trail of letters after a person’s name doesn’t hurt.

Nurses who hold the DNP have a high degree of research literacy and are prepared for clinical research. The PhD, though, are prepared to carry out original research. Unlike DNP program students, PhD candidates write dissertations.

Practical Considerations: Commitment and Financing

The PhD is a commitment. PhD programs in nursing typically take at least three years. Five is not uncommon.

People think of higher education as expensive, but this is often not the case with the PhD. PhD candidates are creating knowledge. They’re also helping make a name for the school. Research universities often treat their PhD candidates very generously: tuition waivers, stipends, and extras like health insurance. The particulars vary. Duke University, for example, states that students have 12-month stipends during the first two years and 9-month stipends afterward (; they are encouraged, by this point, to seek supplemental funding.

PhD in Nursing Curriculum

Nursing PhD programs include core coursework, elective coursework, and independent research. At some schools, PhD students begin preparation for their dissertation at an early stage.

The following are among the common core courses:

• Qualitative Methods
• Quantitative Methods
• Research Design
• Research Responsibility
• Theoretical Basis of Nursing
• Nurse Scientist Leadership
• Grant Writing
• Nursing Seminar
• Research Practica

Students may select courses such as comparative effectiveness research, health behavior theory, writing for publication, and wellness improvement in underserved populations.

PhD programs in Nursing may have multiple tracks. They may offer their students the opportunity to earn supplemental certificates. The University of Missouri, for example, offers certificates I a range of interests areas, including college teaching, positive psychology, and organizational consulting & change (

Academia is not the place for those who want to earn a fortune. But those who love academia can use it to support themselves long before they get their terminal degree.It is also important to remember that PhDs can continue to have careers outside academia.

Nurses may, depending on program, enter with either a bachelor’s or master’s in nursing.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing notes that PhD nurses often contribute to the knowledge basis in a way that is not discipline-specific such, for example, contributing to the knowledge of diabetes care and cancer care (

PhD in Nursing Research and Accreditation

Unlike DNP programs, PhD programs do not hold programmatic accreditation through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, the accrediting branch of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing AACN. The AACN, though, is a source of information about the research doctorate – and a strong advocate of the PhD. AACN has articulated reasons for promoting nursing articulation in PhD programs ( One reason: the need for a pipeline of nurses who can educate future generation of BSN nurses.

Nursing Dissertations

The dissertation is an opportunity to go very deep and very narrow into educational and clinical questions.

The following are among the recently published dissertations from Villanova University (
• The Effect of Interprofessional Simulations in the Classroom on Pre-Licensure, Baccalaureate Nursing Students’ Clinical Judgment Development
• Assessment of Genomic Knowledge among Nurses in an Online RN to BSN Completion Program

And from Duquesne University come the following (
• Access to Care and the Use of Health Care Services by Women in Rural Cameroon: A Participatory Action Research Study
• Risk Factors Associated with Pressure Injury Development in Congenital Heart Disease Patients

Vanderbilt has published illustrative lists of research questions (

PhD students often select particular schools because of the research interests of faculty members. Indeed articulating a compatible research area may be part of the application process. The University of Washington asks prospective PhD students to contact faculty members in advance of application ( The University of North Carolina notes it as an option (

Dual Degrees and Seamless Progression

Some schools offer dual degree programs or programs that allow for seamless progress from one degree to the next. The University of Pennsylvania, for example, allows BSN nurses to apply simultaneously for the MS advanced practice program and the PhD. Some nurses pursue joint DNP/ PhD programs.

Universities may also choose to make it easier for those who already hold a DNP to pursue a PhD.

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