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Ph.D. in Nursing

Ph.D. in Nursing

There are two types of doctoral nursing degrees. A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is focused on clinical practice, while a doctor of philosophy in nursing (Ph.D.) tends to focus more on research. However, a Ph.D. in nursing allows graduates to practice in both types of settings.

Job prospects for nurses with a Ph.D. are vast, as the demand for nurses who have reached the highest education level far exceeds the supply. Here, we provide detailed information about Ph.D. nursing programs, how you can benefit from earning your Ph.D. in Nursing, and what career opportunities are available to graduates with this type of degree.

What Is a Ph.D. in Nursing?

Ph.D. educated nurses are responsible for researching and developing scientific studies that help improve health care practices and policies across the country. For example, nurse researchers discovered that increasing nursing staff with BSN degrees in hospitals by just 10% leads to an astounding 5% decrease in patient-mortality after surgical procedures. This discovery led hospitals throughout the U.S. to change their entry requirements and hiring practices. Ph.D. educated nurses also have the opportunity to weigh in on health care legislation and are considered the leaders of advancing the field of nursing.

Ph.D. Nursing Program Curriculum

What You’ll Learn

Nursing Ph.D. programs are designed to prepare nurse scientists to gain advanced knowledge for nursing practice and science. Graduates of Ph.D. programs in nursing are often lead research teams in multiple disciplines and design research studies, and direct teams to conduct the studies. They may also help design the nursing program curriculum or curriculum for related disciplines. Often, nurse scientists focus on research related to the care and treatment of chronic illnesses like diabetes and cancers.

Ph.D. Program Goals and Objectives

The goals and objectives of a Ph.D. nursing program vary between schools. However, most programs aim to help nurses learn new skills that allow them to conduct research to be applied to health care. Schools teach nursing students to use a methodological, theoretical, and analytical approach to gathering data and applying it to nursing science. The goal is to prepare nursing students to take on leadership roles in nursing and the larger field of overall healthcare. Additional objectives for students in Ph.D. programs are to develop specific expertise within a particular discipline and to be able to serve in a variety of roles in research, educational, and clinical settings.

Graduate Outcomes

Doctoral graduates must display a wide variety of essential skills and knowledge to succeed in their new careers. They must be able to take on leadership roles comfortably and work with teams of physicians, RN’s, clinical researchers, and medical professionals from a variety of disciplines. Graduates of nursing Ph.D. programs command a great deal of respect in the health care industry, and they have a wide range of applicable skills in many different nursing disciplines. They are especially skilled at discovering and translating scientific evidence related to nursing and healthcare in general. Nurses who have completed Ph.D. programs are responsible for:

  • Systems development
  • Nursing education
  • Health policy research
  • Pharmaceutical research
  • Population health research
  • Nursing administration
  • Disease control and prevention
  • Disease diagnosis and treatment

Online Ph.D. in Nursing

Benefits of Earning a Ph.D. in Nursing

There are numerous benefits for advanced practice nurses who wish to further their education with a doctor of philosophy degree.

Personal Growth and Development

It’s extremely satisfying to be among the 1% of nurses in the U.S. that have a doctoral degree. The demand for advanced practice nurses, especially those in research roles, exceeds the supply. You can help meet a critical need in the healthcare industry while creating job security for yourself. Nurses with PhDs also learn several excellent skills that can help them in their daily lives, including thinking critically about problems, reasoning and analysis skills, and excellent communication and writing skills. These skills transfer well to any job or position and can even make it easier to reach personal goals.

The Opportunity to Influence Health Care Practices and Policies

Ph.D. educated nurse scientists are responsible for researching and developing scientific studies that help improve health care practices and policies across the country. For example, nurse researchers discovered that increasing nursing staff with BSN degrees in hospitals by just 10% leads to an astounding 5% decrease in patient mortality after surgical procedures. This discovery led to hospitals throughout the U.S. changing their entry requirements and hiring practices. Nurse scientists also have the opportunity to weigh in on health care legislation and are considered the leaders of advancing the field of nursing.

Opening Your Own Practice

Although Ph.D. degrees are heavily focused on clinical research and nursing science, nurses who hold this title can open their own clinical practices in 20 states and the District of Columbia. An MSN degree — which is a prerequisite for a Ph.D. — is enough for a nurse to transition into advanced nursing practice and open their own clinic.

Ph.D. students learn management and administrative skills that are invaluable when managing a solo healthcare practice. A Doctor of Education in Nursing (EdD) and a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) will also allow you to open your own practice. However, the research background obtained with a Ph.D. can prepare you if you are interested in discovering and utilizing advanced treatments in your practice.

What Can You Do With a Ph.D. in Nursing?

A Ph.D. in nursing allows you to follow a wide variety of different career paths. Nurses with these degrees can conduct research, teach nursing students, write healthcare-related books, work for the government in different healthcare programs, and even lead healthcare organizations. Nursing Ph.D.’s generally prepare students for work outside day-to-day direct patient care.

Most Ph.D.-educated nurses will not be involved in the hands-on care of a patient but will rather be conducting research and doing work that helps move the entire nursing profession forward as a whole. A Ph.D. educated nurse has the ability to discover new knowledge and add it to the knowledge already in existence, making a significant impact on the profession and patient care.

Nurse Educator / Faculty Member

Nurse educators can have a variety of different educational backgrounds. They may have an associate’s degree, a BSN, an MSN, or a Ph.D. degree. They can work as classroom instructors, educating rising nurses through lectures and hands-on clinical experience.

A Ph.D. level nurse educator can develop new coursework and curriculum based on their own research and evaluate another school curriculum. They may be asked to mentor nursing students and may still be requested to conduct and publish research. It’s not uncommon for Ph.D.-level nurse educators to continue publishing scholarly journals or presenting their research at conferences.

Director of Nursing Research

Ph.D. educated nurse scientists may also serve as an administrator of nursing research departments of different healthcare facilities, especially large hospitals focused on the advancement of medicine. They may also direct the facility’s research program, coordinating the moving parts to achieve the desired outcome.

Typically, a nurse in this position manages other nurse researchers and may direct all the research projects that the facility is involved in. A nursing research director is often considered the “head” of a facility’s research department, and they decide the details of conducting and implementing research. Directors may also publish research in academic journals and oversee the implementation of research studies on the hospital’s patient level.

Director of Clinical Services

Nursing researchers may also serve as clinical administrators in various healthcare facilities, including in hospitals and private practices. They would be responsible for overseeing the facility’s day-to-day operations, particularly where patient care is concerned. A clinical administrator serves as a liaison between department managers and upper management and is typically not involved in direct patient care.

Although hands-on patient involvement is not a requirement of this position, a clinical administrator must understand the procedures, policies, and workflows for each department to ensure the best possible patient care. Clinical administrators may be responsible for researching workflows and efficiency within the facility and present suggestions on changes that should be made to decrease costs to the facility, decrease patient adverse events, and increase efficiency and patient satisfaction.

Additional Roles and Workplace Settings

There are many other jobs available for Ph.D.-educated nurses. Typically, these jobs involve some research component, but nurses can choose to go into more research-heavy fields or don’t require as much research depending on their desires and career goals. For example, nurses with a Doctor of Philosophy degree can go into many different fields and obtain high-ranking administrative positions, including:

  • Research organizations
  • Health advocacy organizations
  • Health publishing companies
  • Pharmaceutical facilities
  • Healthcare information organizations
  • Healthcare technology facilities
A Ph.D.-educated nurse can work in any facility where education, research, and evaluation occur. Whether you desire a research-heavy position or not, research plays a significant role in educating a Ph.D. nursing student. Facilities that hire Ph.D.-educated nurses expect that they’ve obtained a baseline skillset to conduct research related to their positions. When selecting a nursing Ph.D. program, inquire about the research education component to ensure that you will receive the training needed to go into a wide variety of career fields after graduation.
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