Ph.D in Nursing Degree Overview

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% lead 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 PhD programs are designed to prepare nurse scientists to gain advanced knowledge for the practice and science of nursing. Graduates of PhD 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 nursing program curriculum or curriculum for related disciplines. Often, nurse scientists focus on research related to the care and treatment of chronic illness like diabetes and cancers.

Ph.D Program Goals and Objectives

The goals and objectives of a PhD nursing program vary some between schools. However, most programs aim to help nurses to learn new skills that allow them to conduct research that can 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 both the field of nursing and the larger field of overall healthcare. Additional objectives for students in PhD 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.

Ph.D Program Outcomes - What Skills & Knowledge You Will Develop

Doctoral graduates must display a wide variety of essential skills and knowledge to be successful 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 PhD 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 as it relates to nursing and healthcare in general.

Nurses who have completed PhD 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

Ph.D Program Structure - Typical Coursework & Clinical Training

nursing PhD program is approximately four to five years in length and the number of credits required differs from program to program. Coursework typically includes advanced nursing classes, elective courses, and dissertation research. The core of the nursing PhD program is to impart the skills needed to generate new information in the nursing and healthcare fields. PhD nursing students will study nursing science, advanced statistics, theory development using inductive and deductive approaches, qualitative and quantitative research methods, and nursing research. Depending on the program, students may also choose electives that relate to their field of specific interest. Students will be required to complete oral and written comprehensive exams and to complete dissertation research.

The Benefits of Earning a PhD 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 and you can help meet a critical need in the healthcare industry while creating job security for yourself. Nurses with PhDs also learn a number of excellent skills that can help them in their daily lives, including the ability to think critically about problems, reasoning and analysis skills, and excellent communication and writing skills. These are skills that 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

PhD 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% lead 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 PhD 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 PhD -- is enough for a nurse to transition into advanced nursing practice and open their own clinic, PhD 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 PhD can prepare you if you are interested in discovering and utilizing advanced treatments in your practice.

PhD in Nursing - Career Specialties

A PhD in nursing allows you to follow a wide variety of different career paths. Nurses with these types of 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 PhD's generally prepare students for work outside day-to-day direct patient care. Most PhD 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 PhD 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 background. They may have an AS, a BSN, an MSN, or a PhD degree. They can work as classroom instructors, educating up and coming nurses through lectures and hands-on clinical experience. A PhD level nurse educator can develop new coursework and curriculum based on their own research and evaluate other curriculum within the school. They may be asked to mentor nursing students during their educations, and may still be requested to conduct and publish research. It's not uncommon for PhD level nurse educators to continue publishing works in scholarly journals or presenting their research at conferences.

Director of Nursing Research

PhD educated nurse scientists may also serve as an administrator of nursing research departments of different healthcare facilities, especially large hospitals who are focused on the advancement of medicine. They may also direct the facility's research program, coordinating the moving parts so the desired outcome is achieved. 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 the details of conducting and implementing research are decided by them. Directors may also publish research in academic journals and oversee the implementation of research studies on the patient level within the hospital.

Director of Clinical Services

Nursing researchers may also serve as clinical administrators in a variety of healthcare facilities, including in hospitals and private practices. They would be responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the facility, 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, it's critical that a clinical administrator understand the procedures, policies, and work flows for each department to ensure the best possible patient care. Clinical administrators may be responsible for conducting research on work flows 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 the satisfaction of patients who visit the facility.

Additional Roles and Workplace Settings

There are many other jobs available for PhD educated nurses. Typically, these jobs involve some sort of research component, but nurses can choose to go into fields that are more research heavy 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 but not limited to:

  • Research organizations
  • Health advocacy organizations
  • Health publishing companies
  • Pharmaceutical facilities
  • Healthcare information organizations
  • Healthcare technology facilities

A PhD educated nurse can work in any facility where education, research, and evaluation occurs. Whether you desire a research-heavy position or not, research plays a significant role in educating a PhD nursing student. Facilities that hire PhD educated nurses expect that they've obtained a baseline skill set to conduct research related to their positions. When selecting a nursing PhD 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.

Choosing a PhD Nursing Program

Selecting a PhD nursing program can be challenging, especially when there are so many different options available. You may even be able to transition from your MSN to your PhD entirely online while you continue working in the healthcare industry.

Evaluate your goals, your finances, and your time constraints. Look for programs that fit your budget and your schedule, and that will ultimately put you on the path to achieving your career goals. Do your research and don't rush into a program. This is the highest level of education that a nurse can achieve, along with a Doctor of Education in Nursing (EdD) and a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). You want to make sure you're going to the right school and you're involved in the right program. This last step to your education is bittersweet -- you'll finally be done with school after so many years and ready to pursue your dream career, but you'll miss the thrill of learning new things. Fortunately, the research component of the nursing PhD program ensures that you'll never stop learning and utilizing new information. This time, you'll be doing it to better the lives of others.

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