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Programs and affordable education options are available for nursing degrees. But before you attend school you need to decide which programs work best based on your career goals, time frame and current lifestyle. Making a sound decision on your education will help set your nursing career up for success.

Amount of Time Needed for a PhD in Nursing

Earning a PhD in Nursing can take from four to six years. The degree program requires a significant time commitment on the part of the student. Students can expect to engage in full-time study, including classes in the summer.

To pursue a doctoral in nursing you would need to select a specific area of research to focus on, along with the required coursework. Many doctorate programs require a dissertation and nurses must provide clinical defense on their research. Nurses interested in research and nursing science can earn a PhD in three to four years by participating in an online program. Some schools offer PhD Nursing online programs.

There are four different types of nursing doctorate degrees to choose from and each one is specific to a certain path in the nursing field. 

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): Emphasis on clinical practice-oriented leadership training.
  • Doctor of Nursing (ND): Focus is on developing advanced specialist skills.
  • Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc): Focus is on investigative and research skills.
  • Doctor of Nursing Philosophy (PhD): Emphasizes scholarly research and inquiry.

What do you do with a PhD in Nursing?

There are PhD-prepared nurses who teach, conduct research, evaluate programs, write books, lead health care organizations, and work for the government. With a doctoral degree, the sky is the limit. At the doctoral level, nursing is less about hands-on patient care and more about the abstract thinking that helps move the profession forward. More than anything else, a nurse with a PhD has the training needed to conduct research and add to the body of available nursing research knowledge. Not all those who pursue a PhD in nursing choose to work as researchers, but all have been exposed to great amounts of research and have had to demonstrate their ability to conduct high-quality research on their own.

Jobs Most Pursued by Those Receiving a PhD in Nursing Education

Nursing faculty member—A nurse educator who works in an AS, BSN, MSN or PhD program as a classroom instructor. Nurse faculty members are also responsible for creating, implementing and evaluating program curricula and mentoring nursing students. Oftentimes, in addition to their teaching responsibilities, they are expected to conduct research. They typically disseminate this research in scholarly journals and at research conferences.

Director of nursing research—a nurse researcher who serves as administrator of the nursing research department of a healthcare facility or coordinator of the facility’s nursing research program. The director may supervise other nursing research employees, or he or she may be responsible for overseeing all nursing research projects conducted within the facility. The director of nursing research is typically the go-to person within the facility for questions regarding the design and implementation of a desired research study. He or she may or may not be responsible for dissemination of research findings.

Director of clinical services—a clinical administrator who oversees daily operations of patient care departments in a healthcare facility. He or she is the liaison between upper management and department managers. Although the director is not involved in direct patient care, he or she is aware of the work flows in each department that promote optimal patient care. The director may generate or receive reports addressing the efficiency of departmental work flows, and this information is then given to each department manager in an effort to increase efficiency and patient satisfaction.

Other jobs available to those pursuing a PhD in nursing include research or high-ranking administrative positions in pharmaceutical companies, research institutes, health advocacy organizations, health care information technology corporations and nursing or other health-related publishing companies. A nurse who has attained a PhD could practically work anywhere that research, education, or program evaluation takes place. The important thing to remember is that graduation from a reputable PhD program ensures that a nurse has received proper research training.

Online PhD Nursing Programs

Online PhD degrees in nursing education may end up being the means by which PhD programs in nursing education are widely distributed. Online PhD programs in nursing may allow you to continue working either full or part-time as you pursue your online doctorate degree. That's important. Always choose distance education that is quality assured through credible accreditation. Because nurses are so in demand, encouraging nurses to quit their jobs seems a bad idea. If an online PhD program enables a working mother to enter this exciting field while still meeting her obligations to provide for her family, for example, that is a win for everyone.

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