Students with doctoral degrees in nursing can expect to obtain jobs in health administration, research, teaching, consulting and in advanced clinical practice. While nursing graduates with a PhD can expect to be in demand for many decades as experienced nurses reach retirement age, this educational course is demanding and can take three to six years to complete, in addition to any previous nursing experience and education.

Prerequisites for Earning a PhD

There are several doctoral programs that a nursing student can choose from. The ND, or Doctor of Nursing, usually requires three-five years of study with a focus on building the role of the advanced nurse practitioner. The DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) is an emerging program that requires at least three years of full-time study. The DNP prepares graduates for leadership positions in research, clinical care delivery, patient outcomes and system management. Nurse scholars and researchers who want to focus on further research, theoretical foundations of nursing and scholarly inquiry may lean toward the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs available to nurses. Additionally, the Doctorate in Education (EdD) prepares the nurse for teaching.

Nurses who are interested in gaining a PhD may do so through dual programs as well. Every program has its own prerequisites, but most require that the nurse obtain a bachelor’s or master’s degree and some experience in the field before acceptance.

How to Get an PhD

While the focus areas of any doctoral nursing program will vary by school, the doctoral degree generally builds on the role of any specialty with a goal of leadership preparation or in research skills. Also, nursing instructors are in great demand, and someone with the experience and knowledge that comes from obtaining a PhD is welcome in the highest educational arenas.

In a doctoral program for nursing, all students usually receive training in research methods, including statistics and data analysis. Students also study the history and philosophy of nursing science and leadership skills. As with any PhD program, it would behoove the student to find faculty that would support that student’s interests, so that the student can learn from the best in that field.

Most doctoral programs require approval of a dissertation proposal before the doctoral student moves forward with a capstone project required for graduation. The dissertation includes a major research paper that either generates theory or proposes and tests new models – hence it is both original and scholarly. At this point, the doctoral student is generally elevated to doctoral candidate status. At the completion of the research work and approval of the dissertation, the doctoral candidate must defend the research before a group of examiners and/or public within a university setting.

Careers Available After Obtaining a PhD

Nurses who obtain a doctoral degree can teach, conduct research at the highest level, write scholarly materials, obtain leadership roles in health institutions and in teaching facilities. Although it takes time and money to gain a doctoral degree, the nursing student may find that this investment is worthwhile. Nurses with doctoral degrees are, and will remain, in demand for several decades.