Online PhD in Nursing

By the year 2015, the American Association of Colleges of Nurses (AACN) will require all entry-level nurse practitioner educational programs to transition from the Master of Science in Nursing degree to the Doctorate of Nursing Practice. An online PhD in nursing improves leadership skills while providing the PhD candidate with advanced education that prepares them for upper level management and education positions. The top online PhD programs in Nursing will require applicants to have a Master of Science in Nursing as well as a Registered Nurse license. Students should also have relevant work experience in nursing or healthcare. As with any nursing program, a certain level of compassion, patience and flexibility is expected of students within the program. Students should also have solid leadership and communication skills, which a doctorate program in Nursing will help cultivate and foster. Online Nursing PhD programs will take at least four years to complete, with the first two years being devoted to course work. Most programs will have students take qualifying examinations to apply for candidacy and begin working towards a dissertation. Many online PhD programs in Nursing have concentrations, such as Nursing Science, Nursing Practice and Philosophy.

About Online PhD Programs in Nursing

Online doctoral programs in Nursing are usually more interactive than traditional courses. Doctoral candidates are expected to participate in weekly discussion boards, group projects, study scholarly readings, and write lengthy papers. In addition to course work, some Nursing PhD candidates must conduct in-depth research within their area of interest and write a dissertation reporting the findings and discussing future implications. Online PhD programs in Nursing sometimes require students to have a research or statistical component of courses as well as seminars. Other online PhD programs, such as the one offered at Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) will require students to

Coursework Students Can Expect To Take

  • Advanced Quantitative Research Methods. This course encourages students to integrate design and analysis in the study of nursing phenomena and apply those principles to the student's own future research.
  • Knowledge Development in Nursing Science. With an emphasis on epistemological and ontological assumptions and implications, students are given a historical and contemporary view of the development of nursing science.
  • Communication Strategies. This introductory doctoral course provides students with advanced communication strategies such as the scholarship-practice-leadership model, scholarly writing practices, and Learning Team effectiveness.
  • Health Policy and Advocacy. Offered at Medical University of South Carolina, this course allows students to develop, evaluate and provide leadership in improving public health through health policy development and the education of policy makers regarding nursing and patient outcomes.
  • Philosophy of Nursing Science. This course examines the philosophical views of science that have influenced the process of knowledge development and discovery within nursing science.
  • Ethical Aspects of Research Involving Vulnerable Populations. Also offered at MUSC, this course provides an in-depth analysis of the unique ethical aspects of conducting research, asking students to provide resolutions to facilitate research while still protecting the rights of their subjects.
  • Proposal Seminar. Students are assisted in settling on a dissertation topic, developing a problem statement, purpose statement and the most effective research tactic to use for their dissertation.
  • Electives. Examples of doctoral Nursing program electives include Instructional Processes in Nursing; Curriculum Development and Design; Methodologies of Online Teaching; and Special Topics in Nursing Science. Most programs offer different electives and at different times during the academic year.
  • Dissertation. Most PhD programs will require six to nine credit hours of dissertation coursework.

Online PhD programs in Nursing require candidates to take comprehensive examinations based on coursework prior to beginning their dissertations. Examples of nursing dissertations include “Postpartum Depression and Vitamin D” and “Relationship of Work Experience to Clinical and Leadership Competence of Advanced Practice Nursing Students.”

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Nursing

In the field of nursing, earning advanced level degrees online has become more accepted and widespread. There is less of a stigma in online education than there was a decade ago. Online doctoral programs in nursing focus on improving patient outcome in the ever changing field of medicine. Nurses with practical experience as well as expertise in certain specializations are increasingly in demand, and earning a doctoral degree in nursing may be advantageous in terms of attaining higher level job positions and better salaries. As the AACN prepares to require that all nurse practitioner programs transition from offering a Master of Science in Nursing degree (MSN) to the Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP), online nursing PhD candidates will be ahead of the industry curve. Additionally, the benefit of online programs is that they are flexible in working around your schedule, so pursuing a PhD online may not interfere with your current job situation. Furthermore, employers understand the need for practical, vocational or registered nurses to further their education and become experts in the field. Due to the increasing demand for experienced advanced nurses, some hospitals or healthcare organizations may be willing to pay for part of your tuition as long as you are willing to work for them after you've earned your degree.

Application & Admission Requirements

Most online PhD in Nursing programs require that applicants have a Master of Science in Nursing from an accredited college or university. A Registered License is also required to be considered for acceptance into an online doctoral Nursing program. Applicants must also submit GRE scores in addition to official post secondary transcripts that boast a 3.2 or above cumulative grade point average. Students are also expected to submit recommendation or reference letters from professional sources, a detailed curriculum vita, and a personal statement. Most online PhD programs in Nursing will expect applicants to be currently employed in a nursing or health care job position that enables students to complete course-related assignments. Some programs, such as the PhD Nursing program at Rutgers University, may require an interview for admission. Many PhD Nursing programs may also require that prospective doctoral candidates submit scholarly papers in which the applicant is the sole author, while most universities require a minimum of three years of full-time RN and health care experience within the last ten years.

Career Options & Job Market

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job prospects for graduates from online PhD programs in Nursing are expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations; however this growth is less likely to occur in hospitals than in other healthcare industries. Possible career options for nurses with PhDs include:

  • Nurse Researcher. As a nurse researcher, you'll work as an analyst for private companies or health policy nonprofit organizations by publishing research studies based on data collected on specific pharmaceutical, medical and nursing products and practices.
  • Health Policy Analyst. Health policy analysts research and analyze various health care issues of the general population, as well as educate and train policymakers and the public.

Where to Find Information

How to Get Funding

For funding assistance, AACN provides a lengthy list of scholarships for students of different backgrounds or specializations. The Nurse Faculty Loan Program is another resource for doctoral nursing candidates with an interest in teaching. Other funding resources for doctoral nursing students include Sigma Theta Tau International, whose Honor Society of Nursing provides research grant opportunities, while the American Nurses Foundation also offers a nursing research grant.

  • Nurses Educational Funds, Inc. Several general and endowed scholarships are offered to doctoral students who are registered nurses, a member of a professional nursing association, and attending an accredited nursing program.
  • AfterCollege/AACN Scholarship. This scholarship awards $2,500 to nursing students enrolled in a doctoral program with the goal of pursuing a nursing faculty career.
  • March of Dimes Nursing Scholarships. For doctoral nursing students specializing in obstetric and neonatal nursing, this scholarship awards $5,000 annually.

Essential Advice

  • Weigh your options and do the research. You can't  know for sure whether an additional degree will increase your earning potential more than a bachelor's or master's degree in a similar field would.
  • Try to obtain a scholarship, fellowship or grant. Studying at a PhD level is costly, and you may not be able to predict how many years it will take you to complete it.
  • Talk to current doctoral nursing candidates and graduates about course load, time management, what admission materials they submitted, and so on. This is the best way to learn if the program is right for you.
  • Check the school's credentials. Once you find a program, make sure it is accredited by an accrediting institution recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.