Online PhD in Nursing Practice

Online PhD programs in nursing practice offer extensive and rigorous preparation for nursing professionals who seek careers in scholarly research, advanced clinical practice, or nursing education. Completion of online doctoral degrees in nursing practice is expected to take between 3 to 6 years depending upon whether an individual has already obtained a Master’s degree. Most programs require students who already have master's degrees in nursing to complete around 64 credits while those with bachelor's degrees have to complete around 79. Along with completing courses on advanced topics in nursing, students will earn credit through the field experience, clinical hours, and projects. To stay in these types of program they may be required to maintain a certain GPA, score highly on exams, participate in clinicals, and complete a residence program.

About Online PhD Programs in Nursing Practice

The exceptional skills needed to obtain an online nursing practice PhD coincide with skills needed to obtain this degree via the traditional route. The candidate will need to critically analyze existing research, produce original research, and develop a variety of strategies that will address the health care needs of individuals, organizations, and communities. Online courses will help students master these skills by providing extensive methodological training and monitoring, qualified mentors and advisors, access to experienced clinicians, continuous collaboration among colleagues, field service experience, professional seminars, qualified faculty, and membership into professional organizations.

The coursework for obtaining an online PhD in nursing practice is often divided into major domains such as required courses that focus on evidence-based practice, quality improvement, healthcare policy and advocacy, and organizational and systems leadership. The specific course requirements of the numerous accredited and top online doctoral programs in nursing practice vary and are available to prospective candidates. Some of the courses required each year of the nursing practice doctoral program at Walden University include:

Year One:

  • Foundations and Essentials of Doctoral Study in Nursing. This course will provide you with an overview of the foundations for professional development concerning doctoral nursing practice.
  • Healthcare Policy and Advocacy. In this course you will learn about the economic, financial, and political influences on healthcare delivery as well as how the political and policy process is involved in the need for reform of the healthcare delivery system.
  • Theoretical and Scientific Foundations for Nursing Practice. In this course you will explore the scientific foundations for nursing practice and learn about aspects such bio-behavioral, pathophysiological, psychosocial, and environmental sciences.

Year Two:

  • Methods for Evidence-Based Practice. While in this course you will learn about how biostatistics are applied and interpreted in nursing research and cover factors like descriptive methodologies, statistical tests, and analysis of variance.
  • Transforming Nursing and Healthcare Through Technology. This course covers how information technology is used in advanced nursing practice to support healthcare quality improvement, health record management, and the generation of new knowledge.
  • Organizational and Systems Leadership for Quality Improvement. In this course you will learn about leadership strategies in healthcare organizations, systems for quality improvement, and the impact of organizational performance.

Year Three:

  • Epidemiology and Population Health. In this course you will learn about epidemiological methodology as it relates to the etiology of health-related conditions in human populations.
  • Design and Evaluation of Programs and Projects. This course takes a hands-on approach and helps students develop competencies that are required of healthcare professionals concerning the design, development, implementation, and evaluation of health initiatives.
  • Best Practices In Nursing Specialties. In this course you will learn the advanced biostatistics methods essential in conducting research as well as about key concepts in nursing demanding of scholarly inquiry.

Year Four:

  • DNP Project 1: Planning and Implementation. This practicum course will teach you about the implementation of program and project design for the purpose of examining clinical/practice questions.
  • DNP Project 2: Project Implementation, Evaluation, and Dissemination. In this practicum course you will learn about the evaluation and dissemination of program/project design the purpose of examining clinical/practice questions.
  • DNP Field Experience. This course requires students to obtain clinical experience and generate practicum portfolio evidence, submit scholarly articles, and complete portfolio requirements.

The other major component of online nursing practice PhD coursework is the scholarly inquiry coursework, which deals with the means of developing knowledge by conducting original research. A practicum may also be required to demonstrate integrated knowledge and skills in nursing practices during 60 or so hours working with a nurse mentor or other types of experts in a practice-based experience. Students may also have to complete a capstone project which is practice application oriented research project that a student completes under the direction of a faculty mentor.

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Nursing Practice

A doctoral degree in nursing practice can add great value to your career as the decision to pursue a nursing practice PhD online is one that cultivates a professional’s leadership skills and opportunities, innovation, knowledge, and impact on the health of individuals and communities. On the other hand, before you go ahead and invest your time and money into a doctoral program you need to make sure it is the right step for you and something you have the ability to successfully complete. Be aware that due to the demanding nature of this occupation it is not uncommon for nurses to become “burnt out” and change careers entirely. A nursing practice PhD online will have little value to you in the long run if you end up in an entirely different occupational field. Still, a graduate education in nursing will qualify you for advanced nursing positions in areas like management, administration, and education that may end up being less stressful.

Additionally, there are positives and negatives associated with online PhD degrees in nursing practice. On the positive side, the flexibility of online education is very accommodating to the individual who desires to balance school and work simultaneously. As nursing is such a hands-on and fast-moving occupation, it's important to not quit your day job in order to hit the books. Nurses who not only hold a doctorate but possess solid work experience will find that they have quite the advantage in a highly competitive job market. On the other hand, as an independent learner you may miss out on the benefits of a group learning environment that can only exist in the classroom.

Application & Admission Requirements

Admission to accredited online PhD programs in nursing practice typically requires a Master’s degree in nursing from an accredited institution. The Master's degrees that lead into an online nursing practice doctorate include: Master of Science in Nursing, Master's in Nursing Administration, Master of Science in Palliative Care Nursing, and Master of Science in Clinical Research Management. For some online PhD nursing practice programs, applicants may have had to maintain at least a 3.0 grade point average in their Master’s studies, be a certified nurse, and have complete necessary prerequisite courses.
Along with a completed graduate school application, students will also likely be required to submit academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose outlining their career aspirations. Additionally, they may be required to have a minimum amount of professional work experience. Many students who choose to pursue an online doctorate in nursing practice have experience in a range of other careers such as nurse practitioner, nurse administrator, nurse educator, nurse anesthetist, and forensic nursing.

Career Options & Job Market

Professionals who have completed the best online doctorate degrees in nursing practice have a variety of rewarding career opportunities available to them in health care management, advanced clinical practice, and scientific research. Some possible job titles may include: School of Nursing Teacher-Scholar, Research Scientist, Advanced Clinical Practice, Community-Based Program Leader, or Government Healthcare Organization Nurse. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of registered nurses is projected to increase 22 percent by 2018 with an expected demand specifically for these types of professionals in the offices of physicians, home health care services, and nursing care facilities. Furthermore, registered nurses with graduate degrees and advanced practice specialties will experience particularly good job prospects.

A person who has obtained the online doctorate in nursing practice may choose to specialize and earn a Certificate in Health Care Education. Additionally, students interested in careers in health administration and health policy may take additional coursework and have mentors who are leaders in these fields which may open many opportunities in the area of healthcare. The Bureau reports that by 2018 the employment of healthcare administrators will increase by 16 percent and that of health educators by 18 percent.

Where to Find Information

  • AANP: Practice Doctorate/DPN ResourcesThe American Academy of Nurse Practitioners provides information and resources concerning the doctor of nursing practice including articles, documents, and lists.
  • ANA: Advanced Practice Nurses Find out all you need to know about advance practice nurses from the American Nurses Association on this page that includes news and resources.
  • Three Key Components to Successfully Completing a Nursing Doctoral Program This article from The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing may shed some light on whether or not a doctoral nursing program is the right career move for you and how to be a successful student if it is.
  • AACN: Nursing Education Programs The American Association of Colleges of Nursing can tell you all you need to know about nursing education programs including a list of schools that offer doctor of nursing practice programs and qualities your should look for in graduate programs.

How to Get Funding

The cost of online doctorate programs in nursing practice can significantly differ from one institution to the next. For example, the PhD in nursing practice program at Drexel University charges students $960 per credit hour. With a minimum requirement for the program being 48 credit hours, at the very least students will be paying $46,080 in tuition costs. Total cost of tuition for an online doctorate in nursing practice at Walden University equals at least $33,370 with a price tag of $710 per quarter credit hour. Luckily, most students receive financial aid for their academic endeavors and do not end up actually paying for the entire program themselves.

  • AACN: Opportunity Alerts. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing provides this Web page that contains up-to-date information on the latest grants, fellowships, and scholarships available to graduate students and nursing school faculty.
  • HRSA: Grants. The Health Resources and Services Administration offers information on grants available to nursing students pursuing advanced education in nursing specialties.
  • Nurses Educational Funds. This non-profit organization helps out registered nurses with bachelor's degrees who are seeking graduate study and need scholarship assistance.

Essential Advice

  • Have a career goal in mind before you enroll in any online doctoral programs in nursing practice program. Do you want to eventually obtain a position in education, research, or administration? Is there a nursing specialty that you would like to have practice and leadership roles within? Earning your doctorate in nursing practice can position you for advancement in the specialty of your interest and qualify you for higher-level positions. It's important to keep career goals in mind during your educational experience so you can take elective courses, participate in research, or gain clinical experience within that area.
  • Make sure that you know exactly what will be expected of you before becoming a nursing practice PhD online student in a graduate program. Earning an advanced degree is a big commitment that will take up a lot of your time, effort, and energy, so you want to be sure you can handle it before the first day of classes. Research the nursing practice PhD programs online that you are most interested in and learn about specific degree requirements, class schedules, and course layouts. Talk to a school advisor about how your credits will transfer, contact a professor and inquire what is expected of students, or call up a financial aid offer to learn about payment options and funding opportunities. The more you know the better prepared you will be.
  • Find out if it is truly the right career move for you. While the decision to pursue one of the many nursing practice doctorate degrees online is entirely yours, it won't hurt to get some advice along the way. Meet with a career counselor who can objectively look at your career goals and provide you with direction. Talk to current grad students to see if they are happy with their decision so far. Ask nurses with graduate degrees whether or not a PhD was necessary to advance in their careers.