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How do I Earn a Nursing PhD?

By C. K. Lanz
Updated May 17, 2024
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A nursing PhD is the highest degree achievable in the field of nursing and requires candidates to complete additional full time coursework and a dissertation. Before beginning a nursing PhD, candidates have typically earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing as well as a Master of Science in Nursing and completed any required clinical experience. Many nursing PhD programs also require applicants to have a current nursing license. Nurses who complete a nursing PhD are prepared to participate in research related to nursing science. These nurses will also have to work in an academic or research environment by studying different approaches to the testing and application of new knowledge related to the field.

Nursing PhD candidates usually begin their programs by completing courses either online or in a traditional classroom setting before selecting their dissertation topics. Credit hours are typically divided between nursing classes, theory development, and research and dissertation seminars. Upon successful completion of all required coursework and the qualifying examination, candidates will begin to research and write dissertations to be presented to a faculty mentor or committee for approval before the PhD is granted. On average, nursing PhD candidates complete their degrees in three to four years if attending full time. A nursing PhD can also be referred to as Doctor of Nursing, Doctor of Nursing Practice, Doctor of Nursing Science and Doctor of Nursing Philosophy degrees.

Requirements for admission to a nursing PhD program vary between institutions but typically require a certain amount of clinical nursing experience prior to beginning coursework. Common additional requirements can include specific courses, an interview or interviews with a faculty member or committee, letters of recommendation, proof of malpractice liability insurance, curriculum vita, personal statement, transcripts from previous programs and other documentation. The completion of a standardized exam such as the Miller Analogy Test (MAT), the Graduate Record Examination or the Test of English as a Foreign Language may also be required of program applicants, especially in the United States.

Most recipients of a nursing PhD work in an academic setting upon graduation as a professor or researcher. Additionally, nurses who have completed their PhDs may also find careers in health administration and advanced clinical practice. Their research is meant to advance the practice of nursing in general by developing and improving the theoretical foundation of the profession. Common nursing PhD areas of research include end of life care and decision making, substance abuse, symptom management, domestic violence, health disparities, breastfeeding, chronic disease management, and biobehavioral aspects of pain and stress.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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