How to Get a PhD in Nursing + Online No GRE Programs

This page is designed to aid students and professionals who are interested in earning, or are in the process of earning their PhD in nursing. Note that this is a separate but similar degree as a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), which is a practical, clinical-focused degree. The PhD in nursing is for professionals who want to conduct nursing research and publish the results.

The goal of a Ph.D. in nursing also is to help you to develop new knowledge for science and nursing practice. After you graduate with your PhD, you will usually engage in interdisciplinary research with a team of professionals. You also will design and conduct clinical studies, and disseminate nursing knowledge and of other related health care disciplines.

This article features detailed, valuable information about some of the best choices to earn your online PhD in nursing. We also have included much useful and practical information about nursing career options, nursing research career options, salaries, job demand, and how to pay for your education.

Also, you will learn more about the many good reasons that getting your PhD in nursing will benefit your future. For example, one of the laments that many nurses have is that they see what needs to be changed but they do not have the hard data available to support the changes they seek.

As an expert in nursing research, you will have the opportunity to conduct research in the field that can change outcomes that benefit both patients and nurses. For example, nursing research has shown that hospitals with the highest nursing/patient ratios have a 30% higher rate of death. That is the type of information that makes nursing administrators take notice and make changes.

Some of the skills that will be needed to do well in a career with a PhD in nursing are:

  • Strong communication skills to work with other nurses and researchers.
  • Detail oriented mentality that pays attention to the small details of nursing research that can save lives.
  • Leadership skills that are necessary to convince others of your position, backed by strong research.
  • Resourcefulness is needed because you need to be able to tirelessly dig for important nursing and health data.

If you seek any information on a PhD in nursing that is not here, please let us know; we are here to help you.

PhD in Nursing Overview

The focus of the curriculum in a Ph.D. in nursing program is on the trajectories of chronic illness and care systems. Typical courses at the Ph.D. level include:

  • Philosophy of science and theory
  • Development of advanced research methods
  • Statistics and data analysis
  • Longitudinal and qualitative research methods
  • Chronic illness and care systems

Nursing scientists and researchers currently are in great need to inform best nursing practices, explore complex patient problems, test new strategies to increase the safety of patients and also improve the quality of care.

Earning a Ph.D. in nursing is the start of a life of scientific inquiry. Many graduates with their Ph.D. in nursing eventually become in demand scientists who do research that is critical to the profession. These professionals answer many of the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions and focus much of their career as nursing academic faculty or as a clinical researcher.

Featured Online PhD in Nursing Programs

DNP Education Alert!


If you are considering becoming a practicing nurse with a DNP or Ph.D., it is vital to note that in October 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) decided to change the level of preparation needed to work in advanced nursing practice from the MSN to the DNP level. This will take effect in 2015. This means that in the coming years, earning a doctorate in nursing is going to be a requirement to work in advanced nursing practice.

About This Chart

The idea is that DNPs would fill some of the gap left by the on-going shortage of primary care physicians needed to treat not only the newly insured, but also the growing aging population. If predictions are accurate, the demand for health services will outstrip the supply: The Association of American Medical Colleges says that, at current graduation and training rates, the U.S. could face a shortage of up to 150,000 physicians in the next 15 years.

Reasons to Earn a PhD in Nursing

The sky really is the limit with a PhD in nursing. There are nurses with a PhD who become professors, do exciting, important research, evaluate and improve nursing programs, write books, become health care organization leaders, and even lead state and federal health care agencies.

Other reasons to earn a PhD in nursing have to do with pay and job demand. According to, a professor of nursing with a PhD earns a median salary of $85,862. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the most experienced and educated nursing professionals earn a median salary of $94,700. Note that the best paying nursing jobs overall are in various levels of government: a median salary of $68,540.

Total job demand for the nursing profession will increase by 19% by 2022; the exact amount that demand for nurses with PhD will increase depends upon the precise profession you choose.

YouTube Special Feature

Watch the archived recording of the Virtual Open House Information Session to learn about Villanova University‘s PhD in Nursing and discover how the Villanova PhD fits with your career goals. Villanova University is a Catholic university that was founded by the Order of St. Augustine in 1842. Recording created April 22, 2015.

PhD in Nursing Course Requirements

Typical classes that you will take in your PhD in Nursing program are:

  • Integrative Review, Publication and Dissertation
  • Theoretical Foundations of Nursing Science
  • Health Policy and Advocacy in Research
  • Ethical Issues in Research
  • Research Team Leadership
  • Statistical Methods for Nursing Research
  • Qualitative and Mixed Methods Research
  • Application of Theory to Research
  • Proposal Development
  • Health Policy and Advocacy
  • Curriculum Development and Design

Educational Prerequisites

Typically you will need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and/or an MSN. Current nurses will need to show proof of their current RN licensure. You should have completed a graduate level statistics course within the last several years.

PhD Nursing Career Outlook

The nursing field generally should see strong increase in demand in nursing, about 19% by 2022, which is much faster than average. Those in the profession with the most education, such as PhD and DNP holders, can earn in excess of $94,000 per year.

Some possible job descriptions available for a PhD in Nursing holder:

  • Nursing Faculty Member — A nurse with a PhD in the field can be an instructor or professor in a BSN, MSN or PhD level nursing program. You will be responsible for the creation, implementation and evaluation of program curricula, and also the mentoring of your students. You will likely also have research duties, and will disseminate this information in journals and at conferences.
  • Director of Nursing Research — This professional usually is the administrator for a nursing research department in a health care facility, association or university. You may supervise nursing research employees, or possibly oversee the entire nursing research department and team. Most likely, you will serve as the expert on how research studies in nursing are both designed and implemented.
  • Director of Clinical Services — This nursing professional oversees the operation of a health care department in a healthcare organization. You serve as the contact between executive management and managers in the nursing or related departments. You are not working in patient care, but you will be working with how work flows in the departments, and will provide recommendations and guidance on increasing patient care quality.
  • Pharmaceutical Researcher/Scientist — There are careers you can enjoy that are not directly related to nursing, but still involve improving patient care. With your PhD in nursing, you can work on important research in pharmaceuticals that can profoundly improve the lives of patients.
  • Nursing Researcher — This is a scientist that studies health, illness and health care. With your advanced research skills, you can design and implement new scientific studies that improve nursing departments, health care, health care services and outcomes for patients. You will ID research questions, design clinical studies, analyze and collect important data, and possibly write detailed grant proposals.
  • Dean of Nursing — If you are more interested in the education side of nursing, another option is to become the dean or top executive of a nursing college or even of an entire university. You will be responsible for overseeing the operation and instruction aspects of the nursing college and department.
  • Public Health Official — Many nurses with a PhD become public health experts; this is an outstanding, demanding way to put your research degree to work. You can be a major influencer of public health initiatives that can save lives. You will work with public health stakeholders and government officials to come up with new, research-based solutions to health care problems in communities.

Work After They Graduate?

The profession of nursing generally has extremely strong job demand, with 26% more jobs expected to be available by 2020. Much of this growth is being driven by a growth in the elderly population, many of whom are living longer and more productive lives. There is therefore an increase in demand for all types of health services that require more nursing professionals, at the practice, research and administrative levels. The higher demand overall naturally fuels greater demand for nursing professionals with PhDs and DNPs.

In 2012, the AACN found that there were a total of 1181 nursing faculty vacancies in the US, and 103 more faculty positions were needed to keep up with nursing student demand. The median age for professors with a doctorate of nursing was found to be 60, which means there should be a good number of retirements in coming years.

PhD in Nursing Financial Aid

Most colleges and universities with PhD in Nursing programs offer financial aid and support:


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