What Can You Do With a Doctoral Degree in Nursing?

Nursing doctoral degree programs are primarily designed for registered nurses and include the Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing and the Doctor of Nursing Practice. Review details about these degree programs and their typical career outcomes.

Career Options for Graduates of Nursing Doctoral Degree Programs

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree programs are for registered nurses who want to advance in the field. Career options will vary based on the type of degree program completed, but typical career paths are as follows:

  • Nursing or medical profession researcher
  • Postsecondary nursing instructor
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Clinical nurse specialist
  • Nurse midwife

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for postsecondary nursing instructors and teachers was $66,100 in May 2014. Colleges, universities, trade schools, junior colleges and hospitals were among the industries employing the highest levels of nursing instructors and teachers, though specialty hospitals offered the top salaries.

The BLS reported that nurse practitioners earned a median salary of $95,350 as of May 2014. Nurse midwives made a median annual wage of $96,970 during the same time. As of January 2016, Payscale.com listed that entry-level clinical nurse specialists earned a median annual salary of $77,117. Data from that same year showed that more experienced clinical nurse specialists made a median annual salary of $87,830.

Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing

Ph.D. nursing programs prepare students to conduct research, teach at the university level or develop nursing health care strategies. Like most doctoral degree programs, a dissertation might be required to graduate. Students are required to complete coursework in qualitative research methods, theoretical development, nursing philosophy, epidemiology and biostatistics. This program takes 3-5 years to complete, depending on whether students have already earned their master's degrees and if they are working as full-time nurses while completing program requirements.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

The DNP program usually takes three years to complete and prepares students for both clinical and administrative positions in the health care field. The programs differ from the Ph.D. in Nursing in that they are designed for students who are interested in developing their clinical skills.

Students entering this program must be registered nurses. After earning their degree, graduates will likely pursue careers in advanced practice nursing. Degree programs offer specializations for aspiring nurse practitioners, midwives and clinical nurse specialists, among others. These professionals often provide primary care to patients and work alongside physicians in hospitals and other health care facilities.

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