Advanced Practice Nurse: Online Degree & Training Information

Dec 04, 2019

Learn about online doctoral degree programs with advanced practical nursing courses. Get an overview of the program types, requirements and course descriptions available for this field.

Essential Information

Advanced practice nurses have two options for online doctoral programs. A Ph.D. degree program in nursing is designed to train nurses to teach at a nursing school or work in medical research. A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program trains advanced practice nurses to participate in patient care at the highest organizational level.

A Ph.D. program generally requires that nurses hold at least a bachelor's degree in nursing, while most DNP programs call for a bachelor's and a master's degree. DNP students are usually advanced practice nurses, which means they are trained in a specialty area, such as pediatric or mental health nursing. Students must hold licenses as registered nurses (RNs) in the state where they are practicing.

Most courses can be taken online, but there may be some on-campus components, including seminars and conferences. Final projects are usually required as well.

Ph.D. in Nursing

Ph.D. degree programs in nursing are widely available online for advanced practice nurses who want to advance their careers in postsecondary teaching and research. Doctoral nursing candidates strive to enhance the body of knowledge within nursing by contributing original research and findings. While most Ph.D. degree programs are designed for post-master's students, many online programs are available for bachelor's degree holders.

Program Information and Requirements

A Ph.D. degree program ranges from 54-90 credit hours and can be completed in 2-4 years. The standards for qualification of advanced practice nurses vary by state, resulting in a case-by-case evaluation for a student's plan of study. Completely online programs are available; however, many programs feature a hybrid curriculum in which some courses are taken on campus. Many of the fully online degree programs require on campus participation in advising and counseling conferences at least once a year.

Students need to have a computer with high-speed Internet connection to access online learning platforms and communication tools. Some instructors recommend that students purchase a headset microphone for audio participation in online discussion forums.

Course Topics

Online courses are available for students to access at any time they choose. Some courses have regularly scheduled discussion forums, as well as scheduled assignments. All coursework culminates in a dissertation that is evaluated before the student is approved for graduation from the Ph.D. in Nursing program.

Health Policy

An online course in health policy teaches students to evaluate the current state of U.S. healthcare policy, as well as the policies of foreign nations. Students are trained to assume leadership roles in the conception and development of new policy, as both policy makers and educators. They study past and current issues to understand the factors that influence health policy, including laws, finances and research.

Nursing Pedagogy

Students in this course study the role of nurse educators in both the classroom and practice. In order to become effective educators, students examine pedagogic principles including curriculum design, teaching methods, mentorships, critical thinking and outcome expectations. This course also focuses on obstacles that current educators face, such as quality staffing, student recruitment, practice incongruities, financial constraints and instabilities in the healthcare environment.

Healthcare Statistics

This course trains students to locate, obtain and evaluate quantitative statistical healthcare data. Research concepts include probability, structural equation modeling, linear, multiple and logistic regression, analysis of variance and co-variance, nonparametric tests and factor analysis. Students also learn to use statistical software to aid in the organization and analysis of data.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

A DNP program trains advanced practice nurses to practice nursing at the highest clinical level. Students in this program strive to influence healthcare policy by contributing to the growing body of clinical and organizational knowledge in nursing. Concepts in this degree program include mastery in the student's chosen field of advanced nursing, the continual improvement of quality patient care and the advancement of healthcare reform.

Program Information and Requirements

The typical length of a DNP program is between 35-40 hours and can be completed in about three years. Online classes are delivered through distance learning tools such as Blackboard, WebCT and Horizon Wimba Live Classroom. Programs are available in a fully online format; however, students are required to attend periodic orientation and advising sessions on campus. Many courses have live online lectures, discussions and meetings. Other course material is available on websites to be accessed at the student's convenience.

In addition to a computer and Internet connection, students are typically required to have a scanner, camera and fax machine. Students must be proficient in word processing, graphics presentation and spreadsheet software.

Course Topics

Students in an online DNP degree program can access much of the course material through online websites. Many courses are delivered through an online real-time webcast, requiring the student to have video, audio and microphone capabilities in order to communicate with professors and peers.

Leadership in Advanced Healthcare

Students in this online course study the necessary qualities needed to become an effective leader in the healthcare workforce. Subject matter includes ethics, decision-making, legal issues, communication, human resource optimization and legal accountability.

Social Justice in Diverse Populations

This course prepares students to anticipate the demands of a nursing practice within a global society. Students examine social justice issues that affect culturally diverse patient communities and workforces. Methods of disease prevention and good health management for diverse populations are explored, as well as the issues that influence healthcare policy for these communities.

Adult Care Management

Adult care management trains students to identify, analyze and treat common acute and periodic issues that affect the middle-age population. Through studying empirical data and guidelines, students learn strategies for maintaining good health. They also investigate the reduction and prevention of potential health risks.

Economics in Healthcare

This course teaches the financial factors that govern nursing institutions. Foundations in business strategy, economics and finance management are emphasized. Students learn to optimize staff performance and productivity by studying effective allocation and distribution of financial resources.

Career Information

Online Ph.D. in Nursing graduates are qualified to teach at the post-secondary level. The Bureau of Labor Statistics ( states that a 20% job growth is expected for postsecondary instructors and teachers of nursing from 2018-2028. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported annual mean wages of $73,490 for postsecondary nursing instructors and teachers in May 2018 ( Colleges, universities and professional schools had the highest rate of employment for nursing instructors with 31,320 in 2018, according to the BLS.

Graduates of a DNP degree program often advance to be leaders in the nursing workforce. As of May 2018, medical and health services managers earned a median wage ranging from $99,730, according to BLS. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of employment for medical and health services managers is expected to rise by 18% from 2018-2028 (

Whether an individual decides to pursue a Ph.D. degree in nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree depends on their career goals. Those who aspire to become educators of other nurses will likely want to enroll in a Ph.D. program, while the DNP program will allow nurses to advance to a very advanced nursing position still involved in patient care.

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