Pros & Cons of a PhD in Nursing

When considering a PhD in nursing as your next educational step, you should consider all pros and cons of earning that degree. In this article, we'll break down some common thoughts.

A PhD in nursing is one of the doctoral degree options available for those in the nursing field. Those who are interested in academia and research typically pursue a PhD, while those who want to continue their nursing practice at the highest level seek a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

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Pros of Earning a Nursing PhD

In a nursing PhD program you'll study nursing theories and methodologies with a heavy emphasis in research. A PhD may often be earned by students at no cost. Find out more about the perks and see what careers are available.

Save Money

Nursing PhDs are often fully covered by the nursing department, awarding students with full tuition and benefits. Twelve-month stipends are another option for the first two years of the degree, with 9-month stipends and tuition funded during the last three years. These perks are not typically available to students pursuing a DNP.

Become an Educator

A PhD in any topic is the appropriate education level for a college professor. Should you choose to seek the PhD in nursing, you'd be ready to teach the next generation of nurses and health educators. A PhD gives you the prestige and the research basis needed for a teaching position with a university. You'll also be able to conduct studies and run labs at the university. As of 2017, U.S. nursing schools were having a difficult time enlarging their programs sufficiently to meet the increased demand. Someone with a PhD would be able to fill shortages and provide an education for nurses who might not get the chance.

Enter the Research Field and Make an Impact

A PhD in nursing is a benefit to someone interested in research. Medical scientists, for example, spend time researching the causes of modern diseases in order to find solutions. This position usually requires a PhD, although some earn a medical degree in place of or in addition to the PhD. Those with a PhD in nursing can specialize in nursing research to help explore ways to improve hospital practices and hiring policies for nurses.

Positive Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides salary statistics and predicts what the outlook for all industries will be in the coming years. The most recent survey, 2016-2026, looks very favorable for careers where PhD holders could apply; the growth for both nursing professors and medical scientists is much higher than the national average for all occupations.

Position Average Pay (2017)* Job Outlook (2016-2026)*
Nursing Professor $77,360 24%
Medical Scientist $96,070 13%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Cons of Earning a Nursing PhD

If you are trying to decide between a PhD and a DNP, there are some important differences to note.

No Hands-On Practice

Should you want to learn the latest technology and practices in the nursing field and how to lead staff, a PhD is not designed to address these subjects. While a PhD in nursing could touch on some of these areas, the focus is that of scholarly research. PhD subjects of study typically include research methods, statistics, scientific theory development, and data analysis. Whereas, DNP courses include topics like advanced specialty practice and health care leadership.

No Flexibility

DNP programs offer online coursework and even part-time enrollment. Nurses who work can also pursue their DNP on their days off. Those in a PhD program rarely have the flexibility of online courses and part-time hours and usually spend the greater part of each day in classes and research.

Longer in Length and Less Pay

Nursing PhDs typically take about four to five years to complete, while a DNP can often be finished in five semesters. A PhD typically requires that students complete a dissertation, and while this is slated to take a year or two, it can even end up taking longer. As far as pay, according to Payscale's 2018 data, those with a PhD in nursing earn an average salary of $96,000 while those with a DNP earn $100,000 on average.

Though there are both pros and cons to earning your PhD in nursing, you must decide on your priorities. If you want to earn a research degree that can open up academia positions, a PhD is for you. If you prefer to be more hands-on with patients, you may want to think about a DNP, instead.

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