Doctoral Degrees in Nursing

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Earning the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) can open the door to further responsibilities in the nursing profession, including the ability to conduct in-depth research, teach at the postsecondary level and engage in the administration or direction of nursing programs in hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities.

Though many who enter a doctorate in nursing program have an eye toward research or administrative appointments, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and several affiliated nursing schools voted in 2004 to require doctoral level education by 2015 for those who seek advanced practice nursing positions. This includes nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists and clinical nurse specialists. Those who seek a research position often opt for the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Nursing.

Nursing Doctorate Programs

Earning the Doctor of Nursing Practice requires entry into a graduate program. In most cases, a master's degree is required, as well as entry exams and work experience. Courses in doctorate of nursing programs can include but are not limited to the following topics:

  • Advanced Health Assessment -- evaluating individuals' health over their lifespan. Noticing health trends among people from various backgrounds and communities, and deciding when to consult with other health care professionals on issues that reach beyond the practice scope.
  • Issues and Trends in Health Care -- study of the current and emerging state of health care, including societal structures, leadership issues and delivery options for care.
  • Nursing Research -- learning the basics of nursing research, including how to clearly define problems and desired outcomes, research methods, validity of scientific findings, ethical considerations and overall analysis.
  • Teaching Strategies in Nursing -- an overview of the communications required for effective teaching, problem-solving techniques and the theories of the learning process.
  • Philosophy and Science of Nursing -- the history of the science of nursing, society views versus real-life situations, defining the knowledge of nursing and taking nursing and biomedical models in context.
  • Clinical and Advanced Pharmacology -- study of the impact of medications and delivery systems, drug therapy in primary care for acute and chronic conditions, current research and implications of drug therapies as they pertain to the nursing profession.
  • Statistical Analysis -- study of statistics, correlation and causation, sample analysis and distribution, factors in research analysis and more.
  • Ethics and Legal Issues -- a look at how society and culture impacts nursing, health care and practitioners. An exploration of current and future assessments of social, economic, organizational, political, legal and ethical duties of nurses.

In addition to required credit courses, students enrolled in nursing doctorate programs must complete a final dissertation and defense. This research project is usually expected to result in a publishable study of some aspect of nursing that requires a strong presentation of skills and knowledge on the part of the student.

Certification and Licensure

Those who enter a doctorate program must hold an active nursing license in their state of residence. They must also hold a master's degree in nursing, as well as other requirements depending upon the school of choice, such as completion of certain undergraduate courses and a required minimum GPA. Those who seek the doctorate of nursing in order to become advanced practice nurses can obtain certification through the Board of Nursing in their state.

Work Environment and Typical Responsibilities

Advanced practice nurses work in a variety of health care settings, including medical clinics, hospitals, long-term care or rehabilitation facilities, private practice and group offices of physicians. Those who earn the Doctor of Nursing Practice might also work in administrative areas of the health care system, or choose to teach at the postsecondary level. Those who earn the Ph.D. in nursing can often move into research positions.

Nurses who hold the doctorate of nursing might face general responsibilities that include:

  • Diagnosing and treating illnesses, both acute and chronic
  • Performing minor surgical procedures or assisting in surgeries
  • Consulting with physicians, nurses and other health care professionals on patient treatment
  • Counseling and educating others about preventative care, risk awareness and health screening
  • Writing referrals or prescriptions for drugs, medical supplies and further treatment
  • Educating nurses, students, residents and other members of a health care team
  • Teaching aspiring nurses in a classroom setting
  • Embarking on research projects that offer further knowledge for those in the nursing profession

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that registered nurses, including advanced practice nurses, made a national annual mean wage of $67,930 in May 2012, and enjoyed a national job outlook of 26 percent from 2010 to 2020 (bls.gov/oes, 2013; bls.gov/ooh, 2012). Those who choose to teach nursing could expect job growth of 17 percent from 2010 to 2020. Post-secondary teachers made a national mean annual wage of $65,000 in May 2012.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing: Your Guide to Graduate Nursing Programs
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Registered Nurses
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Education Teachers, Postsecondary
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Postsecondary Teachers
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Registered Nurses
California Board of Registered Nursing: Advanced Practice Certification
Froedtert and Medical College of Wisconsin: Advanced Practice Nurses
Purdue School of Nursing: Graduate Courses
The University of Mississippi Medical Center: PhD in Nursing Admission Information
Villanova University College of Nursing: Courses in the PhD Sequence

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