How to Choose an Online PhD in Nursing

This article describes information about online Ph.D. in nursing programs, what to look for, why to get one, and how to select the best one for your needs. We also provide details about a quality online nursing doctoral program you may want to consider.

What Is an Online Ph.D. in Nursing?

An online Ph.D. in nursing is a research-focused doctoral degree that can be completed in four to six years. It is a rigorous, terminal degree program that has been designed for highly experienced nursing professionals who want to shape the healthcare system and nursing profession, most often as researchers, educators, policymakers and administrators.

This degree is apart from a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree that is typically earned by nursing professionals who work or want to work in advanced nursing practice roles, such as nurse practitioner and nurse midwife.

This type of post graduate program in nursing will help you to advance your nursing career and to support constant improvements in nursing education, science and practice. Whether your career goal is to advance nursing science, educate future nurses or to influence health care and nursing policy, getting a Ph.D. in nursing online could be an excellent decision to elevate your career and status.

There are many possible career goals you may have when you earn your advanced nursing degree. Most who earn their Ph.D. in nursing are no longer going to work in direct patient care.

For the most part, nursing education at the doctoral level is more focused on the abstract thinking and research that moves the entire profession forward. A nurse with a Ph.D. possesses the training and skills that is needed to do highly value research and make major contributions to the body of knowledge of nursing.

While your career path can meander in many exciting directions with this degree, there are three common careers that people with a Ph.D. often focus upon:

  • Nursing faculty member: You would work as a nursing educator for a university or community college in an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s or Ph.D. program. Your main responsibilities are to create, implement and evaluate the curricula for your students, and to provide them with quality nursing education. In this role you also would mentor nursing students so that they become the next promising nurses of the future. Many in this profession will spend much of their time doing specialized research. The research is normally disseminated in nursing scholarly journals and at annual conferences.
  • Director of nursing research: Serve as the administrator of a department focusing on nursing research. Most often this critical role is in a health care facility or possibly in a nursing research program in a university. As director, you might supervise other nursing research workers, or you could oversee all of the nursing research activities in an organization. You would be the top level person in the organization for any questions about how a research study is being designed and implemented.
  • Director of clinical services: This is a clinical administrator who is responsible for oversight of daily operations of the various patient care departments in a healthcare organization. You serve as the critical lynchpin between upper management and the managers of patient care departments. You will not work in patient care, but you oversee the work flows in each department, in an effort to promote the best patient care. You also are charged with improving or increasing the efficiency of workflows in each patient care department.

Earning your Ph.D. in nursing online also can put you in line for other high level administrative positions in:

  • Pharmaceutical and medical device companies
  • Research organizations
  • Health advocacy groups
  • Healthcare information technology companies
  • Healthcare-related publishing organizations

Why Earn an Online Ph.D. in Nursing?

Earning a nursing Ph.D. takes a great deal of effort and considerable expense, so why should a nurse choose this path? There are several strong reasons that you should consider earning this degree.

Strong Nursing Demand

First, employment of registered nurses and advanced practice nursing professionals is going through the roof. Regular RNs will see a job growth rate of 16% by 2024, which is much faster than average.

The need for main line nurses is growing quickly because the US population is getting older, living longer, and demanding more health care services to enjoy a fuller life. These factors mean more health care services are needed, as are more nurses and more health care facilities.

For advanced practice nurses including nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists, job demand is even stronger. There will be a stunning 31% job growth rate for all advanced practice nurses by 2024, which is a tremendously fast rate.

Job demand for APRNs is growing for the same reasons as regular RNs, but there are other factors in play. Health care costs continue to climb in the United States as health care technology and treatments improve. It has been shown scientifically that nurse practitioners and other APRNs can complete much of the same work as a physician at a lower cost. This fact means that there is much more need for all APRNs, and there is more need for teachers to educate them in universities.

Nursing Faculty Shortage

Second, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (APRN) has documented the fact that there is a widespread nursing faculty shortage in the United States. The association’s 2014-15 report on Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing revealed sobering results:

US nursing schools were forced to reject nearly 70,000 qualified nursing students from bachelor’s and master’s programs in 2014 due to a lack of faculty to teach them. For Ph.D. candidates who want to become nursing educators, there is an excellent opportunity to do so in the coming decade.

High Salaries

Third, salaries for highly educated nurses is high and continuing to rise. The median annual salary for all APRNs was $104,000 in 2015, and the top 10% earned more than $170,000 per year. We can surmise that the vast majority of those top earners had at least their master’s and many their Ph.D. in nursing.

Doctoral Degree Becoming New Standard

Lastly, we know that the AACN recommended in 2004 that earning a doctoral degree in nursing should be the new standard to work in advanced nursing practice as an NP, nurse anesthetist and nurse midwife.

At this time, most healthcare employers still accept APRN applicants with a master’s degree, but this will change with time. In the next decade, it is likely you will need your doctoral degree to work in advanced nursing practice.

Choosing Your Online Ph.D. in Nursing Degree Path

When you earn your doctoral degree in nursing, you have two basic choices:

  • D. in nursing: A research focused doctoral degree
  • DNP: A clinical practice doctoral degree

Which you earn depends upon your career desires. The Ph.D. generally is preferred if you are seeking a research or academic career. But this degree also can be suitable in some cases for a clinical practice career as well.

Online Degree Options

The University of Texas at Tyler offers a five year online Ph.D. in nursing that is a good choice for those who need to earn their doctoral degree mostly online. This entire program is delivered remotely, except for a five day orientation each summer.

Your required courses include:

  • Philosophy of Science
  • Scholarship in Nursing
  • Data Management
  • Theory Construction and Evaluation
  • Advanced Statistics
  • Qualitative Research Design and Methods
  • Advanced Multivariate Statistics
  • Quantitative Research Designs and Methods


It is critical to verify that your online Ph.D. in nursing program has been properly accredited by the Commision on Collegiate Nursing Education or CCNE.


Earning your Ph.D. in nursing online can be an excellent choice for a very rewarding nursing career. Given that the nursing field is seeing such strong growth for many years to come, you will be in a great position to earn a high place in the nursing profession.