Doctoral Degrees in Nursing Overview: Why Should You Get a Doctorate?
Learn about how to achieve a doctorate of nursing practice.
About a doctoral degree in nursing
Making the decision to earn a doctoral degree in nursing is a life-changing choice; it will take you anywhere from three-to-five years to achieve, and once you do, your career will be drastically changed.
Pursuing a doctorate in nursing indicates a serious commitment to the field—it means you're passionate about health care and improving the industry and you're willing to dedicate lifelong research to public health.
Having a doctorate means greater pay opportunities, and it also means a definite surge in your responsibilities.
Earning your doctorate in nursing will give you the advanced education you need to make a huge impact on your community and the health care industry as a whole. Your doctorate will broaden your scope of influence, and it's up to you to pick the specialization where you'll best use that influence. Generally, your doctorate studies will focus on one of four degrees:
- Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): Emphasis on clinical practice-oriented leadership training.
- Doctor of Nursing (ND): Focus is on developing advanced specialist skills.
- Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc): Focus is on investigative and research skills.
- Doctor of Nursing Philosophy (PhD): Emphasizes scholarly research and inquiry.
Less common, but also an option, are joint programs for students who have a bachelor's in nursing (BSN) but have not achieved their master's (MSN) yet. Prospective students for these programs must be highly qualified, not to mention extremely serious about achieving a doctorate degree. Potential joint programs include:
- MSN/PhD: This degree combines a master's and doctorate in an accelerated program.
- BSN-PhD: Focus is on BSN-holders with plans to become researchers or teachers of nursing.
Why should I earn a doctorate?
Nurses who have earned doctorate degrees are expected to be in high demand throughout the coming decade. With an aging population and shifting medical issues in the nation, there is already a growing need for trained, doctorate-level nurses. Committing to working toward your doctorate means you're in for at least a few years of serious studying and working. While a doctorate provides elevated salary opportunities, for many DNPs, the greater payoff is the chance to make an impact in your local community or in the medical field.
How long does my program take to complete?
A doctorate in nursing degree takes, on average, four- to-six years to complete, so having the degree signifies a serious effort and dedication on your part. You will spend a great deal of time focusing on an area of research that you personally get to choose, so some students who are serious self-motivators might find themselves making it through the degree program more quickly.
Am I a good fit for this program?
Dedicating so much time and effort to earning a doctorate isn't for everyone. Doctor of nursing candidates should be wholly committed to the field of nursing and have a real thirst to learn and research. In light of this, some important qualities for a doctor of nursing include:
- Self-motivation: A great deal of your program will involve conducting research on a topic that interests you. Strong doctoral students must be able to get quality work done in a self-directed setting, and to prioritize schoolwork effectively in order to complete it all.
- Passion: In order to get through multiple years of challenging schoolwork, it's going to be essential that you honestly care about your studies. The best doctorate students have a genuine thirst to learn, and to utilize their new knowledge.
- Desire to have an impact: Once you've earned your doctorate in nursing, you'll be in a prime position to really make an impact on the health and well-being of your community, or even to make significant contributions to the medical field—take advantage of your influence.
What will I learn in my degree program?
As you work toward earning your doctorate, you'll extend your skills beyond practical, hands-on nursing and into the scholarly and research arena. The specifics of your program will depend heavily on which doctorate degree you pursue; generally, the vast majority of students who pursue a doctorate in nursing have already earned their master of science in nursing (MSN) degree. There are a very limited number of programs that will combine the MSN and doctorate degree, and these programs look very different than other doctorate programs.
A regular doctorate program focuses on your choice of one out of four degree types—doctor of nursing practice (DNP), doctor of nursing (ND), doctor of nursing science (DNSc), and doctor of nursing philosophy (PhD). Each of these degrees will have a different focus, but generally speaking, in each of them you will learn:
- Research methods
- Statistics and data analysis
- The history and philosophy of nursing science
- Leadership skills
Each of these degree specializations will require a different course list, since each degree is tailored toward a different job. For example, the DNP degree is the preferred degree for nursing executives, so courses in a DNP program will emphasize clinical practice-oriented leadership. Between all four of these degrees, the focus is largely on extending your clinical knowledge to further your research skills and analytical thought process.
See if online programs are available for doctorate degree-level programs.