Is a PhD in Nursing Right for You?

Wilkes university nursing Is a PhD in Nursing Right for You?
Wilkes university nursing Is a PhD in Nursing Right for You?

Earning a terminal degree in nursing is a great way to advance your career. Each year, 4,000 to 5,000 nurses enroll in online PhD in Nursing programs at schools like Wilkes University.

A PhD in Nursing opens the door to unique professional opportunities and is a rewarding option for nurses who want to play an influential role in healthcare. As the industry and best practices evolve quickly, knowledgeable and qualified nurse scientists are needed more than ever to help address the complex issues facing patients, practitioners and the healthcare industry itself.

Depending on your interests and the type of job you want to have, a PhD in Nursing may be the right degree for you. This blog will help you understand the professional opportunities available to PhD-prepared nurses as well as specifics about the requirements, curriculum and advantages of the online PhD in Nursing program offered at Wilkes University.

What is a PhD in Nursing?

In general, a PhD is a doctoral degree earned by someone who has done extensive research to generate new knowledge within a discipline. A PhD in Nursing prepares a nurse at the highest level of nursing science to conduct research to advance the science of nursing.

During a PhD program, students conduct research that will serve as the foundation of their dissertation, which is an in-depth and extensive piece of academic writing based on original research, conducted through a specific process in order to solve a real-world problem. Once students identify the question they want to answer that advances nursing knowledge, they develop a literature review and determine a mode of inquiry. Finally, they conduct their research, analyze data, summarize findings, draw conclusions and make recommendations for future research on the topic.

At Wilkes University, PhD in Nursing students begin to develop their research topic in the first semester of the program. This creates a foundation that subsequent courses can build upon to create a robust plan of research that can be implemented. Students can complete their dissertation with the support of a dedicated chairperson and committee in three years.

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PhD vs. DNP: What’s the difference?

Another terminal nursing degree that is sometimes confused with a PhD in Nursing is a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). The biggest difference between these two degrees is their focus. While a DNP degree prepares a nurse for a practical, clinical career focused on leadership, systems and quality improvement, a PhD in Nursing prepares a nurse for a research-focused career.

The primary objective of the DNP is to prepare nurses to improve outcomes of patient care and population health. Nurses who pursue a PhD in Nursing strive to develop new nursing knowledge and scientific inquiry.

The chart illustrates the difference between these two programs at Wilkes University.

PhD vs DNP comparison chart

A nurse with a DNP may work in a leadership role or a direct care role in a clinical setting such as a hospital. Nurses with a PhD in Nursing can also work in a clinical setting, such as a hospital, but their work typically focuses on examining and solving current patient or system problems through scientific research.

Wilkes university nursing What Can You Do with a Ph.D. in Nursing?

What Can You Do with a PhD in Nursing?


Having a PhD in Nursing qualifies a nurse to teach at an academic institution such as a college or university. There are a variety of teaching roles, including professor, associate professor and assistant professor. Currently, there is a national shortage of nursing faculty, which is causing nursing schools to turn away otherwise-qualified aspiring nurses. Nursing faculty are crucial in meeting the growing demand for nurses, as their availability determines how many nursing students can be taught each year. The more faculty, the more nurses can be trained and join the workforce. (Read on to learn more about the demand for nursing instructors.)

Research and Leadership

Nurses with a PhD in Nursing who want to conduct research or lead research teams can work in a number of different settings, including:

  • Government organizations (such as drug regulators, infectious disease agencies, public health and national health administrations)
  • Hospitals and health systems
  • Private organizations (such as health insurers, medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies)
  • Nonprofit advocacy groups and foundations such as RAND Corporation

Across these settings, PhD prepared nurses can directly advance the field of nursing by expanding the body of knowledge. Some specific roles they fulfill can include:


Another important area PhD-prepared nurses contribute to is policymaking. According to the Centers for Disease Control, policy is defined as “a law, regulation, procedure, administrative action, incentive or voluntary practice of governments and other institutions.” Policies written for governments, health care providers, insurers, researchers and many other institutions have a direct impact on public health. Nursing scholars offer a unique patient-centered perspective in the formation of policies that are ethical and improve the health of individuals and populations.

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PhD in Nursing Job Outlook

The job outlook for doctoral-prepared nurses is strong—especially for those who want to teach. As long as there is a high demand for nurses, there will be a high demand for nurse educators. Currently, there are more than 1,700 nursing faculty vacancies across the country. These openings are projected to grow because by 2025, approximately one-third of current nursing faculty are expected to retire.

The medical research profession is expected to grow 6% by 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is faster than the average occupation. This uptick will encompass the need for nurse researchers working in government, nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to advance nursing knowledge.

Becoming a PhD-Prepared Nurse

Earning a PhD in Nursing is a years-long but professionally and personally rewarding achievement. PhD students have many options to consider when pursuing a doctoral degree such as where they will study, whether they will complete their coursework online or in-person and the topic of their research.

Choosing a Degree Program

Depending on where you live, your financial situation, your lifestyle and your career goals, you will want to choose a PhD in Nursing program that meets your needs. Many working nurses pursue online PhDs for their convenience; they are accessible no matter your location and often allow you to complete your coursework while maintaining your employment.

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Wilkes University Online Ph.D. in Nursing Program

Wilkes University Online PhD in Nursing Program

Wilkes University’s online PhD in Nursing program is a robust three-year program that prepares candidates to be leaders with a high level of expertise in their chosen research field. With two start dates per year and one two-day residence, the program offers flexibility to suit your personal and professional schedules.

Program Benefits

Students who complete the program enjoy:

  • Elevated professional presence with a terminal degree that establishes expertise in a specific field
  • Convenient online format and competitive tuition that allows working nurses to balance work, life and education
  • The opportunity to play a central role in nursing science innovation through their dissertation research

Students are supported by:

  • Mentors in research settings with appropriate resources
  • Information and research technology resources
  • Financial aid


The program’s curriculum includes courses on, but is not limited to:

  • Theory in nursing education, a course unique to the Wilkes program which acquaints students with philosophical issues and nursing theories relevant to nursing education
  • Health care issues and policy, through which nurse researchers contribute toward the development of healthcare policy and politics in local, state, national, and global healthcare markets
  • Research process, which introduces students to the seven steps of the research process, focusing on the development of researchable problems, literature review and hypothesis/question generation within the context of quantitative and qualitative research designs and methods
  • Statistics
  • Grant writing for publication

Whether you have always dreamed of a career in research or are interested in taking your nursing career in a new direction, a PhD in Nursing is a valuable credential that allows you to expand the body of nursing science and, in doing so, impact the health and well-being of individuals and communities.

Learn more about Wilkes University’s PhD in Nursing program.