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Choosing a Nursing Graduate Doctoral Program

By Carole A. Anderson updated on Friday, October 11, 2013

Doctoral nursing graduate programs are aimed at preparing students for careers in health administration, education, clinical research, and advanced clinical practice. Doctoral programs prepare nurses to be experts within the profession, allowing them to assume leadership roles in a variety of academic and clinical settings. The majority of doctoral programs confer the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree, but some award the Doctor of Nursing Science (D.N.S. or D.N.Sc.), the Doctor of Science in Nursing (D.S.N.), the Nursing Doctorate (N.D.), and the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.). Students are trained as researchers and scholars to tackle complex healthcare questions. Program emphasis may vary from a focus on health education to a concentration on policy research.

The Nursing Graduate Curriculum

Doctoral nursing programs traditionally offer courses on the history and philosophy of nursing and the development and testing of nursing and other healthcare techniques, as well as the social, economic, political, and ethical issues important to the field. Data management and research methodology are also areas of instruction. Students are expected to work individually on research projects and complete a dissertation.

Doctoral programs allow study on a full-or part-time basis. For graduate students who are employed and therefore seek flexibility in their schedules, many programs offer courses on weekends and in the evenings.

Nursing Doctorate Admission Requirements

Admission requirements for doctoral programs vary. Generally, a nursing master's degree is necessary, but in some schools a master's degree is completed in conjunction with fulfillment of the doctoral degree requirements. Standard requirements include an RN license, Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores, college transcripts, letters of recommendation, and an essay. Students applying for doctoral-level study should have a solid foundation in nursing and an interest in research. Programs are usually the equivalent of three to five years of full-time study.

Selecting a Nursing Ph.D. or Doctoral Program

Selecting a doctoral program comes down to personal choice. Students work closely with professors, and thus the support and mentoring you receive while pursuing your degree is as vital as the quality of the facilities. The most important question is whether there is a ''match'' between your research interest and faculty research. Many of the same questions you would ask about baccalaureate and nursing master's programs apply to doctoral programs. However, in a doctoral program, the contact with professors, the use of research equipment and facilities, and the program's flexibility in allowing you to choose your course of study are critical.

The Payoff from a Nursing Graduate Degree

Many nurses with doctoral degrees (a nursing Ph.D. or other type of doctorate) make the natural transition into an academic career, but there are many other career options available for nurses prepared at this level.

For example, nursing grads are often hired by large consulting firms to work with others in designing solutions to healthcare delivery problems. Others are hired by large hospital chains to manage various divisions, and some nurses with doctoral degrees are hired to manage complex healthcare systems at the executive level.

On another front, they conduct research and formulate national and international healthcare policy. In short, because of the high level of education and a shortage of nurses prepared at this level, there are a number of options.

Nursing Programs Offering PhDs
About the Author

Carole A. Anderson (Ph.D., RN) is the Vice Provost for Academic Administration at The Ohio State University and a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing.

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