Top PhD in Nursing Programs 2024

A Ph.D. in Nursing is the highest degree awarded to nurses and one of two terminal nursing degrees. Ph.D. stands for Doctor of Philosophy, and Ph.D. in Nursing programs focus on evidence-based research.

Throughout their 4-6 year study, nursing Ph.D. students learn how to conduct, analyze, and publish nursing research. The degree culminates in students conducting an independent research project and writing a dissertation on it.

Ph.D. in Nursing and DNP Differences

A Ph.D. in Nursing and a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) are both terminal nursing degrees. However, comparing a DNP vs. a Ph.D. in Nursing reveals distinct differences. Notably, the Ph.D. in Nursing prepares you for a science, academic, or research-focused career as opposed to a clinical one.

Key Ph.D. in Nursing vs. DNP Differences

  Ph.D. in Nursing Doctor of Nursing Practice
Program Focus Evidence-based research and scientific inquiry

Advanced nursing care and practices, specialty skills, and healthcare leadership

Program Length 4-6 years

3-4 years

Certifications Most Ph.D. in nursing jobs will not require further certification

DNPs with an advanced practice specialty will need board certification in their field of practice.


>> Related: Top Online DNP Programs

The United States is home to over 135 Ph.D. in Nursing programs, which you can attend in multiple formats at nearly every educational level. The types of Ph.D. in nursing programs include the following:

  • BSN to Ph.D. in Nursing: These Ph.D. in nursing programs allow nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree to pursue a career in nursing research without first attending an MSN program.
  • MSN to Ph.D. in Nursing: Designed for Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) trained nurses, these programs typically include core courses for the doctoral program, electives, and dissertation study.
  • DNP/Ph.D. Dual Degree: These rigorous programs allow students to concurrently attain expertise in scientific inquiry and faculty practice and hone the practical skills of expert nurse clinicians. 
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>> Show Me DNP Programs

Online Ph.D. in Nursing Programs

Are Ph.D. in Nursing programs available online? The answer is yes; you can find several online options to pursue this degree. Since a Ph.D. in Nursing focuses on scientific inquiry, it doesn’t have the same onsite practical hours as other nursing degrees. 

Program dependant, you may still need to show up on campus a few times each year. However, for the most part, all you need to earn a Ph.D. in nursing is Wi-Fi, good study habits, and determination.

Each Ph.D. in Nursing program is unique, offering its own benefits and features. We assembled the top five Ph.D. in Nursing programs nationwide following’s proprietary ranking algorithm, which considers and ranks schools based on factors like:

  • Admission requirements
  • The variety of available programs
  • Additional program accolades

Nursing Ph.D. degrees focus on scholarship and nursing research. By the end of the course, you’ll be able to conduct and publish evidence-based research that can alter the face of nursing practice and healthcare policy for future generations. 

Generally, these educational pathways combine graduate study and research activities and do not include clinical rotations. Instead, you will be required to complete a long-form research paper called a dissertation. To write your dissertation, you’ll complete independent research based on a significant and relevant scientific inquiry in the nursing field. 

>> Related: The Best Nursing Research Topics

What Can You Do With a Ph.D. in Nursing?

Ph.D. in Nursing programs prepare graduates to pursue careers in research and teaching, advanced clinical practice, health care administration, and policy.  Following graduation, your future may hold a career as a nurse scientist, as an administrator, as a nurse educator, or in establishing health policy.

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>> Show Me DNP Programs

Ph.D. in Nursing Salary

Healthcare workers who hold a Ph.D. in nursing earn an average annual salary of $100,00 or $60.45 per hour, according to Payscale. However, your nursing salary will vary depending on your career, employer, location, experience, and other relevant factors.

How Much Does a Ph.D. in Nursing Degree Cost?

Ph.D. in nursing programs range from $400 to over $2,300 per credit hour at more distinguished institutions. However, several universities will fund your Ph.D. tuition itself or through a federal research grant. Most often, these funding opportunities are only available to full-time students, while part-timers must pay the full tuition costs.

How Long Do PhD in Nursing Programs Take?

Most Ph.D. in nursing programs take between 4-6 years to complete. Your educational timeline will vary based on your previous education and whether you attend full or part-time.

What Will You Learn in a PhD in Nursing Program?

Since all Ph.D. degrees in nursing emphasize healthcare research, their curriculums will all share certain core elements, which include:

  • The philosophical and historical foundations of nursing knowledge
  • Review of existing and evolving nursing theory
  • Methods and process of developing theory
  • Research methodology and data management
  • Academic, research, practice, and policy development

Your graduate nursing program will consist of several key milestones to reinforce your education. These include:

  • Leadership strategies related to nursing, healthcare, and research
  • Mentorship and working alongside faculty on their individual research programs
  • Immersion experiences are designed to encourage leadership and scholarship.
  • Each student will be required to complete a dissertation.
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Ph.D. in Nursing Program Requirements

Each university sets its own entry standards, which vary based on the type of program. However, general Ph.D. in nursing admission requirements include the following:

  • BSN, MSN, or non-nursing graduate degree
  • Personal research statement
  • GRE scores
  • A minimum GPA of 3.0
  • Admissions interview
  • Writing sample
  • Resume or curriculum vitae
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Unencumbered RN license
  • Official post-secondary school transcripts
  • TOEFL or IELTS scores

Your professional goals play a massive role in deciding whether to pursue a Ph.D. in nursing. If you’re interested in scientific and academic nursing research, healthcare policy, or becoming a nurse educator, a Ph.D. in nursing is an excellent option. Remember, it will not qualify you for APRN positions, so if you have clinical aspirations, a DNP is the right doctoral nursing option.

>> Show Me DNP Programs

Ready to start your educational journey toward earning a Ph.D. in Nursing? You can start working toward those goals today with these simple steps:

  1. Research Universities: Find a program that suits you based on your budget, attendance needs (e.g., part vs. full-time and in-person vs. online), and interests.
  2. Plan Applications: Understand the program requirements and application deadlines for each school you’re applying to. Then, make a plan to collect and submit all the necessary materials and documentation on time.
  3. Prepare Properly: If a university considers you for Ph.D. candidacy, you’ll attend an admissions interview. Planning and practicing this interview and paying close attention to why you chose the program and your research interests will optimize your chances of admission.

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