Skip to Content
Resource Articles //

What You Need Know About Doctoral Nursing Degrees

Earning a terminal nursing degree can help advance your nursing career.

Only about 2% of nurses hold a doctorate.1 In the past, they didn't need advanced degrees to succeed, but that’s quickly changing. Here’s what you need to know:

There Are Two Main Types of Terminal Nursing Degrees

If you’re looking to earn a doctorate in nursing, you can choose to pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a PhD in Nursing. While both are doctorates and share many similarities, their focuses can be different. A DNP is a professional degree that prepares you to evaluate the latest research and use it in a clinical setting. A PhD in Nursing, however, is an academic degree geared toward teaching or contributing original research to the profession.

7 Things You Never Knew About Doctoral Nursing Degrees

A DNP is the best choice if your goal is to provide high-quality care for patients, either directly or by helping manage a hospital or clinic. A PhD in Nursing is the best choice if your goal is to conduct scientific research at the highest levels, shape healthcare policies as a government policymaker or program director, or educate the next generation of nursing professionals.

The Push for More Doctorate in Nursing Graduates Is Working

Over the past decade, there has been a major focus on creating a more educated workforce of nurses. This includes increasing the number of nurses with doctorates. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) called to double the number of nurses who pursued doctorates by 2020.2 It was an ambitious goal, but one that was achieved—in fact, by 2019, the number of doctoral graduates had more than tripled.3

A PhD in Nursing Can Help You Improve the Profession on a Global Scale

Through a PhD in Nursing program, you can acquire the skills and knowledge you need to conduct important research into the practice of nursing and the ways nursing interrelates with the rest of the healthcare community. Nurses such as Jacqueline Fawcett (famous for her metatheoretical work in nursing), Jean Watson (founder of the Watson Caring Science Institute), Afaf I. Meleis (internationally renowned nurse-researcher), and Margaret Newman (creator of the theory of health as expanding consciousness) all hold a PhD. 

A Doctorate in Nursing Puts You in Position to Be a Leader

Whether you want to run your own clinic or head up a research team, a doctorate in nursing can give you the skills and credentials you need to be a leader. Leadership figures prominently in the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) framework for preparing future nurses. The AACN says, “Graduates must develop attributes and skills critical to the viability of the profession and practice environments. The aim is to promote diversity and retention in the profession, self-awareness, avoidance of stress-induced emotional and mental exhaustion, and re-direction of energy from negative perceptions to positive influence through leadership opportunities.”4 AACN’s leadership competencies for advanced-level nursing education include demonstrating flexibility in managing change, showing leadership in times of uncertainty and crisis, and mentoring others in their own professional growth.”5

You Can Teach With a Doctoral Degree in Nursing

While a PhD in Nursing trains you for an academic setting, either a PhD or a DNP can lead to a career in education. With a doctoral degree in nursing, you can work in the nursing education field, helping people learn about health and how to lead a healthier lifestyle, or you can teach in a nursing school, helping students learn how to become a nurse.

You Can Earn Your DNP or PhD Online

Thanks to online education, becoming a nurse with a doctorate can be a reality. Online nursing programs let you complete your coursework from home, on a schedule that offers the flexibility you need to continue meeting your other responsibilities, including working full time.

If you’re interested in enrolling in a doctoral-level nursing program at an online nursing school, consider Walden University. Not only does Walden offer doctoral-level nursing degrees online, it provides an exceptional learning environment with a diverse student body, a commitment to social change, and partnerships with leading healthcare employers and associations (e.g., the Association for Nursing Professional Development, AMN Healthcare, and Black Nurses Rock). With so much to offer, Walden attracts students from all over and graduates more nurses with advanced degrees than any other university.5 If you want to earn a DNP or PhD in Nursing, Walden can help make your educational goals a reality.

For those choosing to pursue a DNP degree, it’s also good to know that once it has been earned, you can follow a shorter path toward earning a PhD in Nursing, should you choose to do so. With Walden University, students who hold a DNP can enter a bridge program that builds on current knowledge and experience with scholarly research and relevant coursework. Walden applies up to 26 DNP credits toward your PhD program, which can potentially reduce time to completion and total costs.6 

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Doctor of Nursing Practice and a PhD in Nursing degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.





5Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) IPEDS database. Based on the most recent year’s completions survey data, using CIP code family 51.38 “Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research, and Clinical Nursing” for Master’s (Award level 7) and Doctoral (Award level 17) degrees. Available at (Retrieved January 2021; may consist of or include provisional release data.)

6Time to completion and cost are not estimates of individual experience and will vary based on individual factors applicable to the student. Factors may be programmatic or academic such as tuition and fee increases and/or the student’s transfer credits accepted by Walden; program or specialization changes; unsuccessful course completion; credit load per term; writing, research and editing skills; use of external data for their doctoral study/dissertation; and/or individual progress in the program. Other factors may include personal issues such as the student’s employment obligations; care giving responsibilities or health issues; part-time vs. full-time enrollment; leaves of absence; and/or other personal circumstances. Tuition and fees are subject to change. Books and materials are not included. Students may incur additional costs for remedial writing assistance, if necessary.

Walden University is accredited by The Learning Commission,