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

A nurse sits and consults with a patient.Only 1% of nurses have a doctorate.* That’s low, given that nearly 2% of all Americans have some form of doctoral degree. Why are nurses earning terminal degrees at only half the rate of average Americans? In the past, nurses haven’t needed 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 that prepares you to conduct vital research into the areas of nursing, medicine, and interdisciplinary practice.

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 policy maker or program director, or educate the next generation of nursing professionals.

The IOM Wants You to Earn Your Doctorate in Nursing

Currently, there is a major push to create a more educated workforce of nurses. This includes increasing the number of nurses with doctorates. In fact, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) wants to double the number of nurses with doctorates by 2020. It’s an ambitious goal, but one the IOM believes is necessary, given the demands of modern medicine.

The DNP Is Becoming More Common for Nurse Practitioners

The IOM isn’t the only medical organization that wants more nurses to earn a doctorate in nursing. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) is spearheading an initiative to transition the minimal degree requirement for nurse practitioners from a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree to a Doctor of Nursing Practice.§ The AANP believes this is necessary to ensure nurse practitioners can continue to deliver quality care in an increasingly complex healthcare environment.

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 in Nursing.

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. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), DNPs are particularly well-suited to provide much needed interdisciplinary leadership. The AACN says, “DNP graduates have preparation in methods of effective team leadership and are prepared to play a central role in establishing interprofessional teams, participating in the work of the team, and assuming leadership of the team when appropriate.”**

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 is more convenient than ever before. Instead of taking time out of your day to drive to a school of nursing and attend classes at set times, 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, the first school you should look at is 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 over 300 leading healthcare employers and associations (e.g., ANPD, AMN Healthcare, Black Nurses Rock), which can help you advance your nursing career. With so much to offer, Walden attracts students from all over and produces more nurses with advanced degrees than any other university.†† If you want to earn a DNP or PhD in Nursing, Walden can make your educational goals a reality.

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.


*Nurse Journal, Why Get a Doctorate of Nursing DNP Degree?, on the internet at https://nursejournal.org/dnp-programs/why-get-a-dnp-degree.

†United States Census Bureau, Educational Attainment, on the internet as a PDF at www.census.gov/newsroom/cspan/educ/educ_attain_slides.pdf.

‡Committee on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Initiative on the Future of Nursing, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, Institute of Medicine, on the internet at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24983041.

§American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Discussion Paper: Doctor of Nursing Practice, on the internet as a PDF at www.aanp.org/images/documents/publications/doctorofnursingpractice.pdf.

**American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Essential VI: Interprofessional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes, The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice, on the internet as a PDF at www.aacnnursing.org/Portals/42/Publications/DNPEssentials.pdf.

††Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) IPEDS database. Retrieved July 2017, using CIP codes 51.3801 (Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse); 51.3808 (Nursing Science); 51.3818 (Nursing Practice). Includes 2016 preliminary data.

Walden University is accredited by The Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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