An Overview Of Doctoral Level Study For Nurses
Higher education is currently growing in popularity all around the world, with more and more people choosing to go to college these days.
16:14 16 April 2021
This is not only true for bachelor’s degrees but also master’s qualifications and doctoral level programs. Given the many advantages of gaining a college education – from higher employability to better health and life fulfillment – this shouldn’t come as a surprise. What you might be more interested to know is that it’s not just academic subjects such as history and english literature that people are studying to the doctoral level – it’s also more vocational subjects such as nursing.
From modern BSN to DNP programs online to traditional PhD courses on campus, there are several different options available for nurses who wish to take their studies to the highest level. This article will go into these degrees in more detail, exploring both the experience of taking them and the advantages of doing so. Hopefully, this will help you to figure out whether doctoral study is the right option for you, and if so, which route suits you best. Finally, there’s also some advice at the end around applying and preparing for these qualifications.
What types of doctoral degrees are available for nurses to study?
When it comes to studying at the doctoral level in the nursing field, there are two main options to choose from:
- DNP – doctor of nursing practice
- PhD – doctor of philosophy in nursing
These are both terminal degrees, meaning that they are the highest level of qualification that’s currently available for nurses to achieve. They are equal in terms of prestige, however, they differ in their focus and educational style.
Looking at the DNP first, this is a more practical qualification that puts an emphasis on hands-on nursing work. It involves taking a series of academic modules, completing around 1,000 hours of clinical practice, and also undertaking an independent research project. This is true whether you take BSN to DNP programs online or on campus, as your clinical hours can be completed close to where you live.
The DNP project requires you to conduct a systematic investigation of either a clinical problem or an administrational problem in the nursing sphere. This will be a genuine issue that is having an impact in the real world, meaning that your findings could actually make a difference to patient outcomes and the field of healthcare more generally. You have the opportunity to choose any topic you wish (although your college will have to approve it) and therefore can tailor your studies to fit your specific area of interest and personal career goals.
Moving to the PhD, this is more of an academic qualification and usually has no requirement for you to complete clinical hours. The curriculum is more focused on writing and research skills and generally culminates in the production of a lengthy research thesis on a relevant topic of your choice. Again this must be approved by the college but enables you to focus on the precise area of nursing that you are most passionate about.
A PhD normally takes longer to complete than a DNP. The exact length of time will vary depending on factors such as whether you study on a full-time basis or a part-time basis and what existing qualifications you have. For instance, BSN to DNP programs online take longer than MSN to DNP courses because they combine the MSN and DNP qualifications into one program.
How do I choose which type of doctorate is the right one for me?
The best way to choose whether a DNP or PhD is the right option for you is to think ahead to what you want to get out of the course and what type of career you want to have. Perhaps the main difference between the two is that the DNP is more clinical, whereas the PhD is more academic, and this shows itself in the job roles they prepare you for.
Beginning with the PhD, this is a great choice for people who are interested in moving into careers in academia. So for example, if you are hoping to become a college lecturer or a researcher, the program will prepare you very well for this. Outside of colleges and universities, government agencies and medical laboratories are common workplaces for people who hold a PhD in nursing.
BSN to DNP programs online, on the other hand, are more focused on practical patient care, both in a direct and indirect sense. On the direct patient care side, the DNP is ideal if you want to move to high-level clinical roles such as becoming an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). In terms of indirect patient care, certain DNP programs focus more on topics such as leadership and management, preparing you for top-level executive roles in healthcare settings. These involve issues such as budgeting, human resources, policy design, and process organization.
Both qualifications could also be useful for those who wish to use their nursing expertise in more of a political sphere, lobbying legislators for changes in healthcare policies and fighting to improve healthcare provision on a larger scale.
Who is eligible for doctoral degrees in nursing?
As touched on at the end of the last section, different doctoral programs will have different entry requirements. Firstly, like with all degrees, colleges set their own standards for enrollment, so some will be more difficult to get into than others. In addition, the specific curriculum will alter who the course is intended for. This is especially true for DNP programs.
When it comes to PhDs, some programs will require you to already have a master’s degree in nursing (MSN), while others will only ask for a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). The DNP is also available to take as BSN to DNP programs online or on campus, and as MSN to DNP programs, plus there are also certain courses that might only require you to have an associate degree in nursing (ADN).
In addition to a first degree, there may be certain other eligibility requirements that you need to meet to enroll for a doctorate. For instance, this could include having a current and unencumbered Registered Nurse (RN) license, taking the GRE or GMAT, having a certain amount of clinical experience, or completing certain prerequisite short courses.
How is doctoral-level study different from a bachelor’s or master’s degree?
Studying for a DNP or PhD is more academically challenging than those degrees that come before them. It also tends to involve more specialized study. That means you’ll be going in-depth into advanced issues within nursing, with more options to craft a curriculum that aligns with your personal interests and aspirations. In addition, the final project or thesis that you complete will be much longer than the ones you complete on a bachelor’s or master’s course, and also more thorough.
Another difference worth mentioning is that doctoral-level degrees tend to involve a greater amount of freedom and independence in comparison with the BSN and MSN. This is especially true when taking PhD, MSN to DNP, or BSN to DNP programs online, because with distance learning, you are even more responsible for your own studies. Of course, you will still have a lot of support from your tutors and professors, however, you will have more control over the direction of your studies and the manner in which you learn. There is also more of an emphasis on originality in your research projects at the doctoral level.
What are the advantages of studying for a doctoral level degree?
Studying for a doctorate of any kind brings you a wealth of benefits. Firstly, from a purely academic point of view, it enables you to spend time diving deeply into a subject that you’re passionate about. In turn, this enables you to keep your skills and knowledge up to date and relevant.
Doctoral level qualifications such as BSN to DNP programs online are also ideal for preparing you for higher-level job roles within your industry, whether that’s in the clinical sense or the academic sense. Consequently, you’ll find that after graduating, you have the chance to enjoy increased job security, employability, and financial stability.
Studying at this level is also great for boosting your transferable skills, like communication, presentation, research, time management, problem-solving, analytical thinking, and organization. All of these are useful to you regardless of the career you progress to after graduation.
How do I know if a doctoral degree in nursing is right for me?
The best way to answer this question is to spend some time thinking carefully about whether or not you enjoy academic study and what type of career you are hoping to have in the future. If you really didn’t like studying for your BSN or MSN, then taking a further degree might not be the best choice for you. Alternatively, if you love learning and thrive in an academic environment, it could be perfect.
Take a look at the job roles you are interested in progressing to, and see what level of qualification they require – and also what qualifications people currently working in those positions have. Even if a doctorate is not an official requirement, if the majority of people doing the job have one, then it’s safe to say that getting one would be a good idea for you too.
It’s also worth taking your current lifestyle into account and thinking realistically about whether you can set aside the time, money, and effort required to get a doctoral degree. Luckily these days, there are plenty of options available to you that make going back to college more convenient, such as BSN to DNP programs online that are specifically designed to be taken alongside working your current job.
If you’re still unsure, try talking to current doctoral students or people who have recently graduated from such programs. That can be a great way to find out what studying for the course will actually be like.
Applying for a doctoral degree
When it comes to applying for a PhD, or BSN to DNP programs online, there will probably be a number of documents you are required to submit. This will likely include your resume, transcripts from your previous studies, academic or professional references, and proof that you hold a registered nurse license. You might also need to write a personal essay detailing why you wish to take the course. If that’s the case, be sure to take your time on this and let your passion for the subject shine through.
Have a look at the various programs available, paying close attention to the module lists and options for specialization. You want to choose a course that enables you to focus on the aspects of nursing that are most interesting to you and most relevant to what you want to do after graduation. It’s also advisable to apply to more than one program, just in case you don’t get accepted on one of them.
Preparing for doctoral-level study
If it’s been a while since you were in formal education, so you might be a little bit nervous about going back to college for a doctoral degree. Thankfully there are some steps you can take to help yourself prepare:
- Get started on your reading early. If possible, request a reading list from your college in advance to help with this. By reading around the subject before the semester starts, you’ll get your brain primed for learning and familiarize yourself with what you’re about to study.
- Set up a study space. This is especially relevant for those taking BSN to DNP programs online, or any other type of distance learning doctorate. Having a dedicated space to work – with good lighting, room for all your notes and books, and an ergonomic setup – is key to successful study. Plus it’s a great excuse to buy some new stationery!
- Work out a study schedule. If you’re planning to work while you study, figure out when the best times of day and days of the week are for you to learn, and craft a timetable around that.
- Check out blogs by other students. Reading about the experiences of other PhD or DNP students will help you to know what to expect.