Could a PhD open up your dream career path?

US College Students Are Shifting Towards Business and Health Degrees

Earning a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing can be a little like losing a lot of weight or meeting a love interest: it could be a dream come true, but it might also leave you feeling exactly the same.

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Before assuming a PhD will be a source of higher income and endless joy, consider these potential pros and cons:

Pro: A PhD in Nursing is as high as you can go

Along with the DNP degree, a PhD in Nursing is a "terminal degree," the highest level of education one can attain in the nursing profession.

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Con: Reaching the top takes a while

According to Registered Nursing, "Prior to entering a PhD program, nurses must complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. In some cases, applicants to a PhD in Nursing program must also complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, which provides an advanced education in nursing practice with courses in pharmacology, pathophysiology and clinical practice."

Pro: Nurses can get really cool jobs with a PhD

One of the most appealing jobs a PhD in nursing can lead to is research nurse. These scientists "conduct scientific research into various aspects of health, including illnesses, treatment plans, pharmaceuticals and healthcare methods, with the ultimate goals of improving healthcare services and patient outcomes," according to Registered Nursing. "Research nurses play a critical role in developing new, potentially life-saving medical treatments and practices."

Other paths for a PhD nurse include working as a public health nurse in a government setting or "studying various aspects of the healthcare industry with the ultimate goal of improving patient outcomes," according to RN.

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Con: You may not be cut out for the nursing jobs that involve a PhD

Sometimes the jobs don't have a lot of workplace interaction. An aspiring PhD nurse "must have a strong interest in conducting medical research and/or teaching future nurses," according to RN. "Strong leadership skills are also important, as many PhD nurses go on to supervise and mentor other nurses, whether they work in a scientific research, management or teaching capacity."

Pro: Unlike med school, you may be able to earn a PhD in Nursing part time

While lots of people with a thirst for medical research end up in medical school, pursuing a PhD in Nursing may offer a better work-life balance. "Specific requirements to complete a PhD in Nursing program will vary slightly from school to school," according to RN. "Schools offer PhD in Nursing programs in traditional classroom formats, as well as online and hybrid styles that combine in-person study with online coursework. In addition to a variety of formats for PhD in Nursing programs, students can also sometimes opt to take these programs on a full-time or part-time basis to suit their personal schedules."

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Con: Part time or not, school will be grueling

Earning a PhD will, on average, take four to six years, with different schools and specialties involving different loops in the education path. "Curriculum for a PhD in Nursing program is research-focused, with coursework in advanced scientific research principles, data analysis and statistical measurement. PhD programs generally culminate in a dissertation and original research project," according to RN.

Pro: You'll be in great company

According to Jennifer Mensik, who holds a PhD in Nursing, "some of the most respected contributors to our profession obtained their PhDs early in their careers." Her partial list for included the following amazing nurses:

  • Jacqueline Fawcett, PhD, RN, FAAN, of the University of Massachusetts, who received her PhD 12 years after completing her BSN. "She is internationally known for her metatheoretical work in nursing."
  • Jean Watson, PhD, RN, AHN-BC, FAAN, who earned her PhD 12 years after earning her initial nursing degree. "She is the founder of the Watson Caring Science Institute and is an American Academy of Nursing Living Legend."
  • Margaret Newman, PhD, RN, FAAN, obtained her BSN in 1962 and her PhD in 1971. "She is the creator of the Theory of Health as Expanding Consciousness and an AAN Living Legend."