July 21, 2022

Top PhD in Nursing Programs

Updated and Reviewed by Kathleen Gaines MSN, RN, BA, CBC

What is a PhD in Nursing?

A PhD in nursing is the highest degree available within the nursing profession. The PhD in Nursing degree is one of two terminal degrees available to nurses. The other is the Doctor of Nursing Practice or DNP.

DNP vs PhD in Nursing

Unlike the DNP degree, which focuses on advanced clinical practice, the PhD in Nursing degree prepares you for a science- and a research-focused career spent furthering knowledge that is essential to nurses and nursing education at all levels.

Main Differences Between a DNP vs PhD:

  • Where a PhD in Nursing’s goal is to research and develop new knowledge in nursing, a Doctor of Nursing Practice’s goal is a higher level of expertise and skill in patient care and service leadership.
  • Where a PhD in Nursing prepares graduates to design, conduct and publish research, a DNP prepares graduates to provide the highest level of practice and care.
  • Where a PhD in Nursing prepares graduates for a career in research and scientific inquiry dedicated to improving nursing outcomes, a DNP prepares graduates for Advanced Practice Nursing in specialty practice areas, as well as for leadership.

>> Related: Top Online DNP Programs

Types of PhD in Nursing Programs

There are currently more than 135 PhD in Nursing programs available in the United States and those progams are available for nurses at nearly every education level.

RN-to-PhD Program

Designed for RNs who have earned their Bachelor’s in Nursing (BSN) and want to pursue a career in nursing science research without first pursuing their MSN degree. These programs generally consist of required coursework, electives, doctoral comprehensive examinations, and a dissertation.

MSN-to-PhD Program

Designed for Registered Nurses who have earned their Master of Science in Nursing degree from an accredited program. These programs generally include core courses for the doctoral program, electives, and dissertation study.

DNP/PhD Dual Degree Program

These rigorous programs provide students with the opportunity to attain expertise in scientific inquiry and faculty practice at the same time as providing them with the practical skills of expert nurse clinicians.
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Are PhD in Nursing Programs Available Online?

Yes! A PhD in nursing degree’s focus is on scientific inquiry, there is no need to arrange for onsite hands-on practical hours, unlike with most Advanced Practice Registered Nurse degree programs.

Though most programs do have a minimal amount of time that each PhD candidate is required to spend on campus, for the most part, all that a student needs is Wi-Fi access in order to earn a PhD in nursing.

Top PhD in Nursing Programs

Every PhD program has its own benefits and features, and the program that is best for one potential attendee may not be the right choice for another. In assembling our list of top programs, we paid particular attention to objective criteria, paying special attention to ensuring that each is accredited and has proven outcomes for its graduates. 

Our selection process considered the following factors:

  • Cost of attendance
  • Program length
  • Admission requirements
  • Variety of available programs
  • Ranking according to U.S. News & World Report
  • Additional accolades that the program has received

1. University of Pennsylvania

  • The University of Pennsylvania boasts one of the top PhD programs in the country. While expensive, the program offers a generous stipend to students during  the first four years of the program for full-time students.  In exchange for a nine-month stipend (September-May), students may be funded as a Teaching Assistant to support School of Nursing courses at up to 16 hours a week. Incoming Teaching Assistants will receive a ten-month stipend (August-May). The stipend amount for 2022-2023 is $30,547. This significantly reduces the cost of the doctorate program.
  • Cost: $45,062 per year
  • Application Due Date: December 1st
  • Length of Program: 4-6 years depending on dissertation and full-time/part-time study
  • Application Requirements:
    • $80 application fee
    • Online application
    • Written response to essay questions
    • Three letters of recommendations
    • Transcripts
    • Verification that you’ve completed the requisite statistics class
    • Official results from the TOEFL or IELTS exam (if  needed)
    • Copy of official RN license
    • Interview
  • Contact Phone Number: (215) 898-4271
  • Contact Email Address:

2. Duke University

Duke University was recently named the #2 Best Graduate School for Nursing by the 2023 U.S. News & World Report. The goals of the program is to prepare nurses to be scholars and build nursing science by leading multidisciplinary research to help determine the relationship between chronic illness and care systems. 

  • Cost: Fully funded for the first two years of the program if approved
  • Application Due Date: December 1st
  • Length of Program: 4-6 years depending on dissertation and full-time/part-time study
  • Admission Requirements:
    • Transcripts
    • Optional GRA
    • Personal statement
    • $95 Application fee
    • Personal Interview
    • Nursing License
    • Three letters of recommendation
    • Official results from the TOEFL or IELTS exam (if  needed)
  • Contact Phone Number: (919) 684-3786
  • Contact Email:

3. Duquesne University

A fully online PhD program, Duquesne University’s program offers flexibility to those that are unable to relocate for a program, have families, or need to work throughout the program. The program is the first completely online PhD program in the country. Students also have the opportunity to study abroad at the Duquesne campus in Dublin, Ireland. It’s important to note, that students from Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington are not eligible to apply for this program.

  • Cost: $91,560 (entire program)
  • Application Due Date: Due between July 1st and February 1st (Scholarship deadline: February 1st)
  • Length of Program: 3 or 4 years depending on which program length best fits your goals and lifestyle. At application time, you must apply to a specific track and can not switch.
  • Admission Requirements:
    • Nursing License
    • MSN degree
    • Graduate Statistics course
    • Graduate Nursing Research courseThree letters of recommendations
    • CV
    • Online Application
    • Personal Essay
    • Scholarly writing sample
  • Contact Phone Number: (412) 396.6539
  • Contact Email:

Show Me DNP Programs

4. Columbia University

Columbia University offers three major areas for students to focus on: theoretical foundations of nursing science, analytical foundations of nursing science, and electives and application. This program is very heavily focused on publication, grantsmanship, presentation, and networking. On top of normal course requirements, students have additional responsibilities in order to successfully graduate from the program.

  • Cost: Three years (eight semesters) of funding for tuition, related fees, health insurance, and a stipend for full-time PhD students.
  • Application Due Date: December 1st
  • Length of Program: 3 to 4 years
  • Admission Requirements:
    • BSN Or MSN degree
    • $75 Application fee
    • Official transcripts
    • Three letters of recommendation
    • Resume or CV
    • Personal Interview
    • Video Essay (Two questions)
    • Timed writing sample (10-minute timed essay)
    • Two written essays
    • Personal Statement
    • Social Justice/Health Equity Essay
    • Personal Interview
    • New York State RN licensure or eligibility
    • International Applicants Only: TOEFL Exam Score
    • Graduate Level Health Policy Course
  • Contact Phone Number: (212) 305-5756
  • Contact Email:

5. Rush University

The PhD program at Rush University is primarily online, but students do have to visit campus periodically throughout the program. Students are also required to identify the research area or clinical population prior to acceptance. Unfortunately, students from Louisiana and Tennessee are not able to enroll in this program. Rush University does suggest contacting your individual state’s board of nursing to confirm the program is acceptable.

  • Cost: $82,304 (total program)
  • Application Due Date: December 2nd
  • Length of Program: 3 to 5 years depending on dissertation and full-time/part-time study
  • Admission Requirements:
    • Minimum of BSN degree from an accredited institution
    • Calculated GPA of 3.0 or higher
    • Personal essay questions
    • Three professional letters of recommendations
    • Resume or CV
    • Personal Interview
    • TOEFL scores, if required
  • Contact Phone Number: (312) 942-7100
  • Contact Email:

What to Expect in a PhD in Nursing Program

The focus of a PhD in Nursing degree is on scholarship and nursing research, and once you have completed your doctoral program you will be able to conduct your own independent research into topics that will advance the practice and delivery of nursing, as well as to publish your findings for the benefit of the greater community and to lead groups of researchers.

Because the PhD in Nursing program is focused on scientific inquiry rather than the improvement of your practical skills, there is no clinical requirement. Instead, you will be required to complete a dissertation.

What Can You Do With a PhD in Nursing?

PhD in Nursing programs are designed to prepare their graduates with the ability 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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PhD in Nursing Salary

The salary available to PhD nurses is largely dependent upon the career path that they pursue after their graduation but Payscale reports nurses with a PhD earn an average annual salary of $93,000.

How Much Does a PhD in Nursing Degree Cost?

High-quality PhD in Nursing programs can be found that charge less than $400 per credit hour, while some of the most recognizable teaching institutions in the country charge as much as $2,300 per credit hour.

It is important to remember that many PhD program fees are almost entirely funded by the institution itself or through federal grant funding designed to encourage the research that is being pursued. These grants are more frequently available for students who are studying for their doctoral degree on a full-time basis, while part-time students are required to pay the full tuition fee.

How Long Do PhD in Nursing Programs Take?

PhD in Nursing programs can be pursued on either a full-time basis or a part-time basis and are also available online. Most take three to five years of full-time study to complete.

What Will You Learn in a PhD in Nursing Program?

PhD degrees’ emphasis on nursing research means that they will share certain core elements designed to make them experts in the field of nursing, and 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

Programs will typically include:

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

PhD in Nursing Program Requirements

The requirements for admission into a PhD in Nursing program are dependent upon whether the program is created for students entering with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree or a Master of Science in Nursing degree, but generally, every program will require the following:

  • A Bachelor’s or Master’s in Nursing degree from an accredited program
  • A personal statement indicating research goals
  • GRE scores if applicable
  • A minimum scholastic GPA of 3.0
  • Interview with faculty if moved forward by the admissions committee
  • Writing sample
  • Resume or curriculum vitae
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Unencumbered RN license
  • Official Transcripts from all post-secondary schools
  • TOEFL or IELTS if applicable

Is a PhD in Nursing Degree Right for Me?

If it is your goal to play an essential role in nursing leadership, in scientific and academic research in the field of nursing or to become a nurse educator, then applying to a PhD in Nursing program is the best way for you to move forward. In doing so, you will attain the highest level of nursing education while putting yourself in a pivotal role in the future of healthcare and nursing knowledge.

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Next Steps to Enroll in a PhD in Nursing Degree Program

If you have decided that a PhD in nursing is in your future, these are the next steps you need to take to make your dream a reality:

  1. Research PhD programs and spend time looking at each program’s research focus to find one that matches your particular interests, and your financial needs.
  2. Make lists of each one’s requirements and deadlines, then begin putting together everything that they need to ensure that your documentation is ready and on time.
  3. Prepare! If you receive word from a school that you are under consideration, prepare for your interview carefully, paying particular attention to your reasons for choosing their particular program and your indicated research interest. You can also reach out to any faculty members that might act as a mentor or research leader with whom you hope to work.