A doctorate degree in nursing is an advanced form of education some nurses choose to achieve. There are two types of doctorate degrees in the nursing profession, depending on what kind of nursing interests you. The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is an advanced degree that focuses on clinical work among nurses, while the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in nursing is geared toward academic requirements and research.

Many advanced practice nurses, such as nurse practitioners (NPs) or certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) have master’s degrees in nursing, having taken higher education courses and achieved certification. This standard is in the process of change, and students choosing to advance their nursing careers to become these types of advanced care nurses may eventually need to achieve doctoral certification. Master’s degree programs in these and other clinical areas are phasing out to the doctoral level, and students will eventually need a DNP in order to practice in these roles. For those master’s-prepared nurses who currently practice in these types of jobs without a doctorate, the new rules will not apply.

The length of time that it takes to achieve a doctorate degree can vary, depending on the current level of education for each student. Some schools accept only students with master’s degrees into their programs, in which typical timeframes for completion of a doctorate are between two and three years. Other schools may accept students with bachelor’s degrees in nursing, providing the additional coursework to move up to a doctorate degree in approximately four years. Additionally, students typically are expected to have active nursing licenses as part of the admission criteria.

Programs that offer a PhD in nursing often require courses in nursing management, nursing education, healthcare policy development and research studies. These programs train nurses to become educators, researchers and nurse leaders within their fields.

A nursing program that provides a DNP requires coursework that is dependent on what area students are planning to study. For example, those pursuing a DNP to work as nurse practitioners take classes about advanced pharmacology and disease management, and may perform a specific number of clinical practice hours. Other DNP programs may expect students to complete courses in research, public health and disease prevention. Graduates from these types of programs may find positions working as clinical nurse specialists or nurse practitioners.