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Best Online Nursing PhD Programs

Explore the top online Ph.D. in Nursing programs offered across the United States as well as program components and prerequisites. Learn more about available career paths after graduation and professional organizations.

Top 25 Online Nursing PhD Programs

When determining which schools have the best online nursing PhD programs, you should consider factors such as cost, program length, flexibility and admissions requirements. The top 25 schools with online nursing PhD programs are listed below.

1. Illinois State University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Normal, IL $9,509

Illinois State University has been accredited by the Higher Learning Commission since 1917 and its Mennonite College of Nursing offers a primarily online Ph.D. in Nursing program that is open to students who have earned a Master of Nursing Science (MSN) with a qualifying GPA. The program consists of 66 credit hours of coursework, including classes in research and nursing, and requires two full-time on-campus terms, which can be completed during summer sessions. In-state students have a tuition rate of $404 per credit hour while out-of-state students have a tuition rate of $838 per credit.

2. University of Kansas

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Lawrence, KS $11,027

The University of Kansas boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 17:1 and has been accredited by the Higher Learning Commission for more than 100 years. The school offers a primarily online Ph.D. in Nursing program that takes around 3 years to complete and includes 1-week residencies during each of 3 summer semesters. Students are required to complete 67 to 73 credit hours, depending on previous education level (bachelor's or master's degree), and take courses in data science, research methods and philosophy of nursing. In-state students have a tuition rate of $422 per credit hour while out-of-state students have a tuition rate of $990 per credit.

3. East Carolina University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Greenville, NC $7,485

East Carolina University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) and has more than 3,200 fully online graduate students. The school has an online Ph.D. in Nursing program that is open to students with a BSN (72 to 77 credits), MSN (54 credits) or DNP (39 additional credits), and program length varies by education level. Students have required residency/on-campus sessions each semester (5 for BSN and MSN students, 3 for DNP students) and take courses in statistics, nursing science, grant writing methods and research. ECU offers extremely affordable tuition to North Carolina residents, with a per-credit rate of $249 per credit for in-state students and $894 per credit for out-of-state students.

4. University of Arizona

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Tucson, AZ $13,044

The University of Arizona has a student population that nears 45,000 but has managed to maintain a respectable 15-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. It offers an online Ph.D. in Nursing that consists of fully online coursework and one-week on-campus sessions each summer. Students can enter the program with a DNP, MSN or BSN, or choose to earn a dual degree of Ph.D. and DNP. Students are required to take courses in areas such as research methods, academic roles and nursing science, and they can also choose optional courses in biological injury, rural health and reducing risks and promoting health in vulnerable populations.

5. West Virginia University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Morgantown, WV $9,990

West Virginia University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and its School of Nursing offers an online Ph.D. in Nursing program that takes three years to complete and includes on-campus summer courses. Students are required to complete 55 credit hours, including coursework in healthcare leadership, informatics and nursing theory. WVU has earned the R1: Doctoral University designation, meaning it's one of the top research institutions in the world.

Rank School Name Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
6 DeSales University Center Valley, PA $20,160
7 Duquesne University Pittsburgh, PA $23,112
8 Gannon University Erie, PA $19,220
9 Bradley University Peoria, IL $16,300
10 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND $9,697
11 Murray State University Murray, KY $9,114
12 University of North Carolina Wilmington Wilmington, NC $7,367
13 University of Cincinnati-Main Campus Cincinnati, OH $14,468
14 University of Central Arkansas Conway, AR $6,238
15 Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ $10,593

All table data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition represents the 2018-2019 school year

Learn.org's school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

How to Choose an Online Ph.D. in Nursing Program

As you review different schools for an online Ph.D. in Nursing program, you should review and compare things like cost, flexibility, program length and admissions requirements.

Cost

Online Nursing Ph.D. program costs vary by school and typically include tuition and other fees (such as course materials fees and distance learning fees). Compare the total costs for each of your candidate schools and remember that there are several types of financial aid available including scholarships and grants.

Flexibility

You will likely need to attend on-campus sessions once or more during your online Ph.D. program, and courses may be delivered asynchronously or they may have some synchronous (scheduled) requirements.

Admissions Requirements

Nursing programs are somewhat unique in that they often offer multiple entry points, meaning some online are open to students who have a bachelor's degree but others may require a master's degree. We will touch on admission requirements in more detail below.

Program Length

Many programs can be completed in three years of full-time study. If you need a longer program with fewer weekly requirements, review your program candidates to see if you have the option to study at your pace or if the program is structured to be completed in a particular order.

Transfer Credits

If you have previously completed any graduate coursework, you may be able to have some of those credits transferred into your online Ph.D. program. Ask each school to review your transcripts and determine which, if any, credits will transfer; some schools are more lenient than others in this regard.

Overview of Online Ph.D. in Nursing Programs

Online nursing Ph.D. programs are delivered through primarily online coursework and often include some practical/on-campus requirements. Some of the key components of online Ph.D. in Nursing programs are discussed below.

Admission Requirements

In addition to a bachelor's or master's in a nursing field, students often need applicable work experience in nursing and a minimum GPA on their previous college coursework. Depending on the school, students might be required to take a graduate entrance exam (such as the GRE) and provide references, a resume and a personal essay.

Concentration Options

Online Ph.D. in Nursing programs typically either allow students to further explore areas of interest through research and elective courses or they offer specific program concentrations. While options vary by school and program, students may be able to choose from focus areas such as:

  • Nursing education
  • Healthcare systems
  • Vulnerable Population Health
  • Leadership

Practical Requirements

Most online Ph.D. in Nursing programs include on-campus components and these vary by school. For example, these might involve 1-week sessions each summer or once-monthly on-campus weekends. During these on-site sessions, students can participate in activities such as collaboration, networking, student teaching and directed research. These experiences allow students to talk with faculty and classmates and work on major research projects (such as a doctoral thesis).

Online DNP vs PhD in Nursing

While online DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) and Ph.D. in Nursing programs may seem similar, they have several differences; many of the most important are noted in the table below.

DNP Ph.D.
Degree Type Terminal/doctoral Terminal/doctoral
Program Length 3 or more years 3 or more years
Program Focus Practice Research
Practical Requirements Clinical practicum On-campus sessions
Major Projects *Capstone *Thesis
Admissions Requirements BSN or MSN BSN or MSN
Classes *Healthcare Leadership
*Research Methods
*Quality Improvement
*Nursing Theory
*Research Methods
*Data Analysis
Careers *Healthcare leadership
*Nursing Faculty
*Researcher/scientist
*Nursing Faculty

Careers for Online Nursing PhD Graduates

There are several careers that graduates of online nursing Ph.D. programs can pursue, depending on their work experience and concentration (if applicable). Some of the careers available to online Ph.D. in Nursing graduates are listed below.

Postsecondary Nursing Teacher

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that as of 2018, there were 69,000 nursing instructors in post-secondary institutions and the field is expected to grow 20% from 2018 to 2028, which represents 13,000 new positions.

Duties of postsecondary teachers can include developing curriculum and grading procedures, collaborating with other departmental instructors and conducting academic research. As educators, they are also responsible for creating and delivering lesson plans and assignments, grading students and providing constructive feedback to help students understand the material and excel. Also, experienced postsecondary nursing teachers may choose to pursue roles as top executives in educational facilities and/or postsecondary administrators.

Medical and Health Services Managers

Medical and health services managers oversee and direct activities within departments or organizations. Their duties can include overseeing budgets and financial activities, hiring and training staff and developing employee schedules. They might also develop goals for their department or practice, ensure regulations are followed and monitor patient quality.

As of 2018, there were more than 71,000 of these professionals across the United States, and they are expected to see an 18% job growth from 2018 to 2028 (according to the BLS). Medical and health services managers typically need significant experience in their field, and experience as registered nurses may suffice. Educational requirements vary by position and employer, but candidates can benefit from courses in healthcare leadership and systems. As these professionals gain experience, they may choose to advance to positions as top executives in the healthcare industry or other roles.

Medical Scientists

Medical scientists seek to improve the overall state of human health by conducting research and clinical trials. Their duties often include designing and carrying out studies, analyzing medical data and samples, developing programs and standardizing drug doses. They might work to create disease prevention methods and treatments.

Medical scientists usually work in research and development facilities, postsecondary schools or hospitals, although they can also work in pharmaceutical manufacturing settings and physician's offices. These professionals typically need to have a Ph.D. in a life sciences field, including a Ph.D. in Nursing, and can gain both skills and better career opportunities by completing a residency or internship. As of 2018, there were more than 130,000 medical scientists, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they had a median annual salary of $84,810 at that time.

Top Executives

Top executives oversee operations of organizations and find ways to improve efficiency and meet objectives. Their duties can include overseeing organizational finances, appointing department managers, overseeing routine activities and ensuring operations meet regulations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 2.6 million top executives in the U.S. as of 2018 and the field is expected to add 150,000 openings by 2028.

The educational requirements of top executives vary, but they typically need to have a significant amount of experience working in their field or in other leadership positions. Nursing Ph.D. graduates may choose to pursue top executive roles in healthcare or academic institutions, for example, after working in those fields for several years. The median annual salary for chief executives working in the healthcare and social assistance sector was $173,770 in 2018.

Postsecondary Education Administrators

Postsecondary education administrators work in colleges and universities. The activities they oversee depend on their position. Those working as deans or provosts are responsible for things like coordinating school activities, developing policies, overseeing research and managing department or school finances. As of 2018, there were more than 190,000 postsecondary education administrators and their median annual salary was $94,340.

Academic deans and provosts usually need to have a Ph.D. and experience teaching in their field. They may oversee departments or entire institutions; graduates of an online nursing Ph.D. program may choose to become deans of their school's nursing department then move onward to deans of their institution. Postsecondary education administrators can also advance to top executive positions in higher education, such as college presidents.

Job Title Median Annual Salary (2018) Estimated Job Growth (2018-2028)
Postsecondary Nursing Teachers $73,490 20%
Medical and Health Services Managers $99,730 18%
Medical Scientists $84,810 8%
Top Executives $104,980 6%
Postsecondary Education Administrators $94,340 7%

All table data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Organizations for Online Nursing Ph.D. Graduates

There are many professional organizations that graduates of online nursing Ph.D. programs can join, including those focused on healthcare and post-secondary education. Some of the organizations available to Ph.D. in nursing graduates are listed below.

  • Midwest Nursing Research Society (MNRS) - With more than 1,200 members, this organization focuses on advancing the field of nursing science. Membership benefits include research publications as well as networking and collaboration, both online and at industry events.
  • American Nurses Association - ANA is open to all registered nurses working at all levels of the field and it offers national and state memberships. Benefits of membership include continuing education, discounts, access to nursing journals and advocacy.
  • American Public Health Association (APHA) - This organization has existed for 150 years and offers resources, community and federal policy advocacy. Membership benefits include annual meetings, discounts, networking, special interest groups and online webinars.