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Best Online Nursing PhD Programs for 2024

See which schools offer the best online nursing PhDs, and get the inside scoop on what it takes to get in, get out, and get to work.

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Author: Shannon Lee
Stephanie Johannsen
Reviewer:

Stephanie Johannsen

Stephanie Johannsenis a Registered Nurse (RN) with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and a Master of Science in Health Administration (MSHA). Her unique background includes extensive clinical and administrative roles in hospitals, insurance companies, Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), drug companies, start-up joint ventures, ambulatory centers, hospice, long term care, home health, travel nursing and overseas education. She also worked as a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant (CLNC) assisting with class action lawsuits, medical malpractice cases and catastrophic injury cases. Stephanie has had an exciting career fully exploring nearly every aspect of health care and thrives on sharing those experiences with others who wish to enter the field.

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There are many high-quality, accredited online PhD nursing programs available to students seeking a terminal degree. In the past when online education didn’t exist or wasn’t widespread, students were often limited to choosing programs near where they live and work. Today, online learning allows you to enroll in a program that might be thousands of miles away, which greatly broadens your options when choosing a school. But with this greater selection of programs comes the question of how do you find the programs that are the best for you? Our below list of top online PhD nursing programs for 2024 can help get you started in your search.

We researched various schools with PhD nursing programs and scored them on factors like tuition cost, program flexibility, and accreditation. Our goal was to create a collection of programs that provide a quality doctoral education at a reasonable cost and offer the most amount of learning flexibility. See which schools came out on top in our 2024 rankings.

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About the ranking

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Base Methodology for EduMed’s Best Online College Rankings for the ’23-’24 school year.

One: Create list of Eligible Schools and Programs

To be eligible, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on data pulled from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which was self-reported by the schools themselves.

  • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • At least 1 online component in a program within the ranking-subject area.

Two: Assign Weighting

After creating the list of eligible schools, EduMed data scientists assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of metrics, which were all self-reported by the schools themselves to the U.S. Department of Education and IPEDS.

The metrics are listed below in order of most- to least-heavily weighted.

Online Programs – Number of online programs in the relevant subject area.

Online Student % – Number of total students who are enrolled in at least 1 distance-learning course in the relevant subject area.

Tuition – The average in-state tuition for undergraduate students studying full-time, as self-reported by the school.

Academic Counseling – Existence of this service on campus or online.

Career Placement Services – Existence of this service on campus or online.

Student/Faculty Ratio

About Our DataEduMed’s rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: July 2023

# School Name Type Tuition Online Programs More Details School Information Online Students Academic Counseling Career Placement Students w/Institutional Aid Median Earnings 10yrs After Entry Accreditation
1 University of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeMilwaukee, WI Public $$ 1

For nurses looking towards a career in research or teaching, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee offers a fully-online 3-year PhD program in Nursing. Apart from a week-long on-campus orientation, you will complete your coursework entirely online, culminating with an independent research project in your third year. Applicants must hold a bachelor's or master's degree in nursing or a related field, have completed a graduate-level statistics course with a B grade or higher, and must enroll in 8 credits of prerequisite courses before beginning the program.

Program Highlights:

Online PhD in Nursing

  • Credits: 45
  • Length: 3 Years
  • Cost: $42,075
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
18/1
Online
Student %
57%
2 South Dakota State UniversityBrookings, SD Public $ 1

The PhD program in Nursing at South Dakota State University (SDSU) is 100% online, with an option of either 60 or 90 hours track. For both tracks, you must first hold a bachelor's in nursing, or master's in nursing or a related healthcare field. Once accepted, you will be taking courses in biostatistics, philosophy or nursing, health policy, health justice, and more. In addition, you will complete original research in the form of a final dissertation in order to complete the program. Graduates may go on to pursue careers in teaching, research, healthcare consultancy, and more.

Program Highlights:

Nursing (PhD)

  • Credits: 60 or 90 Credits plans Available
  • Length: 4-6 Years
  • Cost: $28,227 (60 Credits); $42,340.5 (90 Credits)
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
17/1
Online
Student %
46%
3 University of ArizonaTucson, AZ Public $$ 1

The University of Arizona's School of Nursing offers an online/hybrid PhD program in Nursing. In addition to the core courses, which are taken online and will vary depending on whether you are on the MS to PhD track or BSN to PhD track, you will be required to visit the Tuscon campus for the weeklong Resident Intensive Summer Experience (RISE). Students have the option to individualize their course of study with a focus on research relating to precision science, data and systems science, or health determinants science, in preparation for their dissertation research.

Program Highlights:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Nursing

  • Credits: 75
  • Length: 3-4 Years, Plus Dissertation
  • Cost: $57,646 (in-state); $117,472 (out-of-state)
  • Mode: Online, Hybrid
  • Accreditation: Arizona State Board of Nursing
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
17/1
Online
Student %
41%
4 Saint Louis UniversitySaint Louis, MO Private not-for-profit $$$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
9/1
Online
Student %
27%
5 Virginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmond, VA Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
18/1
Online
Student %
55%
6 Georgia State UniversityAtlanta, GA Public $ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
27/1
Online
Student %
49%
7 Nova Southeastern UniversityFort Lauderdale, FL Private not-for-profit $$$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
17/1
Online
Student %
53%

Online Nursing PhD Program Spotlights

To further help you find the online PhD nursing school that’s right for you, we’ve spotlighted two additional programs. Both are fully-accredited and may be great options to consider in your search. Here’s everything you need to know about the curriculum, learning format, admissions requirements, and other program features that make these schools stand out from their peers.

Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt-University

The PhD in Nursing Science program at Vanderbilt University is designed to prepare students for careers in research and academia. Students can choose between the Clinical Research or Health Services Research tracks. Both are available in full-time or part-time formats.

Both programs are available in a hybrid format where students encounter mostly asynchronous courses throughout their tenure, as well as weekly synchronous classes that require the cohort to learn together at a particular time. In addition, students will engage in three on-campus intensives lasting three to four days each, during which they will attend classes with their cohort in a traditional school setting. To help ensure the best possible educational experience, classes are kept small and strong mentorship is offered.

Vanderbilt has competitive admission requirements which include completion of a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nursing or a closely related field with a minimum B average, as well as a B average in the field of expected graduate concentration. Three letters of recommendation, GRE scores, an essay, and writing samples are also required. To graduate, students must complete all advanced coursework, complete a paper and oral examination, and successfully defend their dissertation.

Vanderbilt University takes great care to match a student with faculty who work in the area of research the student is interested in; Therefore, even a great student might be denied placement at the school if the faculty there at the time is not engaged in similar research.

University of Central Florida

University-of-Central-Florida

The PhD in Nursing Program at the University of Central Florida is offered in two primary tracks: the BSN to PhD, a full-time program, and the PhD in Nursing, which is either a full-time or part-time program. The full-time option requires 11 semesters, while the part-time option requires 14. Though the programs are fully online, the school does require two intensives per year to be completed on the UCF campus. Students can expect the program to take three years, plus an additional year for a dissertation and defense.

To gain admission to the program, students must meet all requirements for general UCF admission, as well as present GRE scores (completed within the past five years), an undergraduate or master’s degree transcript, an active RN license in the state where the nurse intends to practice, and research interests that match the expertise of the faculty.

Just as with many other programs, UCF tries to ensure applicants will find a welcoming home for their particular research interests. Therefore, UCF places great importance on pairing students with the right mentors and advisors. For example, those who don’t have a research match with a faculty member at the school might not gain admission. In addition, once students do gain admission, they are strongly encouraged to attend research conferences and events with members of their cohort and faculty in hopes of increasing collaboration and dialogue.

What’s the Difference Between a PhD, DNP, and EdD Nursing Degree?

When it comes to advanced degrees in nursing, the three most common programs are the PhD, the DNP and the EdD. Each is a very different program that offers different outcomes for graduates, although there can be a little bit of overlap in what graduates can do with each degree. To help clarify things a bit, here’s what you need to know about these three options.

PhD in Nursing

Program-Overview

Program Overview

Program Overview
This degree has a strong emphasis on research, theory, and applying new concepts to the nursing profession. Many PhD nursing students use this degree as a way to move into academia and teach other nurses.

Length-of-Study

Length of Study
Depending upon the program, this can take anywhere from 3 to 5 years of full-time study, including the time for dissertation and defense. Given the inherently self-paced nature of the dissertation, how long it takes to earn a PhD in nursing will largely depend on how quickly the student completes the dissertation and defends it.

Clinicals-Required

Clinicals Required?
None

Final-Project

Final Project
PhD students must complete a dissertation, then successfully defend that dissertation before a panel of educators, peers, researchers, and other interested parties in the nursing field.

Common-Career-Outcomes

Common Career Outcomes
This degree often leads to academic pursuits, including healthcare research and/or teaching the next generation of nurses.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Program-Overview

Program Overview
Just as the name suggests, this doctorate focuses on nursing practice, with coursework focused on evidence-based care practices for patients, communities, and certain populations.

Length-of-Study

Length of Study
Five to six semesters of study are common for those who enter with a master’s degree.

Clinicals-Required

Clinicals Required?
Clinicals are often required, but the amount of hands-on study varies by program. In most cases, clinicals are required for a much shorter period of time compared to lower degree levels; 400 hours of study under supervision is a common number.

Final-Project

Final Project
A final scholarly project replaces the dissertation. This project can take many forms, depending upon the student’s focus, but usually includes a look at how nursing practice can be improved for various populations or areas.

Common-Career-Outcomes

Common Career Outcomes
Those who earn this degree are likely to continue working in a patient-facing role, although usually with more clinical and/or administrative responsibilities.

Doctor of Education in Nursing (EdD)

Program-Overview

Program Overview
With a focus on the educational aspects of nursing, this degree prepares students to teach others through evidence-based research, practice, and real-world scenarios.

Length-of-Study

Length of Study
Students who enter the EdD program with a bachelor’s degree can often complete the program in three years of full-time study.

Clinicals-Required

Clinicals Required?
None

Final-Project

Final Project
The final capstone project usually consists of applying educational theories to real-world scenarios faced by nursing students or nurses in practice.

Common-Career-Outcomes

Common Career Outcomes
Though this degree will help graduate work in a clinical or research setting, the most common career pathway takes graduates into nursing education.

How Do Online PhD Nursing Programs Work?

One of the benefits of an online PhD nursing program is that it is almost fully online. That’s because, by the time a nurse reaches the point of earning their PhD, they already have many years of work experience behind them. Thus, the use of clinicals at the doctoral level is minimal or not needed at all. Most programs allow students to take all their courses online, though some might take a hybrid approach, requiring a few courses to be completed in a campus setting.

Some programs include “intensives” or in-person clinical sessions that occur over the span of a few days every semester or so. These sessions require online students to travel to a physical location, usually at the campus of the school they are attending, to meet with their cohort and perform a variety of tasks under the supervision of instructors. These periodic visits to the campus are usually mandatory, so online students need to be aware of this requirement and be willing to meet it. One reason for this requirement is to encourage students to network with each other and learn in a group setting.

Degree Pathways to Earn a PhD in Nursing

No matter where you are in your nursing career and education, there is an option that allows you to earn your doctoral degree in nursing. Here are the most common pathways to obtain a PhD.

BSN-to-PhD in Nursing

This pathway is designed for those who have already earned their bachelor’s degree in nursing. During the course of the program, students will often earn a master’s degree as well as a PhD. If you think this might take more time than other pathways to reach the PhD, you’re right: this requires at least three to four years of full-time study. Since many nurses want to continue working while they pursue their education, part-time study can easily push that timeframe up to more than six years.

PHD/DNP Dual Degree

This program is effective for those who can handle the pressures of pursuing two degrees at once. However, keep in mind that this degree path is very intense, which means students will likely not have the time to continue working while completing the program requirements. This degree often takes about six years to complete, even when attending as a full-time student.

Post-DNP PhD in Nursing

This program is for those who have already earned their master’s degree and intend to move forward with their career into academia or research. The PhD program takes about three to four years to complete, and is typically designed for students who have several years of nursing experience.

Post-Master’s PhD in Nursing

Some might choose to receive their Doctor of Nursing Practice in the hopes of working with more in-depth clinical and policy issues, but then find that they need something a bit more to work on the academic and research side. That’s where this degree option comes in, as this PhD program is meant for those who already have a doctorate. Therefore, many of the core courses have already been completed. As a result, refresher courses are common. Because of their prior doctoral training, most students can complete this program in about three years.

Sample Curriculum for Online Nursing PhD Programs

Each school offers a unique online nursing PhD curriculum to its students. That being said, there are many similarities among programs in the courses offered and topics addressed. Many of the differences come with the teaching styles or approaches advocated by a particular school, professor, or nursing department. Despite these differences, here’s a look at some of the common courses you can expect to find in any nursing PhD program online.

This course looks at the various ways researchers can quantify their findings. Students will learn how to create a strong research framework, how to conduct research with firm controls that help ensure the end results mean something, and how to collect and analyze the data. It is then applied to a real-world scenario in which the research might be used for the greater good.

A great deal of research relies on getting the funding to keep projects going. This is usually achieved through the use of grants and similar funds. Learning how to find grant opportunities, write grant proposals, and follow the proper procedures to obtain the grants is the focus of this course.

This course looks at the legal issues nurses, healthcare facilities, and administration might face, as well as the ethical considerations that might confront nurses and their coworkers on a daily basis. Understanding these concepts helps ensure better patient care and the well-being of facilities, administrators, nurses, and staff.

This course focuses on decision-making and leadership skills, management of groups, the use of evidence-based practice and research to make informed policy decisions, quality control and improvement, resource allocations, and more.

Students learn how to evaluate and engage in various levels of scholarly inquiry when addressing problems relating to nursing theory and practice. This course also gives students a firm grasp of the theoretical and research foundations that are used in evidence-based nursing practice.

Nursing PhD Sample Timeline
Term Course Name # Credits
Year 1, Fall Measurement in Healthcare Research 3
Year 1, Fall Theories in Nursing 2
Year 1, Fall Health and Health Behaviors 2
Year 1, Fall Statistics 2
Year 1, Spring Research Design and Statistics 2
Year 1, Spring Foundations of Clinical Research 3
Year 1, Spring Statistics II 2
Year 1, Spring Ethical and Legal Issues in Nursing Practice 3
Year 1, Summer Statistics III 3
Year 1, Summer Qualitative Research Methods 4
Year 2, Fall Quantitative Research Methods 4
Year 2, Fall Grant Writing 3
Year 2, Fall Clinical Interventions Testing and Design 3
Year 2, Fall Research Practicum 2
Year 2, Spring Research and Public Policy 2
Year 2, Spring Doctoral Seminar 3
Year 2, Spring Leadership and Management in Nursing Practice 3
Year 2, Spring Critical Thinking and Communication in Nursing 2
Year 2, Summer Research Practicum 2
Year 2, Summer Advanced Doctoral Seminar 3
Year 2, Summer Research Practicum 6

FAQs About Earning a Nursing PhD Online

What are the admissions criteria?

Getting accepted into a nursing PhD program is often a competitive process. In most cases, admission to a graduate nursing program begins with meeting all admission requirements for the school itself. That includes holding the appropriate degrees (bachelor’s or master’s) and having a suitable GPA. Requirements include proof of the degrees you hold as well as proof of a current nursing license. Each school’s requirements might vary, but most ask for three letters of recommendation, work experience, clear research interests, a personal statement or essay, and GRE test scores. (Keep in mind that some programs don’t require the GRE at all; these schools instead look at a wider range of potential admission criteria, such as a GPA above a certain level or years of experience.)

What concentrations or specialization tracks are available?

The PhD is strongly focused on theory and research, and most concentrations focus on these points. Specializations might include specific types of research; for instance, research into clinical work, emerging medications, or evidence-based outcomes. Another specialization option focuses on administration and policy, designed for those who intend to work in management, run hospitals or other facilities, or work to change and update public policy. Other concentrations might include clinical work or nursing education.

How much does the typical online nursing PhD cost?

The costs among PhD programs can vary widely. However, financial aid awards can bring down the cost quite a bit. The following PhD programs provide a brief overview tuition costs at some schools in the country.

1 1. Walden University, PhD in Nursing $26,978/yr. or $745/credit
2 2. University of Nevada Las Vegas, Doctor of Philosophy: Nursing $23,411/yr. or $2,601/credit
3 3. University of Colorado Denver, Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing $23,800/yr. or $1,190/credit

Remember, there is much more to tuition than meets the eye. To learn more, visit our financial aid guide: https://www.edumed.org/financial-aid/

Accreditation for PhD Nursing Programs

When searching for a school or program to meet your needs, accreditation status should be at the top of your “must have” list. Accreditation means a school or program has been evaluated by an independent body and found to meet the high standards of a quality education. In other words, accreditation means that the degree you receive will be respected and valuable. If you can’t confirm a program or school of interest is accredited, you’re probably better off looking at a different school.

When it comes to online nursing PhD programs, there are two types of accreditation. The first is institution accreditation, which comes from a regional accrediting agency. This accreditation focuses on the school itself. The second is programmatic accreditation, which looks at an individual program, such as the PhD in nursing, to ensure that it meets the same standards as similar programs across the country.

When looking for accreditation for nursing programs, make sure the program has been approved by one or both of these agencies: the Commission on Collegiate College Nursing (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACNE). When determining whether a school is accredited, you can generally find this information on one of the general web pages for the school. If you don’t find it, don’t hesitate to call the school to verify their accreditation status.

Career Options and Salary Potential for PhD Nurses

Curious about what you can do with a PhD in nursing? Here are a few career options for those who work their way up to a terminal degree.

Nursing Professor

One of the reasons there’s a shortage of practicing nurses in the United States is because there is a shortage of seasoned, PhD-trained nurses to teach those who are just coming into the profession. Postsecondary teachers of nursing work in colleges and universities. They create lesson plans, conduct classroom lectures, hand out assignments, and work closely with students to help them reach their full potential.

Medical Scientist

These scientists conduct in-depth research on critical points in healthcare, such as developing clinical trials, testing new medications, and looking into public health matters. They work in offices or laboratories. Depending upon where their focus lies, they might work with medical samples, conduct investigative research, create medical devices, develop programs for certain populations, write grant requests, and more.

Healthcare Administrator

Those with a strong research background are a good match for working in healthcare administration or management. This is because they’ll have the critical thinking and analytical skills necessary to make strategic decisions based on data. These individuals work in a wide variety of facilities, from large hospitals to small nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, where they help ensure the organization runs smoothly and provides top-notch patient care. Duties include everything from recruiting and training to monitoring budgets and finding new sources of funding.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics: 1; 2; 3; 4