On this page

Back to top

Best Online Nursing PhD Programs

Join nurses in the highest ranks of the profession by earning your doctorate from one of the best online nursing PhD programs available today.

Search hundreds of top schools for the doctorate YOU want.

Written By

Michael Hoffman

Last updated

Jul 31, 2023

If you’re considering a career in nursing, you’re probably aware of the severe shortage of nursing professionals that’s negatively impacting healthcare services in the U.S. today. This shortage not only includes nurses who work with patients on a daily basis, but it also extends to the top of the nursing profession. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, despite the growing demand for nurse faculty, scientists, and top-tier leaders, less than one percent of the nursing workforce today has earned a PhD. 

There’s been a steady decline in the number of nurses pursuing PhDs over the last 10 years, which makes this an optimal time to obtain your nursing doctoral degree. Colleges are stepping up to the challenge of fulfilling this demand by offering flexible and affordable online PhD in nursing programs.

Before jumping into an online nursing doctorate program, though, it’s important to get the answers to several questions, including:

  • Is earning a PhD in nursing worth it? 
  • Will I save money in an online nursing PhD program?
  • Can I earn my degree while keeping my full-time job?

This guide answers these questions and more. Here you’ll find our take on the best online nursing PhD programs available for 2023, along with degree timelines, a breakdown of tuition and fees, and program outcomes you should expect. Now is a great time to get started on mapping out your path to earning your nursing doctoral degree at a top online nursing PhD program.

Best PhD in Nursing Online Programs for 2023

To get you started on your degree search, we’ve listed the best online PhD in nursing programs currently available. Our choices are based a survey of important program elements, including quality academics, study convenience, affordability, and access to valuable student support services. See which colleges rose to the top this year.

or
1
Liberty University Lynchburg, Virginia
Type: Private not-for-profit
Cost: $$

In Liberty University's fully online PhD in nursing education, students take a wide variety of courses grounded in nursing educational theory, such as learning theories for nurse educators and assessment and accreditation of nursing programs. Unlike in a Doctorate of Nursing program, students in the nursing PhD program don't take as many clinical courses. Successful applicants will already hold an RN or NP degree, with a bachelor's or master's degree in the field. Since many students work full time while getting this degree, Liberty University has optimized its learning schedule for maximum flexibility. The online courses are offered in eight-week terms. Compared to the longer, traditional semesters, these eight-week terms allow students to increase or decrease the coursework, offering maximum flexibility. This makes it easier to balance getting a PhD with work and life obligations.

Program Highlights:

Doctor of Philsophy in Nursing Education

  • Credits: 60
  • Length: 3 years
  • Cost: $595/credit
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
17
AccreditationSACSCOC
2
Barry University Miami, Florida
Type: Private not-for-profit
Cost: $$$$

Barry University offers two PhD in nursing tracks. One is a MSN to PhD track for RNs with their master's degree, and the other is a shorter DNP to PhD track for nurse practitioners with a doctorate. In both programs, students take a variety of courses with a strong focus on nursing theory. The program is also research intensive, meaning students enroll in additional courses on research methods and complete a dissertation. This dissertation is supervised by a faculty member and must be defended in front of a dissertation committee. Along with a BSN or MSN degree, students with work or nurse research experience are more competitive candidates. While the program involves one-to-one mentorship and live class sessions, all degree requirements can be completed online.

Program Highlights:

Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing

  • Credits: 30-47
  • Length: 3 years
  • Cost: $1,160/credit
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
15
AccreditationSACSCOC
3
South Dakota State University Brookings, South Dakota
Type: Public
Cost: $$

South Dakota State University offers an online PhD in nursing designed for students with advanced nursing knowledge. Applicants should have a BSN or MSN at the time of application to be considered for admission. The online program was designed for those who are working full-time while completing their degree, meaning the live courses are offered at flexible times and other courses are asynchronous. Students can choose between two program options: a 60 credit and 90 credit option. The 60 credit option is for those who already have their MSN. The 90 credit option is designed for those with only a BSN, with the additional 30 credits providing the foundational knowledge needed to succeed in more advanced classes. Students also must complete a dissertation mentored by a faculty member. Dissertation requirements can also be completed online.

Program Highlights:

Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing

  • Credits: 60-90 credits
  • Length: 2-4 years
  • Cost: $613/credit in-state | $927/credit out-of-state
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
17
AccreditationHLC
4
Type: Public
Cost: $$$

The University of Tennessee offers a versatile nursing PhD for experienced nurses through their Knoxville campus. The program is flexible, both in terms of learning format and the background a student needs to enter the program. For the learning format, some courses are delivered in-person, others fully online, and others as a blended class, with some sessions online and other sessions face-to-face. While students can take a large portion of their coursework online, the program is considered a hybrid of online and in-person study. Most, if not all, students take some in-person components on campus. The program is also flexible in terms of who it is designed for. Anyone with a license and a bachelor's in nursing or higher will find this program suits their needs, since the program offers BSN to PhD, MSN to PhD, and DNP to PhD tracks.

Program Highlights:

Doctor of Philosphy in Nursing

  • Credits: 51-83
  • Length: 2-4 years
  • Cost: $700/credit in-state | $775/credit out-of-state
  • Mode: Hybrid
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
17
AccreditationSACSCOC
5
University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Type: Public
Cost: $$

Students interested in a fully online PhD in nursing will want to know about the two-track nursing leadership program at The University of Southern Mississippi. The first track is a shorter MSN to PhD track, which usually takes one to two years to complete. The second is a longer BSN to PhD track, which can take up to three years to complete. In either track, students take a mixture of advanced nursing courses and complete a dissertation under faculty mentorship. Students on the BSN to PhD track take additional classes on subjects often covered in a MSN, so they are up to speed before starting more advanced coursework and their dissertation. Unlike many nursing PhDs, the one from the University of Southern Mississippi can be completed 100% online, without students stepping foot on campus during the pursuit of their degree.

Program Highlights:

Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing Leadership

  • Credits: 48-60
  • Length: 1-3 years
  • Cost: $535.12/credit
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
16
AccreditationSACSCOC
6
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Type: Public
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
18
AccreditationHLC
7
University of Missouri-Kansas City Kansas City, Missouri
Type: Public
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
14
AccreditationHLC
8
Saint Louis University Saint Louis, Missouri
Type: Private not-for-profit
Cost: $$$$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
9
AccreditationHLC
9
University of Arizona Tucson, Arizona
Type: Public
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
17
AccreditationHLC
10
Type: Public
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
18
AccreditationSACSCOC
11
Wilkes University Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Type: Private not-for-profit
Cost: $$$$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
13
AccreditationMSCHE
12
Georgia State University Atlanta, Georgia
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
27
AccreditationSACSCOC
13
Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Type: Private not-for-profit
Cost: $$$$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
17
AccreditationSACSCOC
14
The Catholic University of America Washington, District of Columbia
Type: Private not-for-profit
Cost: $$$$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
11
AccreditationMSCHE

Highlighting Online Nursing PhD Programs

Indiana University

The online PhD in Nursing Science program at Indiana University prepares graduates for top-level careers in clinical science, education, health systems, and research. Students have the choice of working on research in either clinical nurse science or health systems, which includes nursing education. The program is presented in a hybrid format that combines online classes attended synchronously via livestream with two intensives attended in-person on IU’s Bloomington campus. During the intensives, students meet with faculty mentors, interact with peers, attend professional development sessions, and enjoy networking opportunities at several informal receptions. Earning the PhD requires completion of 90 credit hours. Both BSN-to-PhD and MSN-to-PhD tracks are available. Students in the MSN-to-PhD track transfer in 30 credits of MSN coursework relevant to their chosen research area.

The program’s application requirements include a bachelor’s or master’s in nursing earned from a CCNE- or ACEN-accredited program. Applicants must demonstrate a capacity for original nursing research and scholarship through reports, a thesis, or published or unpublished papers. The current per-credit tuition rate (not including fees) is $625 for Indiana residents and $1,664 for out-of-state residents.

University of Arizona

Study flexibility and generous program options are major features of the online PhD in Nursing program offered by the University of Arizona. The program is delivered entirely online with the exception of week-long Resident Intensive Summer Experiences (RISE) attended on UA’s Tucson campus each summer. Most online coursework is asynchronous, although some courses may include synchronous elements. Four study tracks are available. The BSN to PhD track is presented in a four-year, full-time course of study and requires completion of 79 credit hours. The MSN to PhD track requires completion of 64 credits and is designed as a full-time, three-year program. DNP/PhD dual degree and post-DNP to PhD tracks are additionally offered. Part-time study options are also available for all tracks. Early stages of the program focus on coursework in nursing and other sciences. Increasing time is given to research activities as the program advances. Students choose one of three areas of excellence to guide their program’s research work: data and systems science, health determinants science, and precision science.

The current per-credit tuition rates for UA’s PhD in nursing program are $900 for Arizona residents and $1,835 for out-of-state residents. Students living in Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP) states may be eligible for tuition discounts.

Villanova University

The PhD in Nursing program at private, Catholic-affiliated Villanova University is designed to prepare graduates to become teachers of diverse student populations in a range of clinical and classroom settings. The program is presented in a hybrid format that combines online coursework in the fall and spring semesters with summer semester classes attended in-person on the school’s southeast Pennsylvania campus. Online courses are delivered synchronously via live stream and scheduled during two weeknights (4:00 pm to 9:30 pm) each week. The program is designed to require completion of 46 credits. However, total credit requirements vary from student to student depending on his or her previous education and individual needs. Both full-time and part-time study options are offered. A three-year, full-time accelerated track is also available to qualifying applicants. 

The current tuition rate (not including fees) for the PhD in nursing program is $1,450 per credit. Admission requirements include an MSN or equivalent from an accredited school of nursing. Admission is highly selective and based on a consideration of the applicant’s previous academic achievement, performance on standardized admissions tests, employment experience, and career focus. Exceptionally qualified applicants with a baccalaureate degree may also be admitted with the expectation that they will complete MSN degree requirements while working on their doctorates. 

Benefits of Earning Your PhD in Nursing Online

We posed this question in the introduction: “Is earning a PhD in Nursing worth it?” If your career goal is to become a nurse educator at universities or major healthcare facilities, the answer is an unqualified “yes.” The answer is also “yes” if your goal is to conduct cutting edge research leading important breakthroughs in nursing scholarship. On top of the benefits you’ll enjoy by earning your nursing PhD, there are also a number of important benefits to earning that degree in an online program. Here’s a look at some of the biggest:   

  1. Convenience of attending classes online. Classes in online PhD nursing programs are delivered either asynchronously or synchronously. Asynchronous class sessions are prerecorded, allowing students to logon and attend to them at anytime. Synchronous classes are livestreamed and require attendance at specifically scheduled times. Either way, students can attend their classes without the major cost and hassle of traveling to and from campus.
  2. Choice of study pace. Online doctorate programs are typically offered with both full-time and part-time options, and some allow students to study at their own pace. This is particularly advantageous for nurses who need to continue working full or part time while pursuing their degree.
  3. Access to additional valuable course and program features. As an online PhD in nursing student, you’ll be able to access a wealth of course and research materials online. You’ll also participate with faculty and fellow students through online discussion groups, communicate with instructors and peers via email and videoconferencing apps like Skype and Zoom, and much more.

Types of Online Nursing PhD Programs

Before enrolling in an online PhD in nursing program, it’s important to understand the differences in how programs deliver their online content. You’ll find that most describe themselves as being either hybrid (partially online) or fully online. It’s critical to look beyond these general terms that are sometimes used interchangeably and gain a full understanding of the specifics of how programs deliver their online content. For hybrid programs, you should know how online and in-person content is structured and balanced.  

Fully online

Online nursing PhD programs that bill themselves as fully online offer all classes and coursework entirely online. Students will not have to attend on-campus classes. Still, that doesn’t mean that there are no face-to-face components. Many (but not all) of these programs include one or more on-campus elements, with the most common being orientation workshops at the beginning of the program, candidacy exams, and dissertation presentations and defenses. 

Hybrid

Hybrid-formatted PhD in nursing programs combine both online and on-campus class sessions. On-campus sessions may be scheduled several times each semester or presented as multi-day intensives attended two or three times over the course of the one-year term or once for several days, typically each summer. Hybrid programs often include in-person orientations, candidacy exams, and dissertation presentations and defenses. 

Timeline for Your Online PhD in Nursing

Program lengths for online nursing PhD programs vary due to several factors including study pace (full-time or part-time), starting point (BSN to PhD, MSN to PhD, etc.), the need to complete any prerequisite courses prior to starting the PhD curriculum, and how long it takes the doctoral candidate to complete the research and writing of their dissertation. In most cases, students will complete all degree requirements with three to four years of full-time study or four to six years of part-time study. However, programs commonly provide generous maximum program lengths of six or seven years, and sometimes longer, for students who need more time. 

The timeline below offers an example of how full-time students in MSN to PhD programs might progress year to year through their courses of study: 

Year one

In the first year, students concentrate on core degree coursework addressing advanced nursing knowledge such as nursing philosophy and theory, research (design, qualitative and quantitative research methods, and data collection and analysis), nursing systems and organizations, and leadership. Students also complete any remaining prerequisite coursework they have. 

During the first semester, students will begin to explore their potential research or dissertation area of interest and establish their relationship with their faculty advisor or mentor. Students will continue to develop their area of interest through the second and third semesters. Second semester activities will also include the selection of the student’s dissertation committee and development of the dissertation plan of study.

Year two

In their second year, nursing PhD students will complete any remaining core coursework along with elective courses in their specialization or area of interest. However, the major focus of the course of study shifts to the development of the student’s dissertation proposal and preparation for advancement to candidacy. Students will additionally work closely with their faculty advisor or mentor on focused research in support of their dissertation proposal development. 

Near the end of the second semester, students typically will take their qualifying exam for PhD candidacy. The third semester is primarily devoted to the presentation and defense of the student’s dissertation proposal, dissertation topic approval, admission to candidacy, and IRB approvals.

Year three and beyond

Students who haven’t yet done so will complete all pre-candidacy requirements such as dissertation approval and comprehensive exams. Then, the focus for all nursing PhD candidates shifts to the implementation and completion of the research, writing, submission, and approval of the written dissertation and the oral dissertation defense. Upon successful completion of the dissertation defense, students submit their dissertation to the graduate school, obtain their approval page, and celebrate the achievement of earning their degrees. 

Online Nursing PhD Learning Outcomes

If you’ve spent time looking at college degree websites, you’ve probably come across lists of program learning outcomes. These lists describe the substantive knowledge and skills students should expect to gain in earning their degrees. A program’s learning outcomes constitute the backbone of its curriculum. Below are descriptions of five learning outcomes common to many online nursing PhD programs.

  1. Research: Develop the ability to design, conduct, evaluate, critique, and integrate original research that advances and expands nursing knowledge and scholarship. Demonstrate a commitment to theory development and application of rigorous methods of disciplined, evidence-based scientific inquiry resulting in the continued improvement of patient care and the advancement of the broader nursing profession. 
  2. Leadership: Demonstrate skills in the leadership of interdisciplinary research teams and in the career and mentorship of others in the nursing profession. Possess and continue to develop a comprehensive understanding of the evolving roles and responsibilities of the nursing scholar. Act as a professional nurse leader and role model.
  3. Communication and Dissemination of Research and Scholarship: Effectively communicate complex research findings and implications that positively contribute to nursing science and practice in a clear, concise, and understandable manner. Ability to disseminate research and scholarship through peer-reviewed publications and presentations to professional, interdisciplinary, and lay audiences alike. 
  4. Ethics and Professional Responsibility: Demonstrate knowledge and application of professional codes of ethics, obligations, and relevant institutional policies and procedures guiding nurse research, scholarship, and practice. Demonstrated ability to identify ethical issues in all professional situations and environments, and the capacity to seek professional guidance and access to appropriate resources regarding ethical principles and accepted professional norms to resolve moral dilemmas. 
  5. Area of Specialization: Demonstrate in-depth knowledge in the students chosen substantive area of specialization. Ability to apply the knowledge and skills gained in the student’s specialization to nursing practice and in the education of others.

Specializations for Your Nursing PhD

Specialization is a key to graduate nursing study in master’s and doctoral degree programs, as well as post-baccalaureate certificate programs. Many online PhD in nursing programs feature specialization or concentration track options. Faculty members in these programs are involved in conducting research in their own specific areas of the nursing field. As you search for the right online PhD in nursing program for you, be on the lookout for faculty members doing research in the field that corresponds with your own research interests.   

Here are examples of five specialization areas popular with nursing PhD programs and students: 

Leadership and Administration

The leadership specialization prepares students to take on administrative positions in all sectors of nursing services. Course topics include leadership and organizational theory, organizational dynamics in healthcare, theory development and evaluation in nursing science, and legal and ethics issues in nursing organizations.

Nursing Education

Students in the nursing education specialization develop the knowledge and skills needed to facilitate effective education and training of professional nurses in the classroom and in clinical settings.

Interdisciplinary Health

The interdisciplinary health specialization allows students to create their own unique field of study by completing coursework and pursuing research that combines two or more other nursing specializations.

Nursing Policy

This specialization is for students interested in driving the conversation when it comes to big-picture issues of institutional, governmental, and public policy as it relates to nursing practice. 

Community and Population Health

The community and population health specialization allows student to pursue research leading to improvement in healthcare outcomes in local communities and larger geographic, ethnic, and economic populations.

Accreditation & Online Nursing PhD Programs

Postsecondary accreditation is the process through which U.S. colleges and universities, and the programs they offer, are vetted for academic quality. There are two basic types of postsecondary accreditation: programmatic and institutional. 

Programmatic accreditation concerns the vetting of individual nursing programs. Most undergraduate and graduate nursing degree and certificate programs in the U.S. are accredited by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). This includes Doctor of Nursing programs. However, it is not the practice of specialized accreditors to accredit research doctorates. Therefore, neither the CCNE nor ACEN accredits PhD in nursing programs.

Institutional accreditation refers to the accreditation of entire colleges and universities. Institutional accreditation of U.S. colleges and universities, including those offering accredited PhD in nursing degrees, is performed by a group of independent accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education

Applying to an Online Nursing PhD Program

Admissions requirements for online PhD in nursing programs vary somewhat from program to program depending on the specific academic goals and research focus areas of the program and the applicant’s educational background and professional experience. Along with typical admissions requirements such as a previously earned BSN or MSN degree, letters of recommendation, and the resume or CV, applicants will be required to submit one or more of the items described below. Nursing doctoral program admissions are competitive, so be sure to take considerable care in your application submissions.

  • Research/Dissertation Subject: The PhD in nursing is a research-focused credential. Its main function is to provide students with the knowledge and skills required to carry out original research to add to nursing scholarship. Therefore, almost all online nursing PhD programs require applicants to identify (typically in their application essay or statement of purpose) the specific topic or area of research they intend to pursue in their doctorate studies. In many cases, applicants are also required to identify at least one program faculty member whose research area would likely match their own. 
  • Demonstrated Capacity to Conduct Advanced Research: Applicants to online nursing PhD programs, such as the Indiana University program spotlighted above, may be required to provide evidence of their capacity to conduct research and produce scholarly work. This is usually evidenced by the submission of published or unpublished papers or reports, journal articles, book chapters, or the applicant’s master’s thesis or project.
  • Interview: Nursing doctorate program applicants meeting foundational requirements for admissions will likely be required to sit for an interview with one or more program faculty members. Interviews may either be face-to-face or via videoconferencing. The importance of the interview cannot be overstated as it may be the final and determining factor in the selection of program candidates.

Tuition & Fees

Pursuing a nursing doctorate, online or otherwise, is an expensive proposition. It’s critical to develop a clear understanding of all of the costs involved in taking on a nursing PhD program before you enroll. Below are current tuition costs for four online PhD in nursing programs. These and the other rates shown in this guide will give you a general idea what you might expect to pay for your program. Bear in mind that your total degree price tag will be higher once you factor in additional program fees and the cost of books, supplies, and internet access. On the other hand, as an online student, you’ll save money on things like the transportation costs and parking fees you’d pay by attending on-campus classes. 

SchoolCost per CreditTotal CreditsSubtotal
George Washington University$1,39557 (MSN to PhD)$79,515
Oakland University$83980 (BSN to PhD);
60 (MSN to PhD);
48 (DNP to PhD)
$67,120 (BSN to PhD);
$50,340 (MSN to PhD);
$40,272 (DNP to PhD)
University of Colorado – Anschutz Medical Campus$690 (Colorado resident); $1,190 (out-of-state resident)60 (MSN to PhD)$41,400 (Colorado resident); $71,400 (out-of-state resident)
Wilkes University$1,02447 (MSN to PhD)$48,128

NOTE: PhD in nursing programs can look expensive at face value, but practically all colleges and universities offering online nursing doctoral programs provide several financial assistance resources to their students. These include loans, grants, scholarships, research assistantships, and more. Students may also be able to tap into funding help from their employers in the form of tuition reimbursement programs. What all of this means is that you’ll likely be able to substantially reduce the out-of-pocket cost of your online PhD in nursing program.

To find out about financial assistance opportunities for your online PhD in nursing program, be sure to contact the financial aid offices at each of the schools you’re considering. And to learn more on funding your degree, check out PhDs.me’s own scholarships and grants and financial aid guides.

Salaries for Nursing Professionals with a PhD

Whether you use your nursing doctorate for career advancement in scholarly research, as a nurse educator, or to fill a top position in health services administration, you’ll find generous salaries to meet your move up the career ladder. Median salaries for PhD holders are generally in line with those of nurses with only an MSN degree. However, professionals with a PhD in nursing enjoy particularly robust salary growth with the further career advancements that come with more professional experience. 

To illustrate the point, below are current median and top-90% estimated base salary figures for several career titles common to PhD in nursing graduates. Keep in mind that these are base salaries and do not include such items as bonuses, and profit sharing. 

Career TitleAnnual Median Salary90%
Assistant Nursing Manager$88,000$121,000
Associate Professor of Nursing$67,000$90,000
Chief Nursing Officer (CNO)$138,000$211,000
Dean of Nursing$113,000$156,000
Healthcare Consultant$82,000$125,000
Nursing Manager$91,000$123,000
Postsecondary Professor$90,000$167,000

Source: Payscale.com (accessed January 2023)