Is a PhD Necessary for Nurses Seeking Advanced and Specialized Career

Is a PhD Necessary for Nurses Seeking Advanced and Specialized Career

It’s been said that undergraduate degrees hold less weight than ever before. Many people entering the workforce today are being confronted with the reality that potential employers want candidates with deep experience and competitive qualifications.

Nursing is not competitive in the same way that the world of business is. However, many leadership or specialized roles do require advanced degrees. Do you need to get a PhD to work in a specialized nursing field? It’s not a yes or no proposition. In this article, we take a look at what credentials are required for various types of nursing positions.


Short Answer

No. PhDs are not required for the majority of nursing positions. Even more advanced career trajectories will not usually require that level of education. Most working nurses get by fine with an undergraduate degree.

Those who wish to acquire leadership roles or specialize in a very specific medical concentration may get their master’s degree. In other situations, they simply get a specialized license or permit to practice.

Below, we take a more in-depth look at how nurses can use continuing education as a way to further their careers and pursue areas of expertise that they are passionate about.


What are Nurse Practitioners?

Nurse practitioners have received at minimum their master’s degree. They can specialize to work in almost any category of healthcare. They also enjoy a high level of independence. In some states, nurse practitioners are able to run their practices and function in almost the exact capacity as a general practitioners.

They can open their own practice, make diagnoses, and prescribe medication. Not only do they earn a high income but they have much more flexibility than regular RN

If you are interested in becoming a nurse practitioner it is a good idea to read up on your state regulations. In some places, doctors are required to sign off on everything that the NP does, which can be very limiting.

Note that NPs are not required to earn a PhD.


I Want to Specialize. Do I Need a Doctorate Degree?

Most nurses who specialize do so by getting their master’s degree. MSN degrees allow you to select an emphasis. For example, if you want to work on the neonatal floor, there are specializations for that.

Alternatively, you can also specialize by completing specific learning curriculums, workshops, or job site training. Let’s say you want to work with patients who have been newly diagnosed with diabetes.

Depending on the state where you are working your RN license may not directly qualify you for this job. However, your employer will most likely be fine with going through with the hire and helping facilitate the required training sessions— which may amount only to a few hours of training sessions.

The extent to which you need to continue your education will depend largely on what job you want. While some do require advanced degrees, many can be acquired through quicker means.


When Should Nurses Receive a PhD?

PhDs can help nurses attain various leadership positions. However, most hospital jobs can be acquired with a combination of experience, aptitude, and credentials at the master’s degree level. It’s relatively rare to encounter healthcare positions that are limited strictly to PhDs.

That said, if you want to make your resume a little more competitive, or you simply want to make sure that you’re able to perform at the highest level, getting your PhD is a good idea. It may increase earnings and accelerate your career trajectory considerably.

But what situations specifically require a PhD?

Many nurses who go on to earn their doctorate do so in the hopes of working at a university. In fact, education is the most common application for all doctorate degrees. If you would like to teach incoming nurses or work as a department head, getting your doctorate is a good idea.

You may still be able to get university teaching jobs with only a master’s but it is limiting.


All Nurses are Life Long Learners

It’s important to keep in mind that regardless of whether or not a nurse decides to get their master’s degree, they will need to prioritize ongoing education as an important and legally necessary part of their life.

The RN licensing renewal cycle requires a specific number of continuing education hours to be completed in order for the nurse to retain their license. Even for people who are not going to be getting their master’s school is a constant part of the equation.
While there are state and federal requirements for how you receive those ongoing education hours, there is typically room for flexibility.

If you do not think you will be going in for a graduate degree, you can still prioritize learning about things you care about while remaining active in the healthcare community.



If you are interested in pursuing graduate school as a nurse, start by talking to your current employer. Most hospitals will provide some level of support for staff members who want to continue their education. Sometimes this will mean receiving a monthly stipend. Other times, your employer may cover the entire cost of the bill.

As hospitals try to recruit and retain employees, many are stepping up benefits of this kind.

Even if your employer does not offer tuition assistance, there are many ways to make graduate school more affordable. Look into grant and scholarship opportunities and see if there are on-campus employment opportunities that make sense for you.

Graduate school does not have to be inaccessible. There are plenty of ways to earn your degree without acquiring enormous debt.

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