Best Doctorate Degrees in Nursing Education

Oct 20, 2021

Nursing Education Doctorate Overview

While there are many doctoral degree programs available for students interested in the field of nursing, such as doctoral degrees in nursing, health science, or human services, those specifically interested in teaching nursing techniques and skills to others can pursue a doctorate in nursing education. Different types of doctoral degrees in the field have different focuses, but, in general, these degree programs aim to help improve the field of healthcare by training doctoral students to provide quality education to future nurses. Doctoral programs in nursing education commonly include training in research, leadership, and education. There is a high demand for professionals who are well-trained as nurse educators, which can help graduates find jobs.

What Doctoral Degrees in Nursing Education Are Available?

There are three primary doctoral programs available in nursing education. Students who are primarily interested in research can pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Nursing Education or in nursing with a concentration in nursing education. Graduates of these programs may become scientists and researchers. Another popular choice is pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) with a concentration or track in nursing education or educational leadership. These programs are designed for advanced practice nurses (APRNs) to become independent care providers. Students in these programs can also pair the degree with another professional doctoral degree in areas such as medicine or psychology. A final, less common degree option is earning a Doctor of Education (EdD) in Nursing Education. These programs focus on training students to lead change in nursing education and pursue careers as educators or faculty members. Despite some of the differences in focus of these different degree programs, coursework, program outcomes, and career outcomes can overlap.

Admissions Requirements for Nursing Education Doctoral Programs

Students should be sure to carefully research the admissions process for their school(s) of interest, as they vary across institutions. Typically, students are required to fill out an application that is usually posted on the school or program's website. Many doctoral degree programs in nursing education do not require standardized test scores, such as the GRE. However, many of these programs do require various supplemental materials with the application. For instance, it is fairly common for these programs to require students to submit their transcripts for all prior education. Students may also need to include a letter of recommendation, a resume or CV, and/or a statement of purpose. Some programs also include required essay responses that may ask students about their background, academic goals, and career goals.

Educational & Professional Prerequisites for Nursing Education Doctorate Students

Applicants to nursing education doctoral programs also usually need to meet a range of educational and professional requirements. Most, if not all, of these doctoral programs require students to hold at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. Typically, this degree needs to come from an accredited (the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)) institution. Some programs may require students to have a minimum GPA of 3.0 or higher for their MSN degree. Applicants usually need to have a current RN (registered nurse) license and may need to meet a program's experience requirements. For example, some programs may recommend that students have at least 2 years of teaching experience, while other programs may require that students have access to a healthcare facility for practice hours and other hands-on learning.

Accreditation for Nursing Education Doctorate Programs

It is common for schools that offer doctoral degree programs in nursing education to be regionally accredited, but not all doctoral programs in nursing education hold program-level accreditation. Regional accreditation may be from organizations such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), but is general in nature and applies to the various degree levels and subject areas that schools offer. Program-level accreditation is subject-specific and may be preferred by employers, as it indicates that programs have met standards put in place to best prepare students for careers in the given field. In the case of doctoral nursing education programs, some of these programs are accredited by the ACEN.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Doctorate in Nursing Education?

There are some doctoral degree programs in nursing education that are designed to be completed in as few as 28 months. There are also online programs that can be completed in 3 years. However, some programs are designed to be completed in the more traditional 4-years that is common for many doctoral degrees across various fields. How fast a student completes their final project or dissertation can affect this time to degree completion, as well as other factors, such as course load, transfer credit, or taking the program full-time vs. part-time.

Nursing Education Doctoral Coursework

Many doctoral programs in nursing education require between 48 and 66 credits of coursework. While some of these programs offer online graduate courses in nursing education, many programs are available on-campus, and some online programs include in-person practice hour requirements or residencies. Typically, students have a range of required courses that they have to take. These courses may be broken up into different sections, such as core courses, nursing education courses, and research courses. Students could be required to take core courses in areas such as:

  • Curriculum design and assessment
  • Evidence-based teaching
  • Evaluation strategies
  • Learning theories and teaching methods
  • Qualitative research
  • Learning in nursing education

Depending on the format of the program, some programs include elective courses. Students can then explore additional areas of interest and/or areas pertaining to their research. Electives may cover a range of healthcare-related topics, such as healthcare finance, nursing informatics, health information technology, or health policy.

Preparing Your Nursing Education Dissertation

Doctoral programs in nursing education typically conclude with a final project. For PhD and EdD programs, this usually means completing a dissertation. Students may be required to pass a comprehensive exam or certification examination prior to starting their dissertation work. Then, programs usually break the process up into steps to help students complete their research and dissertation. Students may begin by taking a doctoral research colloquium or other course that introduces them to research methods and topics. Students also commonly need to complete a dissertation proposal or doctoral proposal research. This allows students to touch base with their committee and ensure they are on the right track for gathering information for their dissertation. Once students have completed their dissertation, they must complete an oral defense and make any corrections to their dissertation that the committee makes.

Students in DNP programs typically complete a final capstone project. This is still usually a research-based project, but is shorter in nature than a dissertation. Programs may split the process up across several different project courses.

What Other Types of Nursing Education Degrees Are There?

Students interested in teaching other nurses can pursue a degree in nursing education. Programs specifically in nursing education can be some of the best nursing graduate degrees for these students, but undergraduate degree programs in the field are not usually available. This is because undergraduate programs are designed to prepare students for their RN license to become nurses. Once students get to the graduate level, they can begin specializing in different areas of nursing, including nursing education. Explore some of the available degree programs in nursing below.

Nursing Education Associate Degrees

Associate degree programs in nursing are offered as Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), Associate of Science (AS), or Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees. These are designed as 2-year degrees that help prepare students for RN licensure, but can also be transferred to help students complete a 4-year degree. Students usually receive hands-on training during clinical experiences at local hospitals and other healthcare settings. Some of these programs are accredited by nursing organizations, such as the ACEN.

Nursing Education Bachelor's Degrees

A bachelor's degree in nursing is the highest level of education for earning RN licensure. These degrees are usually offered as Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs, but there is also a range of programs designed specifically for students who are already working in the field of nursing who want to earn their 4-year degree. For example, there are Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)-to-BSN programs and online RN-to-BSN programs available. While some of these programs are offered online, many are actually a hybrid format, as there are usually hands-on learning requirements for these programs. Many of these programs are accredited by groups like the CCNE.

Nursing Education Master's Degrees

At the master's level, students can begin specializing in different areas of the field, including nursing education. Students can most commonly earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), and some of these programs offer tracks or concentrations in nurse educator. There are also bridge programs available at this level, such as RN-to-MSN and BSN-to-MSN programs. These programs still typically include some experiential learning components, but can be offered in online formats. Students can usually earn their MSN in 2 years.

Nursing Education Graduate Certificates

There is also a range of nursing certificates available, as well as related areas, such as public health graduate certificate programs. There are also graduate certificate programs specifically in nursing education that may require as few as 9 credits of coursework. These programs are designed to equip students with specialized knowledge in the field and may allow students to count some credits from the certificate program towards an advanced degree in the field. Students in these programs who already have a master's or doctoral degree in an area of nursing may qualify for the National League for Nursing (NLN) Certification for Nurse Educators.

Career Options & Salary Outlook for Nursing Education Doctoral Graduates

Earning a doctorate in nursing education or another nursing field is a great way for nurses to further advance their careers. For instance, graduates of DNP Nursing Education programs generally make a higher salary than RNs. With advanced leadership skills, students can also pursue related, high positions in the field of nursing, such as becoming a nursing director. Graduates with their doctoral degree in nursing education can work in a range of healthcare-related settings, including hospitals, physicians' offices, research labs, colleges, and more. Find out more about a few career options here.

Become a Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners are considered APRNs and usually need to have at least a master's degree. However, DNP programs prepare students for advanced roles as nurse practitioners and often allow students to specialize in a specific field of nursing, like nursing education. APRNs still have to have an RN license, as well as an APRN license that comes after passing a national certification exam. Nurse practitioners can also pursue a range of certifications that are offered by various organizations, including the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB).

Nurse practitioners can work as primary and specialty care providers and use their advanced nursing skills to care for patients and their families. These professionals may consult with doctors, but are usually able to prescribe medication, request lab procedures, and more. Those in nursing education focus on training other nurses to do these various tasks.

Become a Postsecondary Teacher

Those interested in nursing education may also consider teaching future nurses at the postsecondary level as a postsecondary teacher. Usually, these educators have to have a doctoral degree in their field, but some institutions could only require a master's degree, such as smaller community colleges. Depending on the field that they teach, educators may need to hold industry-related licenses and certifications. In the case of nursing, teachers may need to have an RN license and other certifications in their area of specialty.

Postsecondary teachers typically play several different roles. Although they primarily teach multiple courses in their given area, these teachers may also be responsible for advising students, serving on various committees, and/or conducting research in their field. Postsecondary teachers usually have some freedom when it comes to creating the curriculum and assessments for their courses.

Become a Health Education Specialist

Some students interested in nursing education may make the jump to community or public health by becoming health education specialists. These professionals typically need at least a bachelor's degree, but some positions may require a master's or doctoral degree. Many positions require these specialists to hold the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential from the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc.

Health education specialists can work in a variety of settings, including healthcare facilities, public health departments, and nonprofit organizations. Their primary goal is to understand the health concerns and issues in a given community and address those issues by creating programs and resources to educate the community about said issues. This requires them to conduct research, develop and evaluate programs, and oversee the staff of community health workers.

Nursing Education Professional Organizations

There is no shortage of professional organizations available in various areas of nursing. Some of these organizations are broad in nature, while others are more specific for different specialty areas within the field. These organizations are designed to provide nurses at all levels with support and resources for their careers. Many of these organizations offer certifications and ways for students to advance their careers with professional development opportunities. A couple of examples of nursing organizations include:

  • Professional Nurse Educators Group- The PNEG is a national group designed for nurse educators that does not require membership dues. The group does offer an annual conference and access to various nursing journals.
  • National League for Nursing- The NLN is a broader nursing group, but offers specific resources for nurse educators, such as a scholarship and professional certification. The organization is also involved in advocacy initiatives, offers professional development programs, and has two centers dedicated specifically to nursing education.

How Much Does a Doctorate in Nursing Education Cost?

The cost of earning a doctorate in nursing education varies by school and type of student. For instance, some of these programs charge a flat tuition rate, whether students are in-state or out-of-state. Students should be sure to check whether these tuition rates include fees. Other schools may charge tuition per credit hour, but the rate may vary based on full-time vs. part-time status or other factors. Many schools also do have fees in addition to tuition, such as college or health fees. While it varies greatly between schools, tuition per credit hour for these programs may cost more than $650. Students should also consider other expenses, like books and cost of living.

Scholarships & Funding Opportunities for a Nursing Education Doctorate

Since earning a doctorate can get expensive, many schools provide various financial aid options. Doctoral students can always fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if they qualify for any federal or state loans. However, some schools with these programs offer different discounts to help lower the price, such as discounts for military service members. Other programs may participate in the federal work-study program and/or offer assistantships, where students work to help cover the cost of tuition.

Students are also free to pursue scholarships and grants from outside organizations, as well as from their specific college or university. For instance, the NLN Foundation offers a Nursing Education Scholarship that offers up to $8,000 per award. Master's and doctoral students are eligible if they have completed at least 1 year of their program. The application process is very detailed and includes multiple parts, including recommendations, an explanation of goals as a nurse educator, and a budget narrative.

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