Alternative Options for Doctorate

by The Good Nurse The Good Nurse, MSN, RN, APRN, NP (New) New Student

Specializes in Family Nurse Practitioner. Has 3 years experience.

Hey, all! I just graduated with my MSN (FNP track-just passed the AANP!), and I already know that I plan on pursuing a doctorate degree. However, I'm not a huge fan of the current options for doctorate degrees in nursing. I feel like my program already hit on the main topics I would learn in a DNP (leadership, informatics, EBP, etc.) and I'm not too interested in completing more clinical hours/project hours for that degree. I am interested in a PhD because I'm a research/statistics nerd-but I'm afraid that degree wouldn't be put to much use because I don't plan on going into academia (I'm the sole financial support for my family). 

So my question is what are some other good/useful options for doctorate degrees for practicing APRNs? I have a lot of interests so I'm open to anything. 

Thank you!


saheckler, BSN, RN

Specializes in research. Has 13 years experience. 73 Posts

Congratulations on graduating and passing the AANP! 

I would highly recommend choosing the type of doctoral degree you want based on your career goals. You didn’t say why you want a doctoral degree, so I can’t tell if you want one because you have career aspirations that would require it, or it’s something you just want to do for yourself, etc. I’m in my 4th year of a nursing PhD now, and I would enthusiastically dissuade anyone from getting a PhD (or probably any doctorate period) unless it’s necessary for what you want to do, because it is absolutely brutal. (This may vary widely from program to program, but I think this is pretty consistent at schools that bring in major NIH funding or that are highly ranked, not that the various ranking methods are great).

I was told when I started out that if I could achieve my career goals without a PhD, then I shouldn’t get one because it’s not worth the sacrifices (e.g., money, time, physical and mental health, relationships with family, friends, significant others, etc.). I disregarded this advice. I have been really disappointed in academia and plan to leave, and although I will be able to put my PhD to use in a research career outside of academia, I could have done the same with a master’s in epi or health policy. I have to keep my plans a secret from all faculty in my department -- in a lot of PhD programs, it’s really frowned upon to acknowledge any other career beyond academia. This is a common experience in PhD programs unfortunately. I’m not sure if other doctoral programs have this type of stance, where they limit their idea of success to one very specific career type, but it might be something worth asking as you explore different types of programs and degrees to be sure you won’t be pigeonholed.

That said, since you are really interested in research and statistics and it sounds like the only thing holding you back is the pay in academia, it might be good to know that there are other things you can do with a nursing PhD. You could work in industry (e.g., pharmaceuticals), at a think tank (e.g., Rand, Mathematica) or nonprofit, or be an administrator, etc. Many of these positions pay really well (especially pharma) and much better than academia. Also, academia can pay pretty well, depending on the school (keep in mind that higher paying schools will also require a lot more hustle and weekly time commitment to get the volume of publications and grants necessary for tenure). A PhD is a research degree, so if you don’t plan to use a PhD for a research career, regardless of which type of research job you get, then I don't think it's worth your time. Also, some of the positions I described above would be possible with a master’s in public health, as long as you choose research heavy courses and really build your research and stats skills. So, I think a PhD in nursing could potentially be a good fit for you, with some caveats.

If you’re interested in education, you could consider an EDD. I don’t know a lot about it, just that it’s an option that nurses sometimes do. I don't know much about a DNP at all. You could consider a DrPH, but that would probably lead you to the lowest paying jobs of any of your options.

I hope some of my ramblings are helpful for you. It sounds like a PhD might be a good fit for your interests and skills, but I would do some hard thinking about whether it’s required for the career you want. No matter what, I would really recommend starting by thinking about what your career goals are, then working backwards to identify what you need to get there. A doctorate may not be necessary, and if it isn't, I wouldn't recommend it. 

Good luck! I’d love to hear back from you in this thread when you make a decision!


Specializes in NICU. Has 16 years experience. 1 Article; 6,677 Posts

I'm in a similar place in my program as saheckler. I have felt supported in my program, but it can be a struggle to perform well without sacrificing important family and personal things.

I would just add one career option to the above: Some hospitals or health systems hire nurse scientists to help nurses start EBP projects, publish articles and the like. I know a handful of people in these roles, all PhD-prepared. I don't think there are a ton of openings for the role though; in my current hospital system, there is one nurse scientist for 12 hospitals.  

Edited by EricJRN


Has 10 years experience. 460 Posts

Acutal PhDs are intense by nature. Prior to nursing, I was in the humanities field and PhDs were known soul suckers. Not only did you have to get into a good program, it had to be funded and your job prospects were dismal afterward even in academia. Not too many Indiana Jones positions out there LOL....

If you don't have a clear goal or purpose for a PhD, I would definitely avoid.


203bravo, MSN, APRN

1,202 Posts

On 5/24/2022 at 3:35 PM, saheckler said:

I would highly recommend choosing the type of doctoral degree you want based on your career goals.

this is the best advice that you can receive.