Top Careers for RNs with a Doctorate in Nursing

Nursing is a calling for most RNs, and many want to continue their education to further their careers and take an even greater leadership role in the field. A doctorate in nursing is the terminal degree for nurses who want to expand their current roles, move into management and leadership positions, conduct clinical research or pursue employment in higher education.

A number of career possibilities exist for nurses with a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

Here are some of the top jobs that are available for nurses with a doctorate in nursing.

Nurse faculty

A career in nursing education is a great option for nurses who want to prepare future nurses and are interested in nursing research. The shortage of qualified nursing faculty has been well documented by nursing organizations and in professional research.

A survey released by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in October 2018 found a total of 1,715 vacant faculty positions at 872 nursing schools, with a national vacancy rate of 7.9%. More than 90% of those vacancies were for faculty positions requiring or preferring a doctoral degree, the survey found.

A PhD in Nursing is a research-focused degree and is generally the most common doctoral degree for nurse faculty, although some nurse educators hold a DNP in nursing. The average salary for nursing instructors and teachers in higher education was $81,300 in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, while those on the higher end of the pay scale can make $130,000 or more.

While salaries for nurse educators may not go as high as some occupations with advanced nursing degrees, faculty members typically work shorter hours and may face less stress than most practicing nurses.

Nurse anesthetist

One of the more lucrative career options for advanced practice registered nurses with a doctoral degree is that of nurse anesthetist. Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) administer anesthesia to patients for surgical and other medical procedures and are the sole anesthesia providers in nearly all rural hospitals, according to the AACN.

The average annual salary for nurse anesthetists was nearly $175,000 in 2018. In several states, such as Montana, California, Iowa, Oregon and Wisconsin, average annual wages for CRNAs top $200,000, according to BLS.

The most common doctoral degrees for nurse anesthetists are the DNP or Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP). By 2025, the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs, which accredits nurse anesthesia programs in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, will require all new CRNAs to have doctoral degrees.

Nurse practitioner

A doctorate in nursing also is very valuable to those who are looking to become nurse practitioners. NPs are “clinicians who assess, diagnose and treat acute chronic illnesses, as well as counsel, coordinate care and educate patients regarding their illnesses,” according to the website of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

NPs work in a variety of settings, including private practice, hospital outpatient clinics, inpatient hospital units, emergency rooms, urgent care facilities, community health centers and Federally Qualified Health Centers.

Working as a nurse practitioner comes with many benefits. NPs have greater authority in diagnosing and treating patients and prescribing medications, and many states now allow nurse practitioners to practice independently without physician oversight.

Nurse practitioners also make significantly higher salaries than other nurses, with average annual earnings of about $110,000. While a doctorate in nursing is not required to become a nurse practitioner, the AACN supports moving the standard preparation level for advanced nursing practice from a master’s to a doctoral degree. A growing number of students that are considering careers as NPs are enrolling in DNP programs.

Nurse leader

Nurses who want to move into top management and leadership roles in hospitals, nursing homes and other health systems can benefit from a doctorate in nursing.

Some of those positions include CNO, chief nurse executive, director of nursing, nursing administrator, nurse manager and health system president or CEO. A 2019 survey of nurse leaders conducted by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership found that most nursing leaders’ annual salaries ranged from $90,000 to $169,000, with those at the top end of the pay scale earning more than $250,000 a year.

While a doctorate in nursing may not be required for all of these positions, it can certainly help improve a nurse’s chances of moving into leadership or management roles.

Nurse scientist/researcher

Nurse scientists or nurse researchers are dedicated to the study of nursing research. They conduct scientific studies, collect data and present their findings, often partnering with researchers from other fields, such as medicine, pharmacy and nutrition to address complex healthcare questions or problems, according to an article.

While nurse researchers often work as faculty at colleges and universities, they also can work at hospitals, research laboratories or other healthcare facilities. Many of these jobs require a PhD in Nursing or DNP degree. The average salary for a nurse scientist is about $95,000.

Nurse informatics

For nurses with an interest in information technology and analytics, a career in nurse informatics may be a good option. Nursing informatics is “a specialty that integrates nursing science, computer science and information science to manage and communicate data, information, knowledge and wisdom in nursing practice,” according to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

A doctorate in nursing is not required for all nurse informatics roles, but it could be beneficial when applying for higher-level positions such as chief nurse informatics officer. Salaries vary for nursing informatics roles depending upon skill level and geographic area, but the average salary for a chief nursing informatics officer is $109,072, with those in some areas of the country making upward of $200,000.

While these are some of the potential roles for nurses with doctoral degrees, many other career options are available. Some of the other roles that can benefit from an advanced nursing degree include clinical nurse specialist, certified nurse-midwife (CNM) and public health and public policy nurses.

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