Study Nursing: MBA, Masters Degree, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a nursing degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a master's, MBA (Master of Business Administration) degree or a PhD in nursing as well as potential careers.
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Nursing Master's, MBAs and PhDs: Degrees at a Glance

To become a registered nurse, it's common to only need a bachelor's degree and often a license; however, a master's degree or PhD can be necessary for certain specialties. If you're interested in nursing administration and the business side of nursing, it can help your career options to earn a dual degree, which includes a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in combination with an MBA. A PhD is helpful if you wish to teach at a postsecondary level or go into medical research.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, opportunities in the field of nursing are increasing. This growth is due to technical developments in health care, an emphasis on preventative care and a large elderly population. Jobs for registered nurses with all levels of education were expected to increase by nearly 26% between 2010 and 2020. Positions for medical scientists were set to increase by 36%, while the increase for postgraduate professors was 17%.

Who is this degree for? People who are interested in advanced nursing practice and nursing administration Individuals who want to work in medical research or as a postsecondary professor
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Registered nurse ($66,000)*
- Nursing administrator ($86,000)*
- Postsecondary professor ($64,000)*
- Medical scientist/researcher ($76,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years fulltime 3-6 years after completing a master's degree program
Common Graduation Requirements - Coursework split between nursing and business
- Master's thesis/research paper
- Master's exams
- Varying amounts of experience in the field
- PhD qualifier exams
- Research residency
- Dissertation research proposal
- Dissertation
- Teaching requirement
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree in nursing or a related field
- Varying amounts of field experience
- Bachelor's or master's degree in nursing or related field
- Varying amounts of field experience
Online Availability Yes, but dual degree programs that combine a master's and an MBA are rare Very uncommon

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's Degree in Nursing and MBA

An MBA degree combined with a master's degree in nursing expands the education of a registered nurse or nurse practitioner and offers opportunities for executive and managerial roles in the health care system. Such a program incorporates business fundamentals and management theory with the core competencies of the professional nursing field, in addition to giving you the ability to apply your nursing knowledge to situations and challenges commonly faced by health care executives. However, not everyone interested in nursing is also interested in managing people or departments, not to mention the business side of medicine. It's best to carefully consider what aspect of nursing most interests you.

Careers are available as nurse educators, emergency nurse managers, nursing administrators, nurse managers and more. As one of these professionals, you'll be responsible for providing leadership within hospitals, nursing homes, private clinics and other health care establishments. Your responsibilities may include, but aren't limited to, resource management, patient-care, financial planning and managing multiple departments. After graduating, you'll be prepared to advance health care through research, teaching and leadership.

Pros and Cons


  • Some master's programs will enable you to gain licensure as a part of your education
  • Most master's programs will give you a great deal of valuable experience in the field, particularly through internships
  • Most of these programs will give you the leadership and communication skills you'll need for a successful career in medical administration
  • Some programs will allow you to attend school part time, which can be particularly useful if you're currently employed


  • Might not be necessary to move up in the ranks as a registered nurse since some administrative and management positions only call for a bachelor's degree and sometimes licensure
  • Getting a master's degree can be time consuming and expensive. If you're currently employed as a nurse fulltime, it can be extremely difficult to also earn your master's degree
  • Entrance to these programs can be competitive, often requiring recent testing, a GPA above 3.0, strong recommendations and previous experience in the field

Courses and Requirements

The majority of classes you'll probably take are designed for nurses interested in pursuing administrative roles. Chances are, you'll be taking a combination of medical, management and business classes. A few master's level nursing courses you might encounter include:

  • Advanced nursing roles
  • Ethics of nursing
  • Nursing management strategies

A handful of possible business-specific courses are:

  • Financial reporting and accounting
  • Organizational leadership
  • Medical information systems
  • International competition

In addition to your course load, you'll most likely be required to research and write a master's thesis and complete master's level exams. You'll also need to train and complete a considerable amount of work in the field, often at a hospital or clinic. Some schools have their own clinics attached to them where you can accomplish this.

Online Degree Programs

If you're currently working as a registered nurse or in a parallel field, you might not have the time to go to a university every day. In this case, there are online master's degree programs in nursing that can help. The requirements tend to be almost exactly the same as they are for on-campus programs. On the other hand, because hands-on experience is so important for nursing management, you might also want to consider a hybrid program that combines online courses and testing with real-world learning.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

The nursing specialty you choose can have a big impact on your career path. Job listings will often request that you specialize in a specific area, such as working with patients with Alzheimer's disease, for example. In many states, you'll be required to have your nursing license and you can also consider getting a post-master's advanced certificate.

Nursing technology has come a long way in recent years, and your knowledge of its latest developments can be helpful for management. Nursing itself is improved through the use of technologies ranging from wireless communication to electronic documentation to systems that manage workflow. These technologies are being used to increase productivity and lower costs in an increasingly strained health care system. By specializing in nursing technologies, or at least gaining substantial experience in the subject, you'll often give yourself an edge in today's job market.

Alternate Degree Options

As an alternative, you might consider earning a master's degree in health services administration. While these degree programs aren't designed specifically for nurses, they'll typically prepare you for similar administrative positions in the medical industry.

PhD in Nursing

PhD programs in nursing can cover a wide range of specializations. For example, you might choose to focus your studies on family heath care practices, physiological nursing or community health systems, just to name a few. Using these specializations, you can pursue a career either in academia as a postsecondary professor, as a medical researcher or as a combination of the two. You can also get a job as a medical researcher working for hospitals, clinics, the government, pharmaceutical companies or other medical institutions and corporations.

Earning a PhD in nursing isn't for everyone. If your primary interest is to become a practicing nurse or nurse manager, a PhD probably isn't necessary. Since most PhD programs are fulltime, it can also be quite difficult to meet the program requirements if you need to remain employed.

Pros and Cons


  • A PhD in nursing will enable you to get a high-level research job in academia, at public hospitals, private practices or for organizations such as pharmaceutical companies
  • You could potentially conduct research that could improve nursing and the medical system as a whole
  • You can start a career teaching nursing at the postsecondary level with the potential to earn tenure, which offers higher pay and job security


  • Enrolling in a nursing PhD program can be intensely competitive, often requiring at least a 3.5 GPA with a master's degree and at least a year's experience working as a nurse
  • Research and teaching positions are located in many locations, but to find the position you want, there's a fair chance that you'll need to be flexible about where you live
  • The American Federation of Teachers conducted a study in 2009 which concluded that only about 25% of postgraduate educators are on the tenure track or currently tenured*

Source: *Inside Higher Ed.

Courses and Requirements

The courses in a PhD nursing program tend to address three primary areas of study: the science of nursing, health science theory and cognate classes in other disciplines relating to nursing. What you take will depend largely on your chosen area of expertise. The following are just a handful of subjects that you could potentially delve into:

  • Cardiovascular risk factors
  • Pain management
  • Disease and vulnerable populations
  • Sleep and fatigue in women
  • Newborn and maternity care

In addition to coursework, you'll probably be required to complete research residencies, independent study and qualifying exams. These factors will ultimately lead to your dissertation proposal, research and dissertation. Your dissertation will be an original work that adds new research and ideas to the field of nursing.

Online Degree Programs

Although accredited online PhD programs in nursing are rare to nonexistent, you might be able to complete certain tasks online, such as day-to-day communication with certain professors and certain types of research. Because these programs tend to be very hands-on and research intensive, however, it's usually necessary to attend classes on campus so that you can work closely with professionals.

Stand Out with this Degree

The job markets for becoming a professor or a researcher can both be fiercely competitive. If you can have your dissertation and other research projects published in a medical journal, this can be helpful for validating your work in the eyes of potential employers.

Completing an internship in your specialized field can help you boost your resume. For example, if your focus is on disease prevention and HIV/AIDS research, an internship in a respected HIV/AIDS research facility could be helpful. Also, as is the case with earning a master's degree, knowledge of nursing technology is not only useful but also often mandatory.

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