How a Doctoral Degree Could Catapult Your Career to New Heights



With most careers, more education creates more opportunities. If you’ve found yourself hungering for greater challenges in your nursing career, earning your doctoral degree could open up career paths that give you more autonomy and higher salary potential. Take a look at four career paths that might motivate you to head back to school.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

If you get your doctoral degree in nursing, you could be well on your way to becoming a nurse practitioner (NP). Back in 2004, the American Academy of Colleges of Nursing proposed that NPs should be required to have doctoral degrees. NPs earn an average of $95,070 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As America begins to experience a primary care doctor shortage, NPs have an unprecedented opportunity to fill in the gap. In partnership with a doctor, they can diagnose patients, order lab tests and write prescriptions for the most common primary care concerns.

Despite growing demand, NPs aren’t limited to primary care. Some popular areas of practice include orthopedics and sports medicine, emergency care, nephrology, endocrinology and oncology. NPs can work in a range of settings, from medical clinic to ambulatory surgery center to hospital, providing patients with more care choices. Becoming an NP is a great way for nurses to gain independence while making a profound difference in patients’ lives.

Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM)

A certified nurse-midwife (CNM) combines the wisdom of generations of midwives and doulas with sound medical training. Most CNMs attend births in hospitals, but some work in birthing centers or facilitate home births. More CNMs have doctoral degrees than any other type of advanced practice registered nurses (APRN). Midwives now attend nearly 10 percent of all live births in the U.S., according to the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM).

In addition to taking care of women during labor, delivery and postpartum periods, CNMs offer well woman care, provide breastfeeding and nutrition advice, discuss appropriate child care and prescribe medications when needed. After completing a graduate degree at a program accredited by ACNM, CNMs pass a rigorous national certification exam. As a CNM, you’ll earn an average salary of $92,230 per year, which will vary depending on where you work.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

A certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) administers anesthesia in many different patient settings. In addition to providing care in hospitals, medical clinics, dental practices and pain management clinics, CRNAs have a long history of providing care to military personnel on the front lines during war. In rural hospitals, CRNAs often provide all anesthesia care because anesthesiologists are in short supply. CRNAs provide general anesthesia for surgery as well as local and regional anesthesia for less invasive procedures.

Nurses who pursue CRNA certification must complete graduate degrees in programs accredited by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. They must have at least one year of experience as an RN in an acute care setting, and they must pass the national certification exam after they graduate. Because their positions carry great responsibility, CRNAs earn an average salary of $157,690 per year.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

In addition to performing traditional nurse roles, clinical nurse specialists (CNS) train other nurses to deliver more effective healthcare. CNSs usually develop specialties in one of the following categories:

  • Specific medical issues. A CNS might specialize in pain, stress management or wound care.
  • Care types. A CNS might specialize in psychiatry or in rehabilitative medicine.
  • Diseases. CNS specialties include oncology, diabetes and other specific diseases and disorders.
  • Certain facilities. Some CNSs specialize in emergency care or in critical care.
  • Populations. A CNS might specialize in geriatrics, pediatrics or other specific populations.

Many CNS graduate programs allow nurses to earn dual CNS and NP certification. After completing an accredited program, gaining clinical experience and passing a certification exam, CNSs combine advanced diagnostic skills with the ability both to train hospital staff and to provide personal patient education. CNS salaries cover a wide range, but the median annual salary is $94,487.

Only the Beginning

These four career paths are just a few of the options available to nurses with doctoral degrees. They can also become researchers and educators that make a significant impact on the future of medicine.

Irene Jackson is a healthcare recruiter who connects healthcare workers to contract-based jobs throughout North America. 

About the author: AlleyVoice

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