Key research areas in nursing practice for PhD graduate programs

Happy Nurse

Nursing, as a critical component of the healthcare system, has evolved into a field that is rich with opportunities for research and development. The pursuit of a PhD in nursing is more than an academic achievement; it is a commitment to advancing the field of healthcare. Nurses with PhDs play a pivotal role in shaping the future of healthcare. Their work often leads to groundbreaking discoveries in disease management, patient care techniques, and healthcare delivery methods.

By conducting rigorous research, they contribute to the body of knowledge that informs evidence-based practice. Their research leads to the development of new treatments and interventions that can significantly improve patient outcomes. These professionals ensure nursing practices are based on the latest scientific evidence, thereby enhancing the quality of care. Here is a look at what is involved in earning a PhD in nursing, along with key research areas in nursing practice and how they contribute to enhancing the quality of care.

How to obtain a PhD in nursing

The journey to earning a PhD in nursing is both challenging and rewarding, offering a path to advanced clinical research and leadership roles in healthcare. A PhD in nursing is a significant commitment, often requiring three to six years of rigorous study. It is designed for those who are passionate about nursing research, education, and leadership.

Complete a BSN

The journey begins with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This four-year undergraduate program provides the foundational knowledge and skills essential for a nursing career. A BSN program covers a range of subjects from basic sciences to specific nursing courses, offering both theoretical knowledge and practical clinical experience.

Pass the NCLEX-RN exam

After obtaining a BSN, the next crucial step is passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). This exam tests to see whether students have acquired the knowledge and skills needed for the safe and effective practice of nursing at the entry-level. Study guides, practice exams, and reviews of course materials can help students pass this exam. It is also useful to learn more about the computerized adaptive testing format of the NCLEX-RN.

Gain clinical experience

Although it is not always a formal requirement, gaining practical experience in the nursing field can be invaluable. Working as a Registered Nurse (RN) allows graduates to apply their knowledge in real-world settings, understand the intricacies of patient care, and identify areas of interest for further study. This enhances critical thinking and decision-making skills while identifying specific interests for students’ Master’s thesis or PhD dissertation.

Complete an MSN

Pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a critical step toward a PhD. This degree allows a nurse to specialize in a particular area of nursing and provides advanced training in research methods and leadership. It provides the advanced knowledge and research skills needed for PhD studies while enabling students to take on specialized clinical, educational, or administrative roles.

Apply for a PhD program in nursing

With a BSN, RN licensure, clinical experience, and an MSN, students are well-prepared to apply for a PhD program in Nursing. PhD programs are research-intensive and focus on preparing students for leadership roles in nursing education, research, and practice.

If one wonders what can you do with a PhD in nursing, the answer is that there is excellent personal and professional potential for nursing PhD graduates. Reputable institutions such as Wilkes University offer online PhD nursing programs, which prepare students for career advancement, and leadership opportunities, and provide them with the capabilities to address complex patient issues. These are just some of the elements to look forward to, but PhD nurses also have the ability to influence healthcare policies and practices and work outside of the hospital environment.

Key research areas of focus

Outlined below are some of the key research areas nursing PhD students can expect to explore.


Leadership in nursing goes beyond managing a team; it involves pioneering change and inspiring innovation. It requires a deep understanding of healthcare systems, policies, and the human element in patient care. Nurses in leadership roles are expected to be advocates for quality care, innovators in healthcare practices, and mentors for their teams. Research in this area can focus on developing effective leadership styles, decision-making processes, and strategies to handle the challenges encountered in healthcare settings. By fostering a culture of leadership among nurses, healthcare organizations can ensure more efficient management, improved patient care, and a supportive environment for the healthcare workforce.

A nurse leader must be adept at navigating complex healthcare systems. This involves understanding healthcare policies and regulations and being able to work effectively within these frameworks to enhance service delivery. Nurse leaders often participate in policy formulation and implementation. Their firsthand experience and knowledge are invaluable in shaping policies that are practical, efficient, and beneficial to patient care. With the healthcare landscape constantly changing, nurse leaders must be lifelong learners who can adapt and lead effectively in this dynamic environment.

Effective nurse leaders can make informed decisions, leading to better patient care and resource management. Nurses with a PhD often hold leadership positions in healthcare settings. They serve as mentors to other healthcare professionals, fostering a culture of excellence and continuous improvement in their field. Strong leadership also contributes to better team collaboration, enhancing team dynamics and therefore reducing errors while enhancing patient safety. Nurse leaders are pivotal in implementing new technologies and practices, continuously improving healthcare delivery.

Cultural competency in nursing

With the increasing diversity in patient populations, cultural competency has become an essential aspect of nursing practice. This refers to the ability of healthcare providers to deliver services that meet the cultural, social, and linguistic needs of patients. Research in this area can explore strategies for delivering culturally sensitive care, understanding diverse health beliefs and practices, and addressing health disparities. PhD graduates can contribute by developing frameworks and tools to enhance cultural competency among healthcare providers.

Components of cultural competency

  • Awareness: Nurses need to be aware of their cultural backgrounds and biases. This self-awareness is the first step in understanding how personal experiences and beliefs might affect patient care.
  • Knowledge of different cultural practices: This involves learning about various cultural beliefs, values, and practices. Nurses must understand the cultural backgrounds of their patients to provide care that is respectful and appropriate.
  • Cross-cultural communication: Effective communication is vital in nursing. Nurses must develop the skills they need to communicate effectively with patients from diverse cultural backgrounds, which may include learning new languages or understanding non-verbal cues.
  • Attitudes: Nurses should cultivate an attitude of openness and flexibility toward cultural differences. This means being willing to adapt care practices to meet the cultural needs of patients.
  • Policy advocacy: Cultural competency also involves advocating for policies in healthcare institutions that support and promote cultural diversity and inclusivity.

Understanding and respecting cultural differences leads to more equitable healthcare delivery, thereby reducing health disparities. Culturally competent care increases patient comfort and satisfaction, leading to improved satisfaction, patient engagement, and outcomes. Effective communication across cultures improves the accuracy of diagnoses and the effectiveness of treatment plans.

Clinical practice

Clinical practice research is fundamental in advancing nursing care. It involves systematic investigation designed to develop, refine, and evaluate nursing practices. It encompasses a range of research methodologies, from quantitative studies and randomized controlled trials to qualitative research and case studies. This area covers a wide range of topics, including patient safety, evidence-based practice, and innovative care models. PhD graduates can contribute by conducting research that tests new interventions, improves patient care techniques, and evaluates the effectiveness of different care models.

Research in clinical practice ensures that nursing interventions are based on the best available evidence, which often leads to improved patient outcomes. Clinical practice research also evaluates the quality of care that is provided and seeks ways to improve it. This might include developing new nursing protocols or refining existing ones to enhance patient care. The findings of clinical practice can influence healthcare policies at both the institutional and governmental levels. This ensures that healthcare decisions are based on the latest and most reliable evidence. Exploring new models of care during clinical practices can lead to more efficient and effective healthcare delivery systems. Focusing on patient safety reduces the incidence of medical errors and improves overall healthcare quality.

As the healthcare landscape continues to change, the role of clinical practice in nursing will become increasingly important, making it an indispensable aspect of modern healthcare. The continued investment in and focus on clinical practice research will ensure that nursing care remains effective, evidence-based, and responsive to the needs of patients.

Disease management

Disease management is a critical area of research, especially with the increasing prevalence of chronic illnesses. This refers to the coordinated and comprehensive care provided to patients with chronic or long-term illnesses. It involves not just treating the disease’s symptoms, but also managing the various aspects of a patient’s health and lifestyle that could impact their condition.

This holistic approach is crucial for diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and asthma, which require ongoing management. Research can focus on developing effective strategies for managing chronic conditions, improving patient education, and promoting self-care practices. PhD graduates can play a key role in creating evidence-based guidelines and interventions for disease management.

Effective disease management strategies lead to better control of chronic conditions, reducing complications and hospitalizations. By focusing on comprehensive care, nurses can address not just the physical aspects of a disease, but also the psychological and social factors that affect health. Regular monitoring and management allow for the early detection of potential complications. Nurses can intervene promptly, preventing conditions from worsening and thereby maintaining better overall patient health.

Nurses also play a crucial role in educating patients about their conditions and how to manage them. In addition, educating patients on self-care practices enhances their ability to manage their health. This can decrease the need for acute care services, reducing overall healthcare costs.


Nursing policy research is crucial for shaping the future of healthcare. Policy in nursing is often an underappreciated yet crucial element in shaping the quality of care, patient outcomes, and the overall efficacy of healthcare systems. This area involves examining and influencing policies that affect nursing practice, healthcare delivery, and patient outcomes. Research can focus on the impact of healthcare policies, advocacy for policy changes, and the development of new policy frameworks.

Nursing policies often intersect with broader healthcare policies. They address issues such as staffing ratios, patient care standards, nurse training requirements, and ethical considerations in patient care. These policies are informed by ongoing research and data analysis, ensuring they are aligned with the latest advancements in medical science and healthcare delivery.

Research provides evidence-based insights for policymakers, leading to more effective healthcare policies. Policies provide a framework for standardizing care across various healthcare settings to ensure consistency in patient care, regardless of where or by whom it is delivered, thereby improving the overall quality of care. They also empower nurses to advocate for their profession and the patients they serve. Effective policies can streamline healthcare delivery, ensuring better access and quality of care for patients. They ensure that nurses are well-equipped to handle the complexities of modern healthcare. This includes updates on the latest medical technologies, treatment protocols, and patient care techniques.

By improving care quality and reducing errors, nursing policies contribute to cost-effectiveness in healthcare. They help to reduce the financial burden on healthcare systems by preventing costly medical complications and lengthy hospital stays. As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve, policy in nursing will undoubtedly remain a cornerstone for driving the best healthcare practices forward.


Education is the foundation of nursing practice. It plays a pivotal role in shaping the quality of care, improving patient outcomes, and boosting the overall efficacy of healthcare systems. Research in this area can explore innovative teaching methodologies, curriculum development, and the integration of technology in nursing education. For PhD graduates, contributing to nursing education research means shaping the future generation of nurses. It can equip nurses with the skills, knowledge, and competencies needed to meet the challenges of modern healthcare.

Advanced education methods lead to more competent nurses, directly impacting the quality of patient care. Moreover, continuous education ensures that nurses are up to date with the latest practices and technologies, which means they will practice the most current and effective care methods.

Nursing PhD students have numerous research opportunities

For PhD students in nursing, research opportunities are diverse and impactful. By delving into areas such as leadership, cultural competency, clinical practice, disease management, policy, and education, they can significantly contribute to advancing the nursing profession and healthcare. The goal is to enhance the quality of care, improve patient outcomes, and offer overall healthcare benefits, thereby shaping a more effective and equitable healthcare system for the future.

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