Nurses who seek to become top administrators in hospitals or who want to teach in university nursing programs often seek doctoral degrees. In 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing endorsed the idea that advanced level nursing would move from requiring a master’s degree to requiring a doctorate by the year 2015. It's safe to assume that nurses with doctorates will become more common over time.

Undergraduate Degree Requirements

For nursing students who wish to eventually earn the terminal degree in nursing, it all starts with the undergraduate courses. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing consists of both nursing coursework and general education coursework. These programs generally take four years of full-time study and also require that the student do supervised clinical rotations in different health-care settings. A student attending part-time can expect the program to take five to eight years, depending on the number of credit hours taken at a time.

Master's Degree Requirements

Advanced practice registered nurses, such as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, clinical nurse specialists and certified nurse mid-wives, traditionally enter the field by getting a master’s degree. A master’s degree with one specialty typically is 36 credit hours in length. Most students can complete their master’s in 18 to 24 months of full-time study. Part-time study could double that time or could take even longer. Some students choose dual programs such as the MSN/MBA (master of science in nursing/master of business administration) or the MSN/MPH (master of science in nursing/master of public health). In these cases, the time spent could be twice as long as the single subject master’s.

Doctor of Nursing Practice Requirements

The Doctor of Nursing Practice is a terminal degree that focuses on turning research into daily practice. It is a hands-on program that prepares nurses for leadership positions in healthcare. This program is typically 36 to 40 credit hours and can usually be completed in two years of full-time study, including summer semesters.

Ph.D. in Nursing Requirements

A traditional Ph.D. in nursing is focused more on research than on practical applications. Many Ph.D. recipients go on to teach or do more extensive research in university settings. These programs require that the student research and write a dissertation as part of the degree. In this type of degree program, the coursework, teaching, research and dissertation take at least 2 1/2 years, but often longer depending on how long it takes to complete the dissertation.