Background: Little is known about PhD-prepared nurses employed at Nordic university hospitals, how they are organised, what their practices look like or what career pathway they have chosen. Aims: The purpose was to investigate and compare the prevalence of PhD-prepared nurses employed at university hospitals in the Nordic countries, to investigate what functions they fulfil and what research activities they undertake and to document how they describe their ideal work life. Methods: A descriptive cross-sectional study. An electronic questionnaire was sent to 245 PhD-prepared nurses working at a university hospital in one of six Nordic countries and 166 responses were achieved (response rate 67%). Descriptive analyses were performed using SPSS Statistics. Results: The study found notable differences among PhD-prepared nurses employed at university hospitals with respect to work function; organisational structure; satisfaction about time split between research and practice; and the mean scores of time spend on research, clinical practice and teaching, supervision and administration. Conclusions: In order to succeed with capacity building among the nursing workforce, collaboration and networking with other researchers and close contact to clinical practice is important. The role of the hospital-based, PhD-prepared nurse needs to be better described and defined to ensure that evidence-based care is provided.