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PhD in Nursing Explained

PhD in Nursing Explained

Marijke Durning | NursingLink

What would Florence Nightingale think if she came back to life for a day? Would her goal of making nursing a respectable profession have been met? And what of Linda Richards (born Malinda Ann Judson Richards), the first professionally trained American nurse? What would she think if she saw that not only are nurses now trained according to strict guidelines, but they may now obtain a doctorate, a PhD, in nursing?

The first bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) has been around since 1937, awarded by Yale University. Interestingly, it was 13 years before, in 1924, when the first doctorate in nursing education was awarded by Columbia University. However, it wasn’t until 1956 that there were graduate degrees specifically for nursing as a science, also from Columbia University.

Not too soon after, other universities began awarding higher degrees in nursing, and the first PhDs in nursing research came from the University of Pittsburgh and New York University; the first Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS) came from Boston University.

The Difference Between Doctorate Degrees in Nursing

A bachelor’s degree prepares RNs at a university level; a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) delves deeper into specific aspects of nursing, such as anesthesiology or geriatric care; but why are there different doctorate degrees, the PhD, the DNS and the Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP)?

The PhD (Doctorate in Philosophy in Nursing) is the highest possible degree and prepares graduates for teaching and research. Gloria Jacobson RN, PhD, Dean and professor at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, said she worked towards a PhD in nursing because her goal was to teach. “The handwriting was on the wall – if you wanted to teach, then you need the terminal degree,” she said.

JoAnn Mick, PhD, MBA, RN, and Director of nursing research at Harris County Hospital District in Houston, obtained her PhD to focus on nursing research. “My PhD program connected research to clinical practice in a meaningful way for me, and provided insight that I have strived to share with other nurses,” she said. “Achieving the doctoral degree provided a strong knowledge base for understanding how nurses can identify clinical questions in their daily practice and make meaningful professional contributions to improve nursing practice and patient outcomes with research.”

The DNS was developed in the 1970s out of need for an advanced degree focusing on clinical nursing. As time went by, the DNS programs began to be lose favor as they weren’t all that different from PhD programs. The result was a blending of the two: the DNP.

The DNP program is directed at helping nurses who have an MSN and are advanced practice nurses. By obtaining the DNP, advanced practice nurses are placing more emphasis on their particular concentrations. However, the nursing community is still at odds about this particular degree. Unlike a PhD, which is well-accepted in the medical community for bringing an emphasis to nursing research, teaching, and the general clinical aspects of nursing, the DNP, like it’s predecessor, the DNS is far less common.

Criticism from master’s level nurses suggests that the DNP is too restricting and specialized, while the purpose of the doctorate level is to build on research and teaching. Furthermore, some say the MSN program prepares nurses for the clinical aspects needed, making the DNP redundant. That being said, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has declared that by 2015, nurse practitioners will have to have a doctorate to be allowed to practice.

Next: Why Not Be a Doctor? >>


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