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PhD in Nursing Explained

PhD in Nursing Explained

Marijke Durning | NursingLink

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When a nurse makes the decision to further their career through obtaining a doctoral degree, the question many people ask is “Why?” When Jacobson told others about her study plans, people were confused. “Some people asked why I didn’t go to medical school,” she said. “Others wondered why I’d spend so much time and energy in a low-paying profession.” The question is hardly surprising, particularly when entry-level nurses also get that question: “Why are you going to be a nurse? Why don’t you be a doctor instead?”


The surprised reaction, shouldn’t be, well, surprising. The fact is, the nursing education system is a mystery to many people – there are so many levels, from the one-year LPN diplomas, right on up to the PhDs. In fact, unless a nursing student has an instructor who is PhD-prepared, it’s very likely that they may not even know the option exists.

Asma A. Taha, RN, PhD, assistant professor at California State University San Bernardino, and CPNP (certified pediatric nurse practitioner) at Loma Linda University Medical Center, obtained her BSN in Jordan, her home country. There, she was exposed to several nurses who had obtained their PhD from countries around the world. Many were educated in the U.S. and had returned to Jordan to teach. “I have thought about getting a PhD since I immigrated to the U.S. in 1999,” she said. “Nursing education is very advanced and many programs are available to prepare nurse scientists.” While at first she, too, received the “why not become a doctor?” question, now she said she gets “more appreciation than odd reactions!”

Is a PhD Right for You?

It’s a long journey to getting a PhD, but if this option interests you, you could begin preparing early for the trip.

To be considered for a PhD program, you must have a master’s degree, and to have a master’s degree, you must have a bachelor’s. If you have a BSN, many master’s programs prefer that you have some nursing experience before you apply. They want to know that you can put your academic learning into practice. For this reason, it is very important to thoroughly research the nursing programs that interest you. If your bachelor’s degree isn’t in nursing, you will have to apply to a direct-entry MSN program, which is typically three years instead of two, with the first year composed of nursing courses and practice.

Life-Long Learning

Nurses never stop learning, regardless of the level of education obtained. “Working on the PhD helped me to recognize the importance to strive to be a life-long learner,” Mick said. “You really don’t know what you don’t know until you learn about it.”

Perhaps Taha sums it up best by invoking Florence Nightingale’s quote: “How very little can be done under the spirit of fear. Do not be afraid to be great. You are called to duty, so do the best and aim high.”

Next: 5 Reasons to Get a Doctorate Degree in Nursing >>

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