Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Demystifying PhDs: A Review of Doctorate Programs Designed to Fulfil the Needs of the Next Generation of Nursing Professionals

Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Demystifying PhDs: A Review of Doctorate Programs Designed to Fulfil the Needs of the Next Generation of Nursing Professionals

Article excerpt


For universities internationally, a well regarded Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program that attracts highly qualified, motivated candidates who complete on time is an important quality indicator (American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 2002). However, there are many options for doctoral training and several doctoral programs to choose from. The aim of this paper is to explore the options for doctoral training for nurses, and consider the role of the doctorate in career planning for nursing, and in the attainment of career goals.


A satisfying and successful career in nursing does not happen automatically. It requires careful planning and should be considered a dynamic and deliberate work in process (Shirey, 2009). Career planning is a long-term and continuing endeavour, and when aligned to strength and passions, can provide the professional momentum to achieve desired career goals (Shirey, 2009). Increasingly, doctoral qualifications are necessary for career trajectory, and such a qualification opens and expands career possibilities for nurses. The rapid expansion of research, technology and the requirement for more autonomous practitioners (Davenport, Spath, & Blauvelt, 2009) all support the growing demand for doctoral training - whether practice, education or research focused.

Outside academic settings, nurses are pursuing doctoral studies as employment opportunities become more competitive and higher academic/research qualifications are deemed desirable (if not essential) by prospective employers. However, particularly in relation to the clinical areas, some have questioned the relevance of a PhD and whether this is the best career choice for nurses, or if having a PhD makes for a better clinician or manager (Borbasi & Emden, 2001; Ellis, 2005; Wilkes & Mohan, 2008). Being a manager or clinician involves more than a qualification; leadership and teamwork skills, clinical application of ideas and business acumen are also needed. Research PhDs are focused in a particular area, meaning that graduates become 'experts' in the narrow area of their thesis. Depending on the topic area of the thesis, the expertise gained through the PhD may or may not match the skills required in the clinical workplace (Kirkman, Thompson, Watson, & Stewart, 2007). Notwithstanding these concerns, the attainment of a doctoral qualification affords a range of generic skills which includes demonstrating that a graduate has the ability to organize and see a project through from beginning to end; this in itself is an important demonstration of overcoming problems during their candidature.

In contrast to colleagues from other disciplines, nurses have been relatively slow to pursue doctoral status (Davies & Rolfe, 2009) and this may be due, in part, to dissent within the nursing profession (Brown-Benedict, 2008). Surveys of registered nurses and academics have shown mixed results regarding the relevance and perceived value of a doctorate, ranging from enthusiasm to indifference (DeMarco, Pulcini, Haggerty, & Tang, 2009; Ellis, 2007; Wilkes & Mohan, 2008). This is reflected in recent studies showing that the majority of nursing doctoral candidates are female, clinically experienced, and in their 40s or 50s at the time of starting their PhD; other disciplines tend to start doctoral training much earlier (Davies & Rolfe, 2009; McKenna, 2005). Candidates therefore have less time to contribute their knowledge to the profession (Smith & Delmore, 2007) and establish a comprehensive track record of research output. In academic settings, both scholarly work and teaching are part of the role and a PhD is increasingly becoming the minimum qualification for these research intensive settings.

Increasingly, nurses will need to consider doctoral pathways as important (even crucial) for broadening career options. Nurses who cease to learn, grow and interface beyond their immediate environment quickly lose their experiential value as they may lack current skills and breadth of experience - perhaps making them obsolete (Shirey, 2009). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.