Academic journal article Nursing Education Perspectives

PhD Education Outcomes: Results of a National Survey of Nursing PhD Alumni

Academic journal article Nursing Education Perspectives

PhD Education Outcomes: Results of a National Survey of Nursing PhD Alumni

Article excerpt

The goal of PhD programs In nursing education, similar to PhD education In other disciplines, Is to prepare research scientists who will advance knowledge In their discipline and, as educators, prepare the next generation of nurses. Nursing has fallen short on both these goals. The nursing profession has a severe shortage of PhD-prepared nurses to design and conduct research. Moreover, only 1 percent of nurses hold doctoral degrees (Feeg & Nickitas, 2011), and there Is a severe shortage of nurses qualified for faculty positions to educate and mentor students (Smeltzer et al., 2016). In 2012, nursing schools reported turning away 58,114 qualified applicants due to a lack of faculty (American Association of Colleges of Nursing [AACN], 2014).

The shortage of PhD nurses Is due to several factors unique to the discipline of nursing. Unlike many disciplines in science and the humanities that have their roots in 18th century Europe, the discipline of nursing Is relatively new In the production of scientific knowledge. Only since the 1920s has the need to educate nurses In academic Institutions been recognized (Ellis & Hartley, 2004). In the past three decades, there has been progress In the recognition of nursing as a scientific discipline equal to other disciplines In academia (Cronenwett et al., 2011). In addition, nurses earn PhDs later in their careers. On average, nurses are 48.5 years of age when they earn a PhD compared to 33 years of age for other disciplines (Berger, 2007). Most doctoral students In nursing will be middle-aged upon graduation, leaving less time to develop a research career (Bednash, 2015).

Partly in response to the PhD nurse shortage, a number of new PhD programs In nursing have been established, with nearly half of the 133 programs In the United States established since 2000 (AACN, 2014). Today a variety of program options exist, Including traditional MS-to-PhD programs, fast-track BS-to-PhD programs, traditional classroom-based offerings, hybrid attendance programs, and entirely online programs (Ellenbecker & Kazmi, 2014).

We believe that It Is time to examine the outcomes of PhD education to determine what program characteristics, if any, contribute to more successful careers in nursing research. This knowledge will inform and guide educators In the areas of student recruitment and advising, program resources, and methods of education delivery. The purpose of this study is to describe outcomes of nursing PhD programs and examine relationships between the characteristics of Individual nursing students, the PhD programs they attend, and program outcomes. Specific research questions are as follows:

1. How productive are recent graduates of PhD nursing programs in research activities?

2. Is there a relationship between student characteristics and success in research?

3. Is there a relationship between PhD program characteristics and success in research?


Traditionally, outcomes of nursing education programs have been measured by NCLEX-RN® scores for baccalaureate programs and certification examination scores for master's programs. Other outcomes, such as satisfaction with the program, ability to think critically, and the performance of new graduates through self- or employer evaluations have been explored (Horne & Sandmann, 2012). The National League for Nursing (2016) describes competencies for PhD nursing graduates but does not provide specific recommendations for measuring the success of PhD programs or students.

Outcome measures of success for PhD programs are generally lacking, and programs rely on recommendations for structural and process criteria to assess quality of PhD education in nursing. Components of successful nursing PhD programs are a strong curriculum, seasoned research faculty to mentor and support students, an institutional commitment to doctoral education, and structures in place to support the financial and educational needs of students (AACN, 2010). …

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