Nurses aiming for a research or academic career can
streamline their educational preparation by attending a bachelor of science in
nursing-to-doctoral program and obtaining an earlier start developing the
expertise to become prominent professional leaders.
“These programs appeal to committed, energetic people who
see nursing as a career and profession,” said Geraldine “Polly” Bednash, Ph.D.,
RN, FAAN, executive director of the American Association of Colleges of
Nursing. “They have a commitment to the profession and growing their knowledge
base to be the best they can be.”
Traditionally, nurses interspersed graduate education with
clinical experiences, obtaining a master’s degree before pursing a doctorate.
But this has led to nurses obtaining a terminal degree at a later age than many
other professions. BSN-to-Ph.D. programs speed up the process.
“They will have more time to build a research career and get
more return on their investment,” said Diane Boyles, RN, Ph.D., associate
professor at the University of Kansas School of Nursing. “They will be able to
select an area of research and pursue it in much more depth over a longer time
Traditional Ph.D. students at the University of Kansas
School of Nursing are in their early to mid-40s. Its BSN-to-Ph.D. program
attracts a younger cohort, typically nurses in their late 20s or early 30s.
Many BSN-to-Ph.D. students move to graduate school directly
after completing their undergraduate degree, before they develop as many
financial and family obligations.
“They are used to being students and have fresher writing
and test-taking skills,” said Ann Horgas, PhD, RN, FAAN, associate dean for
research at the University of Florida College of Nursing in Gainesville. “It’s easier for many of them to
get back into a school routine, and they have fewer competing demands.”
Educators hope restructuring and expediting studies will
attract more nurses to academic and research careers. During the past 10 years,
the number of universities offering BSN-to-doctoral degrees has grown from one
to almost 50, with a dozen more programs in the works.
“Clearly, what is happening in the academic world is they
are seeing a need to grow these programs, and there is a shift in people’s
perceptions about the need to grow people at an earlier age. It’s a positive
shift,” Bednash said.
Nursing schools face a severe faculty shortage. Last year,
universities turned away almost 30,000 qualified applicants, primarily due to a
dearth of instructors. Compounding the problem, many current professors plan to
retire within the next decade.
“We have a big need for doctorally prepared faculty in order
to meet educational challenges within our schools and to promote research
endeavors in nursing,” said Cynthia McCurren, Ph.D., RN, associate dean for
academic affairs at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, School of Nursing,
which launched its BSN-to-Ph.D. program in January. “We hope to address the
Most BSN-to-doctoral programs allow nurses attending full
time to complete their doctoral studies in four to five years.
“It shortens the progression from a bachelor’s to Ph.D. by a
year and a half,” said Lorraine O. Walker, RN, Ed.D., FAAN, the Luci B. Johnson
Centennial Professor in Nursing at the University
of Texas at Austin. She recommends students limit work to
part time and study full time, placing a strong emphasis on research and
learning how to write grants and give presentations to help their career
BSN-to-PhD curriculums often include master’s level bridge
courses before starting the traditional doctoral studies. Many programs skip
most of the master’s coursework.
“This is an option for someone who doesn’t want to go into
advanced practice or for people who got certificates in advanced practice and
don’t need a master’s degree but would like an advanced degree,” said Diane
Holditch-Davis, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, professor and director of doctoral and
post-doctoral programs at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Holditch-Davis explained that it also appeals to nurses with a master’s degree
in other disciplines.
However, some university programs offer an advanced-practice
option. Students in the University
of Kansas program can
chose a family nurse practitioner Ph.D. track or one of two research tracks.
And the University
of Florida’s BSN-to-Ph.D.
program includes a master’s of science in nursing with a specific clinical
focus, allowing students to become certified as a nurse practitioner or
clinical nurse specialist.
“They have basic advanced practice knowledge that is
important and important for some employers as well,” Horgas said. “It also
provides students with a solid clinical foundation and advanced knowledge of
the clinical area. That serves as a good base for their doctoral work.”
Including more clinical opportunities negates some of the
unease voiced about BSN-to-Ph.D. programs—that nurses not following the
traditional path do not receive enough clinical experience.
“In order to be a good teacher and researcher in a practice
discipline, such as nursing, you need to have some awareness about what
clinical practice is about and issues around patient care. If you never had
that experience it’s hard to be a teacher and know what the critical clinical
questions might be,” said McCurren, who explained that Louisville’s program
includes a practicum in a clinical setting to provide hands-on experience
related to the student’s research interest.
Horgas said that nurses often put unrealistic demands on
fellow nurses expecting them to be expert clinicians as well as researchers and
leaders, yet that may not be realistic. She feels that by allowing more
diversity and creativity in the educational process, the profession may attract
more nurses to doctoral programs and ensure the development of the next
generation of educators and researchers.
With the growth of BSN-to-Ph.D. programs, nurses have more
choices for graduate study. While many of the programs are similar, variations
exist. Candidates should consider available offerings and whether a faculty
member at a particular school has similar research interests, and then select a
program that will best help them achieve their aspirations.
“[A BSN-to-Ph.D. program] gives motivated students another
option to pursue advanced education in nursing,” Horgas said. “There is a lot of
support for people to move through their education in a more expeditious mode.
There is a lot to be said for going through an academic program and getting it
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