Institutes of Health (NIH) in the name of the National Institute for Nursing Research (NINR); however, the funding from NINR supports scientific research relevant to the science of nursing, and the investigators may be nurses or non-nurses.

The conditions needed for training in nursing research described in the 2005 NRC report hold true today:

Research training for nurses, as for other biomedical and behavioral researchers, needs to occur within strong research-intensive environments that typically will be in universities and schools of nursing. Important characteristics of these training environments include an interdisciplinary cadre of researchers and a strong group of nursing research colleagues who are senior scientists with consistent extramural review and funding of their investigative programs and obvious productivity in terms of publications and presentations. These elements are essential to the environment required for excellence in research training. (NRC, 2005, p. 73)

To encourage the development of research training in nursing, NINR devotes at least 7 percent of its funds to research training—about double what is found in other Institutes. The committee supports this priority as critical to the future of nursing research.


Changing the career trajectory for nurse-researchers involves three major efforts: (1) enhancing sustained productivity for nurse-scientists to promote an earlier and more rapid progression through the educational programs to doctoral and postdoctoral study; (2) responding to the shortage of nurse-investigators by increasing the number of individuals seeking doctoral education and faculty roles; and (3) emphasizing research-intensive training environments, including increased postdoctoral and career development opportunities.


Nurse-scientists play a critical role in the conduct of research and the generation of new knowledge that can serve as the evidence base for practice and the improvement of patient health outcomes. However, nurses enter Ph.D. programs mostly at a substantially later age than in any other biomedical or clinical science, limiting their years of potential scientific productivity. Faculty in many scientific fields starting their careers in their mid-30s may well have a research career of 30 to 40 years (to age 65-75). The average age of doctorally prepared nurse faculty, however, is 55.6 years [AACN data online]7, and the average age of retirement is 62.5 years—clearly limiting the productive years for nursing science and health practice in general. Nurse-investigators tend to have a shorter career span, thus limiting the development of nursing science and its application to nursing practice. Clearly a major driver in the short career span is the late stage at which nurse-scientists receive the Ph.D.

The fact that Ph.D. training for nurse-scientists occurs at such an advanced age (current assistant professors in nursing schools received the Ph.D. when they were 42.9 years) is a direct consequence of the traditional model for nurse-scientist training. The current path from the R.N. to the Ph.D. can be remarkably tortuous. After receiving the B.S.N. degree, nurses are encouraged to work in clinical practice, and indeed a subsequent application for admission to an M.S.N. program often requires several years of work experience. Again, after receipt of the M.S.N. degree, a period of additional clinical exposure is customary before entering a Ph.D. program. In addition, 65 percent of such doctoral students are unfunded (or only partly funded), and it is likely that these students work to cover their expenses. As a result, graduate students in nursing spend 8.3 to 15.9 years earning their doctorate after entering a master’s program,8 and the committee sees no sign that this trend is being reversed.

One way to help address this problem is to reduce the number of interruptions that nursing doctoral students experience. Once students enter undergraduate programs in nursing, students with interests in science should be identified early and encouraged to consider doctoral education and research. They should also have a chance to interact with nurse-scientists early in their undergraduate years. Several such programs have already been created.

In order to move undergraduates directly into doctoral education, nursing programs need to dispel the myth that students need clinical practice before entering graduate school. In fact, students interested in a research career may be best served by not earning a master’s degree first, as is the case in many scientific fields. In addition, certification requirements for advanced practice may add two years to master’s programs, further postponing entry into doctoral education. Funding that supports concurrent clinical and research training (similar to the MSTP) may facilitate movement into and through doctoral education.

The origins of the current educational structure in nursing and the hurdles it creates are summarized in the 2005 report:

Nursing developed both its Ph.D. and its D.N.Sc.9 programs to build on the master’s degree in nursing as well as to accommodate breaks between degrees for clinical practice. Early


AACN. Special Survey of Vacant Faculty Positions for Academic Year 2009-2020. Available at http://www/


National Opinion Research Center. 2001. Survey of Earned Doctorates. Unpublished special reports generated for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Chicago, IL: AACN.


McEwen, M., and G. Bechtel. 2000. Characteristics of nursing doctoral programs in the United States. Journal of Professional Nursing. 16:282-292.

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