reliance on the master’s degree is understandable in that it was nursing’s highest degree for many years before the establishment of a significant number of research doctoral programs. As doctoral programs were developed, they built on the master’s content, which at the time was predominantly research and theory focused. Over time the master’s programs have changed to become primarily preparation for advanced clinical practice, yet nursing continues to require the master’s degree for entry into doctoral study in most programs. Currently, very few doctoral programs in nursing admit baccalaureate graduates directly into the program, and for those that do, the master’s degree is usually required as a progression step. This requirement for entry into the Ph.D. program makes the group of advanced nurse-practitioners, rather than baccalaureate students, the major pool from which applicants are recruited into research. This is problematic in that this practitioner pool has the same demographic characteristics as the profession and thus is older in average age and more limited in diversity compared to applicants for science Ph.D. programs in general. Incorporation of the clinical/professional content from the master’s degree as foundational to the Ph.D. in nursing also encourages faculty to recruit and teach only nurses. Currently there are only a few doctorate programs in nursing that admit non-nurses.

Even though there are other fields that require a master’s degree as a requirement for earning the professional research doctorate, such as the M.P.H. for the Dr.P.H., the master’s degree has a completely different meaning relative to the science Ph.D. degree. The master’s degree is usually awarded as a “consolation prize” for students who are unable to complete the requirements for the science Ph.D. By making the master’s degree a requirement for its Ph.D. program, nursing has created confusion as to the meaning of the degree outside the nursing profession. (NRC, 2005, p. 74)

Nursing is both a practice profession that requires practitioners with clinical expertise and an academic discipline and science that requires independent researchers and scientists to build the body of knowledge. Each has a separate set of educational needs and goals. To improve the productivity and research focus of the Ph.D. in nursing, doctoral programs need to be structured to admit students directly from baccalaureate programs, to admit non-nurses, to decrease the number of years from high school to Ph.D. graduation, and to expand the interdisciplinary scope of their programs and research topics.

As outlined above, there is no consistent research career trajectory evident among practicing scientists in nursing today. The common thread is that they entered their doctoral programs later than most other scientists, and the majority have not benefited from postdoctoral education. As such, they bring with them rich clinical experiences that may help shape the focus of their inquiry. In addition, when nurses complete their doctoral education, most move directly into an academic career. There they frequently encounter a setting in which the demands for teaching and lack of pervasive research programs, socialization, and further mentoring make continuing progress as a scientist difficult.


It has been well established that not only is there both a current shortage but also there is a projected continued shortage of nursing faculty, especially those who are scientists and researchers. At this time, approximately 50 percent of the faculty teaching in nursing baccalaureate programs are doctorally prepared [AACN].10 This represents a marked increase from the 15 percent in the late 1970s. This 50 percent level was reached by 1999, but it has not increased since then despite a large increase in the number of doctoral degree programs available to nurses during the same time period. This is a reflection of two factors: (1) other than a modest increase in the number of doctoral degrees earned in 2007 and 2008, the yield of Ph.D. degrees has been largely static (even though the number of programs has increased, as shown in Table 7-1), and (2) the older age of graduates. The combination of these two factors suggests that an increasing number of doctorally prepared faculty will retire in the next few years, but there will not be an adequate number of new Ph.D.s to replace them. Nursing programs will be left with too few faculty members to conduct research and educate the next generation of scientists.

A 2009-2010 Special Survey of Vacant Faculty Positions conducted by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) indicated that 90.6 percent of the vacancies require an earned doctoral degree [AACN],11 yet graduation rates from nursing doctoral programs are relatively flat. If there is any hope of filling a significant number of these faculty positions, both the NIH and nursing schools will need to provide incentives to increase the number of nurses who select a research career, and to do so early in their professional development.


The data in this section come from the NRC Research-Doctorate Study. The data from the study are valuable, because they provide unique information on program, faculty, and student characteristics. Although not time series data, they do provide a snapshot of nursing programs in 2006. Data were collected from 55 of the 85 programs that awarded Ph.D.s in nursing in 2006. Not all Ph.D.-granting institutions agreed to participate in the study, and only programs that averaged one Ph.D. or more per year submitted data. But these 55 programs educate a large proportion of the Ph.D.s in nursing, and their characteristics are generally representative of nursing programs. The data support the


AACN. 2009. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. 2008-2009 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing. Washington, DC: AACN. Pub. no. 08-09-1.


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

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