There is no doubt that education is the path for a nurse to achieve greater clinical expertise. At the same time, however, the nursing profession needs more nurses educated at the doctoral level to replenish the supply of faculty and researchers. The national shortage of faculty will soon reach critical proportions, making a significant impact on educational programs and their capacity to educate future generations of nursing students.
Nursing Graduate Students at the Doctoral Level
Although the number of nursing doctoral programs has continued to increase, the total enrollment of students in these programs has remained fairly constant, resulting in a shortage of newly trained nursing Ph.D.s to renew faculty ranks. As a result, approximately 50 percent of nursing faculty possess the doctorate as a terminal degree.
One reason there is a lack of nurses with doctoral degrees is that, compared to other professions, nurses have more interruptions in their careers. Many in the profession are women who work as nurses while fulfilling responsibilities as wives and mothers. As a result, many pursue their education on a part-time basis. Also, some students may earn a nursing master's degree and decide to do clinical work instead of continuing their education.
The Nursing Ph.D. and Research
With many advances being made in the treatment of chronic illnesses, there is a continuing need for research that assists patients in living with their illness. This research requires individual investigators who are prepared at the doctoral level.
When nurses do research for their doctorates, many people tend to think that it focuses primarily on nurses and nursing care. In reality, nurses carry out clinical research in a variety of areas, such as diabetes care, cancer care, and eating disorders.
In the last twenty years, advances in medicine have involved, for the most part, advancing treatment, not cures. In other words, no cure for the illness has been discovered, but treatment for that illness has improved. However, sometimes the treatment itself causes problems for patients, such as the unwelcome side effects of chemotherapy.
Nurses have opportunities to devise solutions to problems like these through research, such as studies on how to manage the illness and its treatment, allowing individuals to lead happy and productive lives.
The nursing profession traditionally has viewed clinical experience as being a prerequisite to graduate education. This career path results in fewer individuals completing the nursing doctorate at an earlier stage in their career, thereby truncating their productivity as academics, researchers, and administrators. To reverse this trend, many nursing schools have developed programs that admit students into nursing graduate (doctoral and master's) programs directly from their undergraduate or nursing master's programs.