In a previous post, I encouraged nurses to obtain their doctoral degrees , if able.

I presented some of the differences between the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Nursing and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. To recap, the PhD is an academic research degree and the DNP is a practice-focused or professional doctorate for advanced practice nurse (APN) preparation. The PhD prepares nurse scientists and the DNP prepares advanced nurse leaders/clinicians.

“PhDs create knowledge for practice and DNPs use knowledge in practice.”
Why Doctoral Degrees in Nursing is Important!

It can be a hard decision for many nurses to continue their education — doctoral education takes a lot of time and money and there may not be a substantial salary increase at the end of the road.  Our students need to work and they have family, social, and professional obligations — add in school work, and that makes for one tired nurse!  So is it worth the pain and effort of going back to school?

The Future of Nursing report stated that among the health professions, “nursing is the least well-educated.”(1,p.485) The more nurses we have at the doctoral level, the better it will be for nurses, our future patients, and the Nursing profession. “The current demand for master’s– and doctorally-prepared nurses for advanced practice, clinical specialties, teaching, and research roles far outstrips the supply.”I don’t know about you, but that sounds like job security to me!

We need doctorally-prepared nursing faculty, desperately!  The nursing faculty shortage is being described as “dire” and has a direct impact on the number of applicants being turned away from nursing schools, and therefore on the number of nurses we can prepare—at all levels.3-5 Though faculty salaries are not as high as top-level clinical positions, there are perks to academic life to consider.

See also
University of Washington Offers Doctor of Nursing Practice and Master of Public Health Dual Degree Program

Here are some of the tangible and intangible benefits of doctoral education:

Personal Benefits
  • Personal growth and development. Besides the knowledge gained, the inherent satisfaction of knowing that you persevered through tough challenges and obstacles to graduate as a doctorally-prepared nurse. Maturity and independence, time management, and advanced skills are all considered prized results of doctoral education.6,7
  • Personal achievement.6,7 The high honor of knowing that you have attained the highest level of education in Nursing  — fewer than 1% of all nurses in the country have a doctoral degree. Scholarly respect is how one author put it.8
  • Advanced transferable skills, such as critical thinking, clinical reasoning, analysis, research or quality improvement methodology, writing, presentation and communication skills, etc., that you can take with you to any job or position.6,8,9
Professional Benefits
  • Impact/transform the Profession by generating nursing science or improving systems of care.
  • Impact/transform your organization with the skills to deal with and solve complex problems.
  • Larger professional network,8,9 social relationships, and support systems with classmates, colleagues, and coworkers that you may not have had the opportunity to work with before.
  • Your future earning potential may be increased.7-9 Higher rank/position = higher pay (and greater responsibilities).  In University, to get on the Tenure-Track or be promoted to a professorial rank, you need a doctoral degree. And doctorally-prepared faculty earn more on average than faculty without a doctorate.8  In the clinical setting, DNPs are frequently at a director, department, or administrator level.  Higher degrees also qualify you for higher levels on the clinical or career ladder, which usually come with a salary differential.
  • Your job opportunities may be expanded because you can qualify for top-level positions and may have a greater choice of career paths. Job security goes hand-in-hand with career flexibility.8 Job satisfaction is the desired outcome.7,9
See also
Frontier Nursing University Granted Continued ACEN Accreditation

These are only some of the personal and professional benefits of doctoral education.

I urge you to strongly consider taking that next step and continuing your education.  Whether you choose the PhD or the DNP, I believe you’ll see that the benefits will outweigh the struggles, in the end.

Strive for Excellence!

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  1. Institute of Medicine. (2011). The future of nursing: Leading change, advancing health. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  2. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2011). Nursing fact sheet. Accessed March 6, 2016.
  3. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2015). Nursing faculty shortage.Accessed March 6, 2016.
  4. Nickitas, D., & Feeg, V. (2011). Doubling the number of nurses with a doctorate by 2020: Predicting the right number or getting it right? Nursing Economics, 29(3), 109-112.
  5. Anderson, C. A. (October 11, 2013). More nurses with doctoral nursing graduate degrees needed. Accessed March 8, 2016.
  6. Tzanakou, C. (April 11, 2014). The wider benefits of a PhD. University World News, 315. Accessed March 7, 2016.
  7. Martin, D. (June 29, 2012). 6 reasons why graduate school pays off. Accessed March 8, 2016.
  8. Cascio, C. (n.d.). What are the benefits of earning a doctorate? Accessed March 8, 2016.
  9. Segesten, A. D. (May 3, 2012). Not for love or for money – why do a PhD? Accessed March 7, 2016.

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Cathy J. Thompson, PhD, RN, CCNS, CNE
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