It’s a story every nurse knows: the need for nurses is growing. Worldwide, health care faces growing nursing provider and educator shortages. One of the most important ways nurses can address this dire need is by earning a Ph.D. in nursing. 

Only 13% of nurses in the United States currently hold a graduate degree. Fewer than 1 percent hold a doctorate. That means that just 13 percent of the nursing workforce is eligible to become nursing faculty at all, and less than 1 percent is eligible to teach at the highest level.

A Ph.D. prepares nurses to be experts in their field and to pursue a research-focused career. We need more PhD-prepared nurses now more than ever: to educate future nurses, to lead nursing teams, and to develop research that improves best practices. MCN’s Ph.D. in nursing aims to uplift nurses in their profession, preparing them to take on leadership roles and perform cutting edge research that shapes the health care landscape. 

Who should consider a Ph.D. in nursing?

In short: everyone. Nursing is one of many fields in health care that are moving towards requiring masters and doctorate-level education. 

Designed for those who want to focus on education and research, the doctorate of philosophy degree prepares nurse researchers with expertise in vulnerable populations. Many graduates of MCN’s Ph.D. program return to teach and conduct research, such as Dr. John Blakeman ‘20. 

Take it from Blakeman: “With a PhD, we are expected to affect the whole nursing profession: how we shape practice and policy and education.”

Is research not for you? Consider earning a doctorate in nursing practice via MCN’s DNP program.

What can I do with a Ph.D. in nursing?

The PhD-prepared nurse serves the public by designing and conducting research on relevant clinical, educational, health systems, and/or health policy topics. Following graduation, a nurse with a PhD may pursue a research career in the academic, business, government, or industrial setting. Nurses with a PhD may also serve as educators and/or administrators and develop or consult on health care policy in a variety of settings.

Become a nurse educator—in a university or on the hospital floor.

As the field works to usher in more nurses, it lacks sufficient nurses who are trained to teach them. With a Ph.D. in nursing, you will be prepared to educate nursing students or take on an education role within a health care setting, helping to train current nurses in new research and best practices. with the latest research in best practices.

With a Ph.D. in nursing, you will be prepared to review health care policy, test it, and make recommendations for federal or state regulations. An example would be to study the need for annual flu vaccinations for health care staff and whether or not requirements are evidence-based. With a Ph.D. in nursing, you will be prepared to evaluate symptoms of health issues, such as: fatigue prior to heart attacks, exercise needs of rural post-menopausal women, or pain assessment of older adults. A PhD-prepared nurse could also work with a coroner to analyze older adult falls and community recommendations to prevent future falls.

Become a nurse researcher—a critical role to keeping health care facilities up-to-date with the latest research in best practices.

Advance your career. The Ph.D. opens up career opportunities such as serving as a nurse researcher, administrator, policymaker, leader, or educator.

“With a PhD in nursing, you are better positioned to be a leader in the area of nursing education or be hired as a full-time faculty member,” says Dr. Seon Yoon Chung, Associate Dean for Academics. “The Ph.D. allows one to be part of advancing the science of nursing education by generating and applying evidence and promoting evidence-based teaching.”

In what settings will a Ph.D. in nursing be applicable?

No matter what nursing role you’re in, the knowledge and skills you gain in the Ph.D. program is applicable, including in practice, in teaching, in your research, and in administrative roles. Nurses often encounter tough questions, whether from patients, our community members, our families, or even our own interests in learning how to improve nursing practice. A Ph.D. program gives you the space to pursue topics that interest you, and it provides you with the knowledge and skills necessary to answer these questions in ways that are systematic, valid, and reliable.

One growing need for Ph.D.-prepared nurses is the rising impact big data has in health care practice. “We are now living in the era of artificial intelligence and big data. Soon, it will be necessary to know how to deal with data—that is, generate and/or use existing data to inform your practice, teaching, research, administration,” says Chung.

She emphasizes the ways in which core competencies gained from MCN’s Ph.D. program are transferable to the real world.  “The Ph.D. prepares you to be friends with data and information and understand how data-driven decisions are made. To be a leader who transforms health care and improves individual and population health, knowledge and skills acquired in a rigorous PhD program will be critical.”

How can I balance a Ph.D. program while working full-time and/or honoring my commitments to my family?

MCN’s Ph.D. program can be completed part-time, making it conducive for those balancing work, family, research, and education.

“The faculty all understood that we had full-time jobs. Most of us were either teaching, working as a nurse on the floor, or working as a clinical nurse. The faculty were able to maintain the appropriate amount of rigor and expectations while also granting students grace,” says Blakeman.

“The decision to complete a Ph.D. program is a commitment to yourself and your discipline,” affirms Melissa Moody, MCN’s academic advisor for post-licensure programs. “You may be balancing this new and exciting endeavor among many other obligations.  The key to your success will be early planning, staying organized, managing your time well, maintaining open communication with faculty and staff, and staying the course—one day at a time.”

She adds, “MCN faculty and staff are here to guide and support you on the path. We share a common goal: we want to see you succeed.”

Why MCN?

MCN’s PhD program offers a professional, efficient, supportive environment. With both online and in-person requirements, the coursework is designed to work around nurses’ busy schedules with work and family. In MCN’s program, the coursework and research projects are customized around the needs and interests of our Ph.D. students.

Students also benefit from the expertise of MCN’s faculty. From advisement to knowledge of current research in the field, our faculty provides individualized attention for each student in the program.

Dr. Kim Astroth notes how important it is to MCN faculty that they give their students the time and attention. “It’s what sets MCN apart,” says Astroth. “Our faculty are attentive, flexible, and giving, working to empower our students. And our students are prepared to create high quality work as a result.”

Blakeman agrees. “I wasn’t just one number in a large group of people,” he says. “The faculty really knew us and cared about our personal lives—and so did our classmates. There was a close sense of community.”

So, is the Ph.D. in nursing worth it?

A Ph.D. program gives nurses the opportunity to pursue their research and make a difference in the health care landscape. MCN’s Ph.D. program is flexible in order to serve the needs of working nurses with busy lives while still providing the rigorous training necessary to becoming an expert. Nurses with Ph.D.s are prepared to make a huge difference in their communities, in their workplaces, and in the larger landscape of health care.

“A Ph.D. opens doors to a wide variety of practice areas,” says Associate Dean of Research Mary Dyck. “I’ve had the opportunity to chair a board of directors at a retirement community where I impacted the care for all of the residents. I’ve testified as a legal expert on quality of care. And I’ve worked with students as they’ve implemented major projects in health care institutions in the area. The Ph.D. allows nurses to have a much broader impact on the quality of care.”

Ph.D.-prepared nurses help shape health care policy and practice, and they are crucial to addressing the nursing shortage. We need nurse leaders to rise to the challenge and meet this call. 

At MCN, we ask: why not you?

MCN is providing leadership in nursing. Learn more.

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