Developing the Next Generation of Nurse-Scientists

This past August, the Louisiana Board of Regents approved the LSU Health New Orleans School of Nursing’s Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD) degree program, which emphasizes intellectual inquiry, scholarship and research.

Illustration of nurse student on laptop, sitting a top a stack of books

In 2010, the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine report on The Future of Nursing called for a doubling of the then-current number of nurses with doctoral degrees by 2020. PhD-prepared nurses are needed to educate both undergraduate and graduate-level nurses, and a sufficient capacity of PhD-prepared nurses is critical to advancing the science of caring for patients, both in preserving health and responding to illness.

“Nurses with PhDs are acknowledged experts in their fields and are responsible for generating and obtaining scientific data that influences policies, rules, procedures and practice,” says Marie Adorno, PhD, APRN, CNS, RNC, CNE, Director of the Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS) Program and Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing at the LSU Health New Orleans School of Nursing. “Nurse-scientists belong on governor-appointed boards, committees and task forces. They serve on presidential committees and advise lawmakers about potential policy changes. Nurse-scientists are responsible for advancing knowledge in the discipline of nursing.”

The School of Nursing is now proudly able to help increase the number of nurses with doctorates. This past August, the Louisiana Board of Regents approved the School of Nursing’s Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Nursing degree program. The purpose of the PhD in Nursing curriculum is to prepare nurse scholars for research, academic careers and a variety of other roles, including those in clinical practice and administration. This doctorate will emphasize intellectual inquiry, scholarship and research. Graduates will be expected to design and conduct original and ethically and scientifically responsible research, lead interprofessional research teams and disseminate research findings.

The first class of PhD students will be admitted in fall 2021, and current DNS students will be able to transition to the PhD curriculum if they choose. There are three pathways to obtaining a PhD in Nursing degree at the School of Nursing: the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Entry, Master’s Entry and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Entry. The DNP, while a terminal degree, maintains focused on practice, as opposed to the fundamental research focus of the PhD degree.

What It Takes to Earn a PhD

The PhD curriculum includes courses in biostatistics and measurement, development of nursing science, research design and methods, biobehavioral basis of health, health policy and politics, and proposal development. It also includes doctoral seminars that focus on writing for publication, research synthesis and dissertation. One mentored research practicum is required, and support courses include health interventions research, big data and data science, and omics as emergent science.

“Nurses with PhDs are acknowledged experts in their fields and are responsible for generating and obtaining scientific data that influences policies, rules, procedures and practice.”

Marie Adorno, PhD, APRN, CNS, RNC, CNE

“The goal of a research practicum is to gain research skills in data collection, analysis, interpretation and reporting,” says Laura Bonanno, PhD, DNP, CRNA, Program Director of the Nurse Anesthesia Program and Professor of Nursing. “PhD students are expected to be able to write a fundable research proposal and lead a team of interprofessional scientists in clinical and symptom science research. The overall goal of nursing research is to generate new knowledge that improves patient outcomes.”

PhD candidates must successfully complete the General Examination, which demonstrates competence in a broad segment of the major and minor fields, before they can begin their dissertation process. The dissertation – a scholarly treatise in a program of nursing research – represents synthesized knowledge of a phenomenon that is relevant to nursing.

“It is the culminating experience for the doctoral candidate that demonstrates the candidate’s critical and analytical thinking, advanced knowledge, skill and scholarship in the selected research methodology,” says Marsha Bennett, DNS, APRN, Professor of Nursing. “Each candidate’s dissertation will be prepared under the guidance of a faculty committee and defended verbally. The approved dissertation is the final requirement for the PhD degree.”

A Degree with Broad Applications in Policy, Academia and Practice

Graduates of the PhD in Nursing program may choose a career path in research, administration, academia or clinical practice. According to Drs. Adorno, Bennett and Bonanno, all nurse-scientists who complete the PhD program are expected to incorporate the philosophical and theoretical foundations of nursing knowledge to guide their research process; engage in activities that promote professional socialization as scholars; use critical analysis to synthesize knowledge from nursing and other disciplines as a foundation for research; and demonstrate scientific and ethical integrity in the design, conduct, analysis, interpretation and dissemination of research.

Upon completion of the PhD, each nurse-scientist should also be able and motivated to initiate collaborative relationships with nursing and interprofessional scholars in research, conduct original research contributing to the advancement of nursing science for translation into practice, and effectively disseminate research findings to the scientific and health policy communities.

“Additionally, the PhD-prepared nursing administrator can improve organizational and clinical outcomes through intervention research,” Dr. Adorno says. “The PhD degree also provides knowledge and skills needed to lead programs of research in hospitals to generate new knowledge on a systems level to assist with improving patient outcomes.”

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