The founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, was also a pioneer researcher, statistician, and the first known nurse to employ evidence-based practice. Nursing has come a long way since then, with tremendous opportunities for nurses in clinical practice, administration, academia and research.
To better prepare nurse scientists to generate knowledge that advances the profession and health care, the LSU Health New Orleans School of Nursing now offers the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Nursing degree program. This research-focused doctorate emphasizes intellectual inquiry, scholarship and research to ensure graduates are prepared to design and conduct original research, lead interprofessional research teams and disseminate research findings.
Upon completion of the PhD in Nursing, each nurse scientist will have the ability 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,” says Marie Adorno, PhD, APRN, CNS, RNC, CNE, Director of the DNS Program and Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing. “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.”
The School of Nursing is now accepting applications for the fall 2021 cohort, with a deadline of July 1. Two former Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS) students, Jamie Wiggins and Paula Kensler, transitioned to the PhD in Nursing program and are currently some of the first students taking PhD-specific courses and working on their dissertations.
Realizing Nurses’ Potential as Researchers
Kensler, DNP, MBA, RN, Program Director for the Clinical Nurse Leader Master’s and Executive Nurse Leader Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs and Instructor of Clinical Nursing, is truly a lifelong learner.
After graduating from Charity School of Nursing in 1979, she practiced at East Jefferson General Hospital for 33 years, first as a staff nurse, then serving in leadership roles in the intensive care unit, and later in specialty care and nursing service leadership positions. During that time, she earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in 1984 from the School of Nursing at Loyola University New Orleans, an MBA in 2003 from the University of New Orleans and a Master of Science in Nursing – Health Care Systems Management in 2008 from Loyola.
Dr. Kensler had always wanted to teach, and in 2013 she decided it was the right time in her career to transition to academia. She attended school full time to earn her DNP degree in Executive Nurse Leadership from the LSU Health New Orleans School of Nursing in December 2014. In January 2015, she became an Instructor of Nursing at the School of Nursing, and in 2016 she began directing the Clinical Nurse Leader and Executive Nurse Leader programs. About six months after she started, Dean Porche suggested she consider the Doctor of Nursing Science program, which she decided to pursue, part time, while working full time as faculty.
When the School of Nursing established its PhD program, Dr. Kensler was asked if she’d like to transfer. She was post-general exams and working on her dissertation when she officially transferred in December 2020. The PhD program requires additional coursework, so she’s taking two courses this semester and two this summer. She hopes to graduate in the spring or fall of 2022.
“I’m taking one course focused on the biobehavioral basis of health and the other is an introduction to the omics, biological sciences like genomics, epigenomics and related fields of study that can inform nursing research and practice,” Dr. Kensler says. “The lectures and lab experiences have broadened my thinking and preparation for conducting nursing and health care research. In the summer, I’ll take a publication course and another focused on the management of big data, both skills I’ll need as I pursue my research agenda.”
Dr. Kensler’s dissertation has evolved over time. Her current research focuses on health care leaders’ development experiences and their effectiveness in their organizations. She seeks to determine what education and development programs best support the growth of excellent leaders in the field.
Post-PhD, Dr. Kensler plans to continue as full-time faculty and focus on leadership development, working with practice partners and graduate students.
“Students are very interested in developing their leadership knowledge and skills and those of others, so bringing the research perspective to my program director role is exciting,” she says.
Dr. Kensler believes that nurse-led research, nurse-developed theories and evidence-based practice will continue to support the evolution of health care exponentially.
“As difficult as this past year has been, it has highlighted what nurses do and how nurses work with individuals, families and communities to support them through crisis and hopefully to their desired state of wellness – and when wellness is not possible, comfort care. The challenges we face shape our practice,” she says.
“There is also a greater awareness of social disparities and the critical role nurses play in advocating for people to get what they need to achieve and maintain wellness,” she continues. “Nursing has always been there, and nurses have always led the way, but now we’re taking it to a whole new level. It’s exciting to see registered nurses and advanced practice nurses leading and continuing to advance their practice to the full extent of their knowledge, skills and licensure.”
The Gold Standard for Nursing Research
Wiggins, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, FACHE, Senior Vice President/Chief Nursing Officer at Children’s Hospital of New Orleans and Adjunct Instructor at the School of Nursing, had also completed the DNS coursework, passed the general exam, and was working on his dissertation when he was presented with the opportunity to transition into the PhD program. He anticipates a spring 2022 completion date.
His dissertation looks at the association of the nursing professional practice environment and RN staffing with pediatric acute care outcomes.
“I believe the nurse practice environment is more important than RN staffing alone in improving pediatric acute care outcomes,” Wiggins says. “The specific outcomes that I will be looking at are central line bloodstream infections, pressure ulcers, catheter-associated urinary tract infections and ventilator-associated events. I am going to be analyzing data from the National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators for my research.”
He says the new PhD curriculum not only prepares nurse scientists to take on research, administrative and educator roles but also equips graduates with skills to participate in multidisciplinary research and translate research to improve patient outcomes.
“The School of Nursing needs this program to develop future researchers, academic faculty and health care executives to improve health care outcomes and strengthen the professional development of nurses.”
Jamie Wiggins, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, FACHE
Wiggins chose to pursue a PhD because he wanted to have the education and skills to develop new knowledge and contribute to nursing science. His goal is to continue as a health care executive, using his PhD to conduct health system and workforce development research and to support research endeavors across the organization.
“Advancement of nursing knowledge requires nurse scientists,” Wiggins says. “PhD graduates are recognized as the gold standard for conducting research, and the School of Nursing needs this program to develop future researchers, academic faculty and health care executives to improve health care outcomes and strengthen the professional development of nurses.”