Written by Mark Bennett
PhD research in Nursing and related Allied Healthcare professions takes a range of forms. Projects may be more theoretical, examining real-world healthcare data to identify trends and test hypotheses for improved treatments and / or training. Or they may be very practical, exploring specific techniques and approaches together with their impact on patients.
General criteria for a Nursing PhD
The broad requirements for a Nursing PhD are the same as other areas of research: you will carry out a unique research project with the support of one or more academic supervisors, collecting and analysing original data to develop a worthwhile contribution to your field. One of the things that marks Nursing out (along with other professional vocational subjects) is that projects may have either practical or theoretical outcomes.
Either way, your degree will culminate in a substantial thesis outlining your findings and their importance. You will then present this work for oral examination at a viva voce.
Professional doctorates in Nursing
The range of professional taught doctorates is large and growing across the world. The precise details of each need to be examined carefully as these differ with the nature and purpose of the taught doctorates. This type of doctorate leads to the award of a variety of degrees with the title of 'doctor' in them and Nursing is now at the forefront of their development.
Taught doctorates are usually taken part-time and are designed for professionals who wish to undertake some research but mainly to undertake advanced study in their field of work and to seek career advancement. Such people are usually quite senior in their field. Therefore, the period of study in a taught doctorate is formal and has to be passed before going on to the research component. The latter is usually shorter than a period of PhD study and the kinds of problems investigated are usually directly relevant to the work of the person undertaking the doctorate. Some taught doctorates are specifically for nurses and others are for a range of health professionals.
In the USA some universities are running the Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) and this has been developed specifically for nurses in practice who do not wish to undertake a PhD but who wish to remain in practice and to undertake study and gain accreditation that is directly related to their work and which allows them to remain in work. There are many taught doctoral programmes in the UK and they are rapidly being developed in Australia.
If you are a nurse and you wish to undertake doctoral level study you should:
- Think very carefully about it
- Ask yourself why you wish to study and have a degree at the doctoral level
- Decide if you want to have a career in research or to remain in practice
- Find out as much as you can about a range of doctorates
- Investigate, in detail, what specific programmes of interest offer
Finally, in addition to educational and professional considerations, make sure that you have considered the personal and financial consequences of committing yourself to several further years of study and hard work.