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‘A PhD is not for everyone’

  • 1 Comment

A colleague and I recently had a lengthy debate about the inadequacies of traditional research training courses in meeting the needs of nurses.

One solution to this is the professional doctorate, which is well established at higher education institutions and is likely to be introduced to many other universities – as soon as education providers finally listen to what nurses want and try to tailor courses to their needs, rather than their own.

HEIs have been happy to perpetuate the traditional PhD as the gold standard research course of study which ends in the award of a doctorate and the kudos of having the letters ‘Dr’ before your name. Yet kudos comes at a cost and the drop out rate of PhD students is high.

Bear in mind that nurses undertaking higher-level study tend to be in the middle of their careers, often have families and large-scale financial commitments, making full-time study a near impossibility.

Yet to do a doctorate by pure research, as in the PhD route, is, in my view, much harder on a part-time basis.

And, in fast-changing healthcare areas, what research can be spread out over five years of study and still be valid by the time it is disseminated?

How many nurses can survive the level of sustained commitment of a pure research doctorate in addition to their day jobs?

In contrast, professional doctorates tend to have a modest research component with great potential for findings to get to practice quicker. Also, they usually attract a much wider community of students from across various disciplines.

This is not a ‘woe is me, I’m a poor, busy jobbing nurse’ message. It is more one of ‘horses for courses’, as few nurses can stay in the PhD saddle. The professional doctorate is not a research saddle with stabilisers by any means. It is one you can get on and off and without getting saddle sore.

If the traditional PhD route is suitable for you, that’s great. If it isn’t, and you want to conduct research in more manageable chunks and achieve more letters to your name, then check out professional doctorates.

Tracey Williamson, PhD, MSc, BSc, RN, is research fellow, older people/user involvement, Salford Centre for Nursing, Midwifery and Collaborative Research, University of Salford

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Lee Potiphar PhD RN

    Dear Dr Williamson

    You make some good points, especially arguing the case for professional doctorates. I certainly agree with you about PhDs being VERY difficult to complete part-time; I did mine full-time and that was difficult enough. However, we need more nurses with high level qualifications and I think the Doctorate in Nursing, for example, will play an important role in increasing the academic structure of our profession, especially ensuring rigour.

    I would slightly disagree with your comments about PhDs in general. I believe PhDs they are in fact ‘the gold standard’ demonstrating the highest paper qualification we have in the UK. Professional doctorates have, by definition, a ‘reduced’ thesis component, while the ‘traditional PhD’ is all about the thesis and its defence. Perhaps, having gone down the PhD route, I’m slightly biased towards the new 3+1 schemes, which in my opinion provide research skills learnt at MRes level, then demonstrated at doctorate level. However, the professional doctorates have there place, especially as I think you imply, they should encourage more nurses into strong academic careers.

    Clinical Research Nurse (HIV & TB)

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