Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Academics defend nurse PhD impact on practice

  • 5 Comments

Academics have defended the important contribution nurse PhDs make to healthcare practice, following suggestions that they are often “interesting academically” but not always useful.

They were responding to comments made by Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies at a conference in the North West at the end of April, which prompted a strong reaction among nursing academics on social media.

Nursing professors said that while PhDs do not directly influence nursing policy, they do add to university programmes of research which have a wider impact.

Doctorate degrees also change the practice of the individual nurses who complete them, they told Nursing Times.

“In most universities PhDs have to be pitched as part of a broader work programme by academics and they are adding to those programmes,” said Anne Marie Rafferty, professor of nursing at King’s College London.

“So they’re helping to intensify and deepen and extend the reach of those programmes by asking a question…It’s not my experience that PhDs are not geared towards enhancing impact,” she told Nursing Times.

Professor Alison Leary, chair of healthcare and workforce modelling at London South Bank University, echoed her comments, saying: “The question of whether something can be academically interesting but not useful is moot point.”

“The academically interesting stuff might be where the research questions, the really important practical research questions of tomorrow, come from,” she told Nursing Times.

“We should be supporting and encouraging PhDs because they are training programmes for nurses to become better researchers”

Elaine Maxwell

Professor Leary noted her own PhD and research on lung cancer altered the way she as an individual practised. “They [PhDs] may have less impact on policy but we need a critical mass of people that can generate research questions and enable other people to do and understand research,” she said.

Meanwhile, Elaine Maxwell, associate professor in leadership at London South Bank University, added: “There is a bit of a strand of anti-intellectualism in nursing.

“It’s important to remember we should be supporting and encouraging PhDs, because they are training programmes for nurses to become better researchers – to critically appraise the evidence that is there,” she said.

“The RCN should be supporting nurses to do doctorates, rather than describing them as academically interesting but not useful,” she said.

“We need to better understand and demonstrate the impact of [PhDs] on professional practice”

Janet Davies

However, in response to other claims made by Ms Davies that some existing evidence – such as that on safe staffing – was difficult to find, the professors agreed academia had a responsibility to make their work more accessible.

But they also warned there was a danger in “dumbing down” research findings, and that instead more nurses should be equipped to better understand evidence by encouraging more to take on research activities, such as doctorates.

“It does need to be accessible but it also needs to be robust and rigorous… It’s not about dumbing down research, because we won’t be able to argue our case in other arenas – particularly with public policy makers if we do that,” said Professor Leary.

Alison Leary

Alison Leary

Alison Leary

Last week Ms Davies issued a statement in response to her original comments, which she made at a nurse conference in Manchester last month.

“Doctoral level education has an important contribution to make to enhancing nursing research, but we need to better understand and demonstrate the impact of this contribution on professional practice,” she said in the statement.

Ms Davies re-iterated the need for a co-ordinated approach to identify the evidence in nursing required at a national level.

She also said the profession needed to build its capacity in nursing research, noting that research funding was dominated by the medical profession.

  • 5 Comments

Readers' comments (5)

  • michael stone

    'Professor Alison Leary ... “The academically interesting stuff might be where the research questions, the really important practical research questions of tomorrow, come from,”

    Me, a couple of days ago:

    http://www.bmj.com/content/353/bmj.i2127/rr-3

    'I recently came across a paper about e-learning: it suggested that doctors like experiential learning, and are not very keen on e-learning. I think that e-learning is fine, but that it needs to examine 'the right questions': something I consider true for all learning.'

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • well said. The RCN are a disgrace right now. stop funding these people - they do not have your best interests at heart, something much more sinister is at work

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Interesting but such a sweeping comment. Academically interesting.... I can only speak for my own doctoral studies which looked at the impact of emotional wisdom on nurse education and the emergent need to reshape nurse curricula and teaching strategies. I guess that has little to do with nursing impact.!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • michael stone

    IAN LLEWELLYN-NASH

    I think I can grasp 'the emergent need to reshape nurse curricula and teaching strategies' but I'm not at all sure what 'emotional wisdom' is. However, my doctorate was in chemistry.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Me thinks the RCN are bowing to government and management business interests of pseudo QI American interests and stiffling the thoughts of our young. The nursing profession looks like it has been betrayed by the RCN. May the paraversity of alternate knowledge live and grown even stronger. I hope students wake up to what looks like business interests by the RCN. It's not anti anything except the propaganda that nobody believes. The RCN will grow weaker with such comments.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.