BSN to PhD? Good idea?

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    So recently I was looking through some pages for different schools and came across a program that allowed direct entry to a PhD program from a BSN program. It's a reputable school - not an online, for-profit school, but just a regular university. Still, I was shocked when I saw that program. I asked some family members about it who happen to be nurses and they spoke favorably about it, which surprised me. My main question concerned experience - I can see someone who has a chemistry degree going straight into grad school, but with nursing being a clinically oriented field, is it really a good idea to go straight into grad school with little or no nursing experience? I pointed this out to one relative and asked how that nurse could be qualified to teach Med-Surg I and she said if she was the dean, she would likely get someone else to do it but that she could teach other classes on theory. So that made me feel that I'd be short-changing myself before I even got there.

    I can't help but wonder if an accelerated program is the way to go, get a few years of experience (at least) and then do a PhD? Many strong PhD programs don't require a MSN (although perhaps this is another question - should you need an MSN before getting a PhD?) and I could go into the PhD after a few years of experience.

    Another thing I'd like to know is how the colleges view applicants of these programs. There's a lot of innovation in the nursing education field right now designed to pump out new grads, which anyone on here knows the pain that is causing. So from that perspective, I'm a little skeptical of a school setting up a program like this when I've seen what the track record is in other endeavors. I'd hate to get through this program, apply for a teaching position, and then be told, "sorry, you don't have the requisite experience."
  2. 5 Comments so far...

  3. 1
    I think you are asking some very good questions. And as you have pointed out, there is a lot of innovation going on in nursing today -- some of which is really best described as "experimentation." My recommendation is that you keep asking those questions and in the end, make the decision that will give YOU the best chance at the best (and most complete) education and professional development.

    Here is my opinion on some of the issues you raised -- my opinion based on 33 years as a nurse. My history is that I got my BSN at age 22 ... then worked 2 years at a staff nurse before starting my MSN program. I graduated with my MSN at age 26 and worked 10 years in advanced/leadership roles before entering a PhD program. I graduated with my PhD at age 42. So I did the traditional route.

    I believe that some of the "newer" tracks can work if done well. The problem is, not all of them are being done well. Some new programs have been thrown together quickly and/or do not have enough resources to support them well. They are "short cuts" being offered by schools to bring in students and make money for the school -- taking advantage of the large number of people who want to go into nursing today because they see it as a safer career economically than other options. So while there are some good "accelerated" programs and "new options" out there, there are a lot of others that skimp on the quality of the education provided. And they have good salespeople to bring in the business for their school, so be careful. Faculty members know that their jobs depend on the school bringing in the revenue, so they might not always be as objective as you would like them to be either.

    As you seem to realize, becoming a true expert ... being truly qualified to teach... etc. requires that a person have both "book learning" and also "experiential learning" that can only be obtained by spending time actually doing the thing itself. In other words, if you want to be an expert nurse capable of making expert judgments about nursing education, nursing research, nursing care, etc., then your professional development needs to include time invested in actually doing nursing. So whatever path you choose, make sure it includes an adequate amount of time actually practicing nursing so that you can learn that important nursing content that can only be learned at the bedside. Research shows that it takes about a year after graduate (give or take a little) for a new graduate RN to become a competent professional nurse. Three to five years if you want to become an expert nurse. If you skip that aspect of your education/development, it will be a hindrance to your throughout your career.

    I think there are different ways to get that experience. You don't have to get it all working full time as a staff nurse. You can get some of it while working part time and going to grad school part time ... or through educational programs that incorporate clinical care as part of their curriculi (e.g. MSN level practicums). I do recommend that you spend at least 6 months after your initial nursing education focusing on mastering the actual practice of nursing and successfully making that often difficult transition from student to competent professional. Nursing does not need leaders who did not / could not "make a success of it" in the real world of health care delivery. So please, for the profession's sake, the patients' sake, and your own sake, invest a little time making sure you are competent in the real world before getting the "book learning" credentials that will give you a leadership role. We don't need incompetent leaders.

    But after you've made that transition (6-12 months of practice) ... I don't see anything wrong with beginning to explore grad school options -- particularly if you can continue to get some more practical experience in the early years of your grad school experience. That 6-12 months in practice is a small price to pay for establishing your clinical competence and providing that foundation that will be an advantage to you for the rest of your career.

    That's my $.02. Good luck with whatever pathway you choose. I believe you are asking the right questions -- and if you keep using that good sense you seem to have, I think you can make good choices that will serve you (and the nursing profession) well.

    llg, PhD, RN-BC
    CoffeeGeekRN likes this.
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    As an FYI there are many academic disciplines that admit directly to the PhD from the BA/BS. Sometimes, the MA/MS is awarded during the PhD program, sometimes not. This may be a little new for nursing, but it's not new in academia.
    meawy likes this.
  5. 0
    Quote from grandmawrinkle
    As an FYI there are many academic disciplines that admit directly to the PhD from the BA/BS. Sometimes, the MA/MS is awarded during the PhD program, sometimes not. This may be a little new for nursing, but it's not new in academia.
    However ... in many of those disciplines, the actual practice of that disciplines is a major component of the graduate education. In nursing, that is not the case.

    For example, if you get a PhD in chemistry, a lot of the work that you do as a grad student is the actual practice of chemistry in a lab. If you get a PhD in history, you actually practice history as a grad student as you do your research for the various classes. People getting a PhD in English actually DO English as the explore literature, analyze and critique things, write things, etc. during both their undergrad and graduate education.

    In nursing, the amount of actual patient care in a graduate program may be non-existent. Grad education in many nursing roles (except NP, CNM, CNS, CRNA) focuses on education, research, theory, admin, etc. -- often with no courses that include direct patient care. So, a person who goes directly from a BSN program to a PhD program may never actually take care of patients beyond the experience he/she gets as an undergraduate. Such a person might be "book smart," but he/she would not be a competent practicing nurse -- and be very limited in his/her abilities to make judgments about the practice of nursing.

    So ... in nursing ... the situation is very different than it is most other disciplines.
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    I agree. Some of the programs I've looked at nationwide are relatively new PhD programs, established by their respective schools within the last 3-5 years. I am uncomfortable with that and I have decided not to pursue a PhD unless the school's doctoral program is well-established.

    I love the idea of earning my doctorate in nursing but I am feeling as if I'd at least need to work for a few years before I could do that. What concerns me is that with as tight as the job market is for nurses, the quality of work experience gained during those few years would be less than what it could be if the job market was better. In other words, not to knock nursing homes, but two years in a nursing home does not equate to two years med-surg. The latter would certainly be more beneficial to someone heading into most doctoral programs, unless perhaps you were focusing on end-of-life care or geriatrics.

    So right now, I'm at a loss on how to proceed. I've not lost any interest in nursing but I don't want to get my RN and then struggle to find work, which would make it difficult to justify the PhD program.
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    My University has been offering a BSN-PhD program since 1998 (and we opened our PhD program in 1982). We opened the first PhD in Nursing program in Virginia at that time, and were also the first to enroll those with only a BSN degree. We look to enroll 12 new PhD students every fall (of which 3-4 per year have been BSN-PhD students). These students earn a MSN degree along the way.

    While we will enroll those with a BSN degree, this does not necessarily mean that they are a new nurse. Most of our BSN-PhD students have been practicing for a number of years; they just took a break between degrees.


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