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Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Advice Column) Writer Innovator Expert Nurse Verified

MedSurg Nurse Needs Help Deciding Future

Nurse Beth   (350 Views 2 Comments)
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Dear Nurse Beth,

I am currently having a dilemma and debating between a DNP or PhD.

I currently have a little over a year of med-surg experience. Ever since I was in school, I wanted a PhD and to become a nurse researcher but I am also thinking about the future and if I was to get married and potentially staying home and working per diem to take care of my future children.

I don't know of any per diem or part time PhD nurse scientist position but I heard that with the DNP (its not a nursing research degree. rather, it is a expert nurse clinical practice degree) we may be able to work per diem in the future - thinking about job openings for NPs etc. If I was to pursue an DNP, I was potentially interested in acute care NP but would like to have ICU experience first before this route.

While working, I realized that I am not particularly excited about bedside nursing (its a great and rewarding part of nursing but I feel that its just not for me long term) and that my strengths and weaknesses suit more for research. I know that some PhD nursing students work per diem while in nursing school. I wanted to know people's suggestions on where I should go next with my nursing degree.


Dear PhD or DNP,

The DNP is a clinical degree and the PhD is an academic, research-focused degree. Both are terminal degrees, meaning the highest degrees offered in nursing education. In addition to research, PhD nurses can serve as faculty in nursing programs. You don't say where you live, but research positions are usually found in large teaching centers.

A DNP prepared nurse can provide care as an advanced practice nurse and serve as executive administrators in healthcare facilities, such as Chief Nursing Officers (CNO).

You seem to be leaning towards research, which means a PhD. Most nurses pursuing advanced degrees do work while in their programs as the programs are targeted to adult learners. It's also typical for nurses to be working in their chosen specialty where their work aligns with their learning. For example, a clinical instructor in a nursing program who decides she likes the academic setting and wants to secure a future in academia would pursue a PhD.

You have been practicing for a year on one floor and may want to give yourself more time to decide. You are also concerned about flexibility and working per diem once you have children. The most flexible job is bedside nursing. You may be able to find part time as an NP once you are established. A PhD prepares you for a high level job with responsibility which means full time.

You can't control for all the "what ifs" and you can get bogged down by overthinking it. In the end, I'd go with your heart (where would you love to see yourself in the future?) but consider your head (is that job available in my area?)

Best wishes,

Nurse Beth

Author, "Your Last Nursing Class: How to Land Your First Nursing Job"...and your next!

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