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Nursing professor - BSN/MSN after PhD in public health?


Hi all!

I am currently a fourth-year PhD student. I'm getting my PhD in sociomedical sciences (public health) with a focus in psychology. I should be finishing up next spring or summer, and I intend to enter into a research career. My next step would be to do a postdoc in health research, and then on to be a professor of public health. My research interests are in the intersections between mental health and HIV/sexual health in African American women, and one of my interests is actually around the quality and success of mental health care by mid-level providers (NPs, PAs, and LCSWs) as compared to psychiatrists.

When searching for postdocs, I recently realized that many (most?) of the professors doing research that is most interesting and relevant to my interests are nursing professors! When searching for mentors at many schools the best suited ones are in nursing. Starting in my third year I have frequently thought about how useful and nice it would be to have a clinical specialty and be able to practice mental health counseling/care in addition to doing research on it. In addition, I've realized that while public health professor positions can be somewhat difficult to come along, nursing professor positions are just...out there. Even some of the top schools in nursing INVITE people to apply, which is unheard of in academia, and many positions are advertised to people with PhDs in related fields and an MSN in nursing. I've thought about getting an accelerated BSN and then doing an MSN in psychiatric-mental health nursing, with a minor in women's health. Or I could enter one of those BSN/MSN programs. My goal in doing this would be to work as a nursing professor, conducting research as a faculty member, and perhaps working as a per diem nurse doing mental health care.

So I ask the nurse educators here - is this feasible? Possible? Does it make sense? What things should I consider? I'm still relatively young (I'll be 26 this year) and 3ish more years of school doesn't daunt me.


Specializes in Nephrology. Has 2 years experience.

The only advice I can give is that it's a bad idea to enter nursing school with the idea that you are there to improve your credentials in regards to your future academic/research goals. Nursing instructors works their tails off to produce what they consider to be the ideal nurse. A researcher doesn't fit that ideal. You have to forget about your research goals and become a true blue nurse (which is difficult both academically and physically/emotionally). Once you have the license then you can turn it into whatever you want.

juan de la cruz, MSN, RN, NP

Specializes in APRN, Adult Critical Care, General Cardiology. Has 27 years experience.

I have a different perspective. The OP's interest is in mental health and research. I don't think it's totally unreasonable to start out by seeking a direct entry program that will prepare for a Psychiatric Mental Health NP certification. Typically, these programs are 3 years of schooling the first year of which is BSN completion though some programs do not award a BSN. Some programs require students to seek employment after the BSN component is completed and the student could take the NCLEX-RN. You certainly can start practice as a PMHNP after the NP portion of schooling is done and you've passed the certification.

There seems to be a relatively good demand for PMHNP's in many parts of the US so job security wouldn't be a big issue. On top of that, the OP is right about nursing schools accepting professors with PhD's in other related fields (other than a PhD in Nursing). Many research-intensive schools of nursing place a big premium on hiring faculty who can attract research funding and publish. Many of these research faculty are not likely to teach clinical courses anyway. There is typically a separate track for faculty who teach clinicals. With the PMHNP and PhD combo, the OP could actually lecture in a few theory courses related to mental health.

There were v. few doctoral programs in nursing until comparatively recently, and that's why so many (compared to other disciplines, that is) nursing academics have doctorates in other fields. Most of the individuals who are nursing faculty in university programs with "other" doctorates are people who started out as nurses (and later got a doctorate in something else) and have many years of nursing clinical experience. While it's true that there is a lot of demand for doctorally prepared nursing faculty, I'm not sure how well someone with a non-nursing background who then went back and "added on" a nursing degree in order to pursue nursing faculty positions would be received.

Juan has a good point about research-intensive schools having a stronger interest (than schools that focus primarily on education) in individuals who can bring in funding and focus on research and publication. Based on my own (admittedly somewhat limited) experience in nursing academia, I don't know that that interest is "stronger" enough to accommodate someone with no nursing background or experience who has decided to "jump the fence" into nursing largely because academic positions are easier to come by in nursing than in her/his original field.

Yeah, there are indeed quite a few positions out there for MSN/PhD's in nursing education. But very honestly, I think your plan would put you in a Catch-22 situation. It is a BIG, IMPORTANT school that accepts faculty that cannot switch-hit (do clinicals, teach, research and write.) I have a PhD and interviewed at about 5 or 6 places. There was always that moment in the interview process where one search committee member would ask how I would feel about "taking a clinical group." I always said NO. I didn't get any of those jobs.

In order to be on a faculty, even if you do NOT take students into the clinical area, you will absolutely need to be ready to lecture. You are going to have to do face time with students. End of story. Ideally the lecture content for which you'll be responsible will be something that relates to your specialty... but often it's only a tangential relationship. (You're mental health... hey! You get to teach the nursing care of dementia patients to undergraduates!!! Oh, and Parkinson's disease, too. Congratulations! And while you're at it, your objectives need to cover the drugs used to treat these conditions. You better know a lot about Dopamine neurotransmission in the substantia nigra!)

If you come on board with a grant that pays your salary, you can probably name your terms and stipulate that you will not teach students in the clinical area. But do not plan on getting a research position, sans clinical rotations, without having that funding in hand from the get-go.

Bottom line, in order to be a professor of nursing, you need to be a nurse. You can be a molecular biologist/pharmacologist (me) but please... don't aspire to teach if you aren't ready to be a professional role model for nursing students.

Well, the goal would be to be at one of those "big, important schools." I'm doing my PhD at one now. And, I never claimed to want to go into a nursing research career to ignore students. I work with undergrads now and I love interact with students, and I have a vested interest in improving the health care workforce, especially mental health care. I suppose I was talking like an academic where the assumption is that if you say you want to have a research career, people know you are talking about research, teaching, and service as a professor. That would be the ideal for me. I'm well aware that the classes I teach won't be related to my specialty, because that's the way academia is in every field, including the one I am currently in.

If I were to do this, it wouldn't be to sideline my way into a research professor career that I think is "easier than my 'own' field." Nursing would BECOME my own field. My goal would be to integrate teaching, research, and practice as a PMHNP. I would be completely willing to practice for some years and complete a nursing postdoctoral fellowship before transitioning into becoming a nursing faculty member. And I wouldn't want to stop practicing simply because I became a nursing faculty member. (This is common in my field, too - many clinical psychologists continue to practice even once they become psychology faculty.)

My request for advice was more about what kinds of experiences I should seek out if I wanted to be a nursing professor.


Specializes in Nephrology. Has 2 years experience.

I'm really not trying to be negative about nursing as a pathway for you. An experience I would suggest for you would be to get your nurse's aid certification and maybe work for a few months as a CNA. It will be very helpful in preparing you for clinicals as well as a little exposure to A LOT of drugs. It will also help give you an idea of if you have what it takes to tackle nursing school.

My request for advice was more about what kinds of experiences I should seek out if I wanted to be a nursing professor.

Several years (min.) of clinical nursing experience.

Hey, so did you end up getting the BSN/MSN? I hold a phd in sociology from an ivy but I specialized in a niche field. I ended up not pursuing academia very seriously after getting a few interviews for faculty jobs. And because I have always been interested in nursing, I am thinking about getting an entry level master's in nursing at U of Arizona where my husband will be a postdoc. The tuition cost would be low. But I am planning to get into nursing to work as a nurse. I work as a public school teacher now so teaching and researching may be something down the road for me, expect the proliferation of nursing PhDs may make that tough in 10 years.