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PhD or DNP to become Faculty?

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by adventure_rn adventure_rn, BSN (Member)

adventure_rn is a BSN and specializes in NICU, PICU.

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Hi all! I know that similar topics have been asked on this forum, but I'd love to get some input on my specific situation.

I'm a BSN-prepared nurse with ~5 years of NICU/PICU experience. Long-term, I'd like to be a full-time nursing faculty member at a 4-year college or university (I love academia), ideally while still picking up PRN NICU nursing shifts just for fun.

I've gotten mixed feedback about whether the PhD or the DNP would be more valuable for working as (non-tenure) faculty in an academic setting. It seems that some facilities prefer one over the other, while others are ambivalent.

At this point, I've little-to-no interest in working as an NP; in fact, I'm hesitant to pursue an NP degree because I worry it might prevent me from continuing to pick up NICU RN shifts (my passion). However, I've had some NPs recommend that I pursue an NP specifically because the DNP route is preferable to the PhD in a non-tenure nurse faculty setting.

I'm very enthusiastic about my research project topic, but I don't know that I'm interested enough to become a career researcher; therefore, tenure track seems unlikely.

Logistically/financially, the PhD makes a lot more sense to me. I'd have to pay for the DNP out-of-pocket, whereas the PhD program is fully-funded (no cost for books/tuition) with free healthcare coverage and a generous stipends (~$40,000/year). In contrast, I may have to pay upwards of $50,000 for the DNP. Both degrees can be completed in three years.

A friend of mine who works as an NP in an academic setting was trying to explain to me the NP-to-DNP is preferable over the PhD in a nurse faculty (non-tenure) setting, but I guess I'm just not seeing the benefit? Is there something I'm missing? It seems as though an NP degree with no NP experience is relatively useless; my understanding is that I'd have to work as an NP (again, which I have minimal interest in doing) in order to make it worthwhile. Can somebody shed some light on this topic.

Any and all feedback is much appreciated.

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saheckler has 9 years experience and specializes in Oncology, Public Health, Health Education.

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When you say non-tenure track, do you mean clinical track faculty? Or adjunct? What kind of teaching do you see yourself doing and what type of teaching position do you see yourself in? Do you have a preference for what kind of institution you want to teach in? Depending on your answer, it's possible that a master's in nursing education might be a good option for you. 

I would say that one of the biggest considerations in PhD vs DNP is whether or not you want to do research. The PhD program is designed to give you the skills you need to build your own program of research and become an independent researcher. If you're not excited about research then I think it will be a struggle to push yourself through a rigorous research-based program.

While most PhD programs that I'm familiar with are designed to launch graduates into post-docs then tenure track positions, that doesn't mean you have to do tenure track when you're finished; there are other options too. What are your reasons for not wanting to do tenure track? I think your answer to that question is important in figuring out whether or not a PhD program would be right for you.

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adventure_rn is a BSN and specializes in NICU, PICU.

1 Article; 16,526 Visitors; 1,044 Posts

Those are all excellent points, saheckler.

When I say non-tenure-track, I guess I'm thinking of my own professors. I attended a well-ranked nursing program at a state school affiliated with an academic hospital. Even so, the majority of my didactic classroom instructors were masters-prepared with no involvement in research. However, their job titles were as assistant or associate professors, and I don't think they were considered adjunct faculty. To my knowledge, many were full-time faculty; only about 5% of my instructors were tenured or tenure-track. Granted, that was five years ago, and since then, there's a new Dean who has mandated that they receive a doctoral degree (either PhD or DNP).

I'm not sure what the tenure vs. non-tenure trajectory looks like at different institutions (or if a full-time non-tenure trajectory even exists).

I suppose my hesitation about becoming tenure-track faculty is that I'm not 100% certain that I'd like to be a career researcher. I love my research topic enough that I'm sure I could easily stick with it for the 3-5 years that it would take to acquire a PhD. However, I'm not sure if I'd like to be a nurse researcher in a full-time, lifelong capacity. I do love teaching, and I think I'd enjoy teaching nursing students (both as a clinical instructor and in a classroom setting). I guess I'm wondering if there's a way to do that full-time, and what credentials would be required.

I understand that there are MSN programs in education; however, since so many programs prefer doctorally-prepared nursing instructors, I'm trying to figure out if it makes the most sense to skip the MSN and move straight into a PhD or DNP program.

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llg has 40 years experience as a PhD, RN and specializes in Nursing Professional Development.

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If you don't want to be an NP, then I would not do an NP program.   That would seem like a waste of time/effort/money to me.

It's hard for me to imagine a reputable school discriminating against a PhD.  It's the highest degree and I can't imagine a school saying, "Gee, you have the knowledge, skills, and experience we are looking for ... but that PhD is a problem."   If you have funding for the PhD, use it.   Once you have it, you can do as much or as little research as you want to do -- just choose a job that is consistent with the role that you want.

I have a PhD (NICU clinical background) and work in staff development.   I also teach 2 courses per year at a local university.   Neither job requires me to do research.   But I do an occasional small project when I want to.

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emmasuern has 10 years experience and specializes in Clinical Research.

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Have you thought about teaching clinicals at your local school?  My city has a CC and University and the requirements are 3 years bedside experience with a BSN.  This will give you a pretty good idea if you really want to teach long term.  This experience will also open the door for you if you want to teach with a PhD.

I recently finished my PhD and our program does not fund their students or give stipends.  You are extremely lucky if that is being offered to you.  I used money from the Nurse Faculty Loan Program to pay for my program.  I had to work part-time on the side to pay my bills.  NFLP offers 85% loan forgiveness after working as faculty for 4 years.  I wish I would have been funded and given a stipend.  I would probably be going into industry instead of teaching to have my loans forgiven. 

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adventure_rn is a BSN and specializes in NICU, PICU.

1 Article; 16,526 Visitors; 1,044 Posts

On 7/3/2019 at 11:43 AM, emmasuern said:

I wish I would have been funded and given a stipend.  I would probably be going into industry instead of teaching to have my loans forgiven. 

Out of curiosity, what industry jobs are available to nurse PhDs? I've heard this concept thrown around, but I've never gotten a clear answer.

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saheckler has 9 years experience and specializes in Oncology, Public Health, Health Education.

739 Visitors; 54 Posts

On 7/10/2019 at 12:17 PM, adventure_rn said:

Out of curiosity, what industry jobs are available to nurse PhDs? I've heard this concept thrown around, but I've never gotten a clear answer.

I've heard of PhD prepared nurses taking jobs as research analysts, data analysts, research scientists, etc. I've seen positions like this with various non-profits (usually public health related), large health departments (NYC had one that sounded interesting to me), the CDC or NIH, pharmaceutical companies, and probably beyond. I think the jobs are out there but it can be tough to find out about these options because there is such a push to stay in academia if you go the PhD route. I think there are also a lot of jobs available to PhD prepared nurses that are not focused on research, but I know less about those since research is what I want to do.

I would recommend talking to as many nursing faculty and PhD and DNP program directors as you can. A PhD or DNP program director should be able to tell you about what previous students have done after graduation and give you a feel for how supportive the program would be of alternative career paths. It might be hard to be in a program that really pushes research and academia as a career path if that is not where you see yourself (major research institutions might not be a good fit if you're interested in teaching but not a research career). 

It sounds like you are already giving this a lot of thought and looking into your options, which is great! I'm sure you will make a solid decision. The nice thing is that any advanced nursing degree opens all kinds of doors, so it's hard to go wrong because there is so much versatility. I have met nurses in all kinds of unexpected positions! I'm sure whatever you choose, you will be able to carve a career path out of it that suits you.

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emmasuern has 10 years experience and specializes in Clinical Research.

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I meant to respond to this earlier and I apologize for the delayed response.  Prior to my PhD program, I worked as a Clinical Research Nurse.  I worked with drug and device companies to assist with clinical trials.  I worked at a very large hospital in Houston and worked on some very interesting trials, including stem cell therapy and gene therapy.  I loved the work!  I had multiple sponsors that said I should reach out to them when I was done.  I knew most of the positions they wanted me for would probably have heavy travel and I didn't feel like 80% travel at this point in my life.  Not all of the jobs with industry are heavy travel. 

I really do enjoy research.  I decided to do a PhD program because I wanted to be able to have more control over the type of research trials that I was working on.  I'm starting a tenure track position at an education-focused school and I don't see myself doing much research in the future.  I'm currently doing stats work and study design for a research study with an old classmate.  I did 3 years of TA in one of the grad level stats courses and people love to pick my brain.  This morning I was helping a DNP student with her stats interpretation for her DNP project.  I never imagined I would be helping people with statistics when I went back to school. 

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