BSN to PhD as a New Grad

  1. Hi! I often read the posts on these forums when they come up in my google searches and decided it was finally time for me to join.

    I am a junior in a BSN program in Illinois. I am intent upon entering a BSN to PhD program after I graduate. I want to focus research on community and mental health disparities among urban populations and plan to work in psychiatric nursing as I complete my degree. I want to teach and do research and work on policy reform for mental and public health acts and believe that the PhD degree is the best route for me.

    Many of the posts I have read are against new grad nurses entering a BSN to PhD degree with little to no experience in the field they plan to do research and teach in. While I see that as a very valid point, if I know exactly where I want to place myself in my profession and know what I need to work towards to get there, is it still a bad idea?

    I will be working with the mental health population for my community health nursing course next fall and have also requested to take part in research of a study that a psychology professor at our school is conducting on sabatical, as none of our nursing professors are currently pursuing research.

    I am looking for any advice that will strengthen my applications to these programs being a new grad and also any suggestions on what programs would be best for my specific interest.

    Thanks!
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    About AMC347

    Joined: Apr '09; Posts: 4

    16 Comments

  3. by   BBFRN
    I say go for it, if you can. It'll take several years for you to get your PhD, and you can work in your area of interest for a while, while pursuing your dream.

    I would suggest going to another school for your PhD though, since none of your professors are currently doing any research. You'll need the strong mentorship of those who are performing research, if you are to learn how to do it yourself. You can gain work experience while you shop around, too.

    FWIW, I do have experience with my particular research topic, but little with my population of interest. I fix that problem by a.) working with an expert (on her projects) who researches this population, thereby gaining experience and exposure to them, b.) doing independent study courses with this mentor, so I can learn more on topics related to my interest area and the population, and c.) lots of researching on the topic/population myself.

    I know a few very successful PhD students, whose interests are completely outside their bedside nursing experience areas. BUT- they are all experienced RNs, APNs, etc. Experience as a nurse will be an essential component to your success as a PhD student, but if you're really dedicated, I'm thinking you may be able to move from novice to expert within a shorter time frame than most.

    That's just my opinion as a BSN-PhD student, though. You may receive different advice from those who already have their PhDs, and have way more experience in dealing with a diverse variety of PhD students than I do. You may want to talk to some of your professors, and see what they have to say as well. You may also have a harder time getting accepted to a program, until you've had some experience under your belt.
  4. by   UVA Grad Nursing
    I am the Assistant Dean (and coordinate admissions and financial aid) for a graduate nursing program. We enroll 10-15 new PHD students each year (approximately 1/3 are BSN-PHD). All of our PHD students receive full scholarship and many also receive stipends. This financial aid package makes us an anomoly in terms of nursing doctoral programs.

    While we do not require experience, most of our PHD applicants have at least 1 year of work experience. Our PHD program focuses on expanding knowledge to make patients' lives better. Having some imformed experience in nursing has helped student focus their attention on gaps in nursing knowledge and ways to expand nursing into new areas, new populations, new technologies, etc.

    However, we have enrolled three brand new graduates over the past few years. One was direct from her BSN; I met her at the Sigma Theta Tau national conference where she was presenting a poster as a college senior! Not many undergrads exhibit at national conferences (let alone STT). A second already had a Masters in Public Health and had done populations research before becoming a nurse. The third had worked for a few years after her first BA in a public health clinic in San Francisco before entering nursing school. This third individual will graduate in a few months with her Direct Entry MSN and start our PHD program in September. Her area of interest is access-to-care drawing upon her work experience with the urban poor in San Francisco.

    Entering the PHD as a new grad is doable at my institution, but requires a candidate to have a particular focus and 'track record' in either research or work experience to allow them to "stand out".
  5. by   llg
    I agree with the others. I believe it is possible and I would not say "never." However, I strongly believe that some real-world practice experience is adventageous to a PhD student's success. The types of experiences that undergraduate nursing student get are barely sufficient to prepare them for the real world of nursing practice as an entry-level staff nurse, which is what they are designed to do. A PhD student needs a deeper understanding of nursing and nursing practice to become a leader and to evaluate and develop nursing knowledge.

    Fortunately, there are lots of different timetables and paths you can take to get some good solid experience along the way. I recommend taking advantage of whatever "hands-on" experience you can get so that you can develop basic competence before trying to engage in expert-level activities.
  6. by   dianacs
    Another question you may have to answer along the way is--given your desire to enter a BSN to PhD program ASAP--why nursing as your chosen discipline? It seems that clinical practice is only a secondary consideration for you at this time. Why not another discipline such as public health, for example? What is it about the nursing discipline that provides the framework for your long-term goals? I myself am not disagreeing with your plan or your goals--but you may need to be prepared to answer these questions down the road. Good luck to you.
  7. by   marachne
    I am currently finishing up (i.e. in the data collection part of my dissertation) a BS to PhD. I went straight from my BSN to my PhD (well, I had 9 months of full-time work between an accelerated bachelor's program and starting my PhD program), BUT, I also was a returning student with a lot of life experience.

    That said, my program has had everything from people like me, to people who had been working for quite a while, to people who were in their 20's and had little experience. All have had at least some experience in either research or heath care (even if it was in a CNA or volunteer role).

    What I have observed* is:

    If you are going directly into a PhD program post receiving your BSN, it is essential that you work at least part-time. You cannot develop the deep thinking about nursing and clinical issues without clinical experience. I see that that is your plan, and that shows good thinking.

    People with limited experience, tend to have a harder time deciding on a research topic -- not a general area, such as you have expressed, but the specific topic that will become their dissertation. That said, I think it is also important to be open, as you go through the early years of a PhD program to ideas other than the ones you come in with -- your learning and understanding will grow as you progress through the program.

    As BBFRN stated, you need to look for a program that has faculty doing research in your area of interest. That said, it could be people doing work on MH issues, people doing work on health disparities...possibly even policy-focused research, but that's a bit more vauge.

    Once you have found institutions with like-minded faculty, interview the school -- talk to potential mentors/advisors, talk to current students, find out how they structure their BS to PhD program, who their students are, how they support them etc. If you are interested in teaching as well as research, I would also take a hard look at the curricurlum -- do they include classes, or access to classes about education? As someone with limited nursing experience, you will have an harder time making the transition to the classroom w/o some education background.

    One thing I would NOT suggest (and I admit, this is my bias showing) is a distance learning program. I think they are difficult for anyone, because you do not get the socialization or informal time with faculty and colleages, but particularly as a new grad with little experience, I think you need to potentially supportive environment of a campus-based program.

    One last comment, which is not meant to discourage you: something that has become evident to me as I go through my program and watch others in their process is that a PhD is not for everyone. Be open to finding out what does and doesn't work for you, and do not become so stuck on a particular vision that you loose sight of what is really the best fit for you.

    Good luck with your decisions!

    *anecdotal, not empirical evidence
  8. by   MBARN
    Is a PhD in public health a good career choice for someone with an MBA, BSN and who has lived overseas, speaks a foreign lanagage and has been an officer in the military? My interests are in research and consulting, I already have business consulting experience and a 20 year career in consulting and sales. My MBA concentration is international business and statistics and I want todo further research into global health issues. Please advise
  9. by   Moogie
    Quote from MBARN
    Is a PhD in public health a good career choice for someone with an MBA, BSN and who has lived overseas, speaks a foreign lanagage and has been an officer in the military? My interests are in research and consulting, I already have business consulting experience and a 20 year career in consulting and sales. My MBA concentration is international business and statistics and I want todo further research into global health issues. Please advise
    I think you sound very well qualified and could go far with your background and a PhD in public health. You would likely have plenty of opportunities in teaching, working for global health concerns or working for the government. You could also become an independent consultant. I hope you find a school that well suits your needs and helps you along your goals.
  10. by   cnscronce
    Thank you to all who have posted on this topic. I am a staff nurse who is considering the BSN to PhD option. Nursing is a second career for me. I graduate with my BSN in 2007 and currently work as a RN on a renal/pulmonary step-down unit. I thought about going straight into the BSN to PhD program after finishing my BSN, but thought it would be best for me to get some work experience. This was the best decision I could have made. Working as a staff nurse for the last 3.5 years has further enhanced my interest in pursuing the BSN to PhD option.

    My main concern about applying to a BSN to PhD program is my lack of research experience. However, I did do a research project as a senior Honor's student in my BSN program. On my unit, I am a preceptor for new nurses as well as serve as a Charge Nurse. I am a staff nurse III and working on my staff nurse IV (the highest level of my hospitals clinical ladder). I am the Chair of my floors unit based council as well as a member of my local nursing association and the AACN. I have an interest in focusing my research on ESRD among minorities. Specifically the uncertainty and depression that goes along with this disease, especially during a new diagnosis. I also have an interest in research on nursing interventions that may prevent ESRD in minorities with hypertension and/or diabestes. I am studying for the GRE and am even signed up for a Kaplan course to help increase my chances of getting a competitive score.

    Does anyone have any suggestions of other things I can do to make myself a better candidate for a BSN to PhD program? I know such a program is a huge undertaking, but I am willing to give it my all. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
  11. by   czyja
    Quote from UVA Grad Nursing
    Entering the PHD as a new grad is doable at my institution, but requires a candidate to have a particular focus and 'track record' in either research or work experience to allow them to "stand out".
    I am a direct entry MSN student and I applied to the PhD program at my universitythe above poster's institution)

    UVA Grad Nursing is quite correct. You need a track record. Remember a PhD is an education in how to develop and conduct research. Programs will want you to have a very clear idea of what it is you want to do in their program and expect you to demonstrate your interest by your past activities. Moreover, your research goals need to be congruent with the research programs of the faculty.

    If you are having trouble getting research experience at you current program you may wish to consider applying to an MS program at a university that offers a PhD with faculty conducting research in your area of interest. In this way you could garner some research experience and develop relationships with faculty.

    If you are interested in Policy you may wish to consider at an MPP or similar degree as an intermediate step.

    Good luck!
    Last edit by czyja on Feb 19, '11
  12. by   czyja
    Quote from cnscronce
    Specifically the uncertainty and depression that goes along with this disease, especially during a new diagnosis. I also have an interest in research on nursing interventions that may prevent ESRD in minorities with hypertension and/or diabestes. I am studying for the GRE and am even signed up for a Kaplan course to help increase my chances of getting a competitive score.

    Does anyone have any suggestions of other things I can do to make myself a better candidate for a BSN to PhD program? I know such a program is a huge undertaking, but I am willing to give it my all. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
    It sounds like you have a very clear idea about the kind of research you would like to do.
    Do you know where you would like to get your PhD? Are there any faculty working in health disparities at that institution? (There are lots of them at mine). The issue of disparities in health care is hot, hot, hot right now. This should work greatly to your advantage because there is abundant and growing funding coupled with a need for PhD students to get the grunt work done.

    If there is any way you could do a little research and present it at a conference, I suspect that would help immensely. Do you work at a teaching hospital? Are there any researchers working in this area? You may want to see if you can do a little volunteer work and gain some experience in their group.

    Good luck on the GRE. It is a bear, but you will make it.
  13. by   cnscronce
    czyja,

    Thank you so much for the insight. Your suggestions are very good ones. I think there would be opportunities to do some research and present that information at conferences sponsored by the associations I belong to. I am interested in two different PhD programs.

    One is at the school where I obtained my BSN (UNC Chapel Hill). This school is very well known for their PhD program and funding, especially as it relates to managing chronic illnesses. Also there are a ton of faculty who have research experience related to health disparities. However, having gotten my BSN from this school I do think it may not be a bad idea to have experience with another SON.

    The other school's BSN to PhD program (East Carolina University) has a concentration in Nursing Education, which is also an interest of mine. For example, you spend the first year of the PhD program taking a lot of the MSN Nursing Education courses and then you move onto the "PhD classes." This would be good for me because I am interested in teaching as well as doing research and it would be good to get those important "education" classes. If I did go and get a MSN before the PhD, it would definitely be in Nursing Education. So I saw this as an opportunity to get the best of both worlds. As for research, the majority of the faculty seem to have research with a focus on nursing education, nursing policy and the nursing workforce. I do not see a lot of faculty with research experience in chronic illnesses or health disparities. I do not see a fit with my research interest; however, this program would provide the foundation for my interest in education.

    I plan to apply to both programs. I think both schools provide opportunities in the two areas Im interested in. Thanks again for the suggestions, it was very helpful.
  14. by   Moogie
    You are so wise to study hard for the GRE. As others have said, the test is a bear but you can get through it. A good GRE score, as well as good grades in your undergraduate program, may open doors to fellowships and funding that will ease the burden of going through the program.

    I definitely see the appeal of a BSN to PhD program and, actually, I had applied to one such program about a year ago. I wasn't accepted into that track because they preferred to admit students with master's over those with BSNs but also because there weren't any faculty members doing research in my area of interest. You know, you can be a very well-qualified candidate but if there aren't faculty who are conducting the type of research you want to pursue, you may not get accepted just for that reason. I'm finishing up my master's in nursing education (at the school to which I had applied for the BSN to PhD track) and in the fall I am starting a traditional PhD program at a different school, one that is very strong in my area of interest. So this is what is working out for me.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is---if you don't get into a BSN to PhD track because of the school not having the right faculty for your interests or because there were other, more qualified candidates, don't feel like you'd be "settling" if you do the MSN first. You might be a stronger candidate after you finish a master's and you might have a little more life flexibility so that you could enter a PhD program at a school that strongly supports your research interests. Doing well in a master's program might open even more doors for you and get you better prepared for the rigors of a doctoral program---so do keep that option open as a "Plan B". I was really disappointed when I didn't get into the BSN to PhD track at my current school but I feel that the education I will be getting by going a more traditional route will be better in the long run. Things do happen for a reason!

    I wish you the best in whatever you choose to do. Good luck on the GRE!

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