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Rounds with Leadership: Collaborating to Advance the PhD in Nursing

Published August 29, 2018

Welcome to Rounds with Leadership, a new forum for AACN’s Board Chair and President/CEO to offer commentary on issues and trends impacting academic nursing.

August 29, 2018 - Collaborating to Advance the PhD in Nursing

On August 22, AACN and the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) co-hosted a select group of academic nursing leaders and invited guests in Washington, DC to discuss the pipeline into PhD programs and the need to sustain high quality nursing science. AACN data show that since 2014, enrollment in research-focused doctoral programs has declined by 9.6%, precipitating a call to action. Participants at this convening included five top officials from NINR – including outgoing Director Dr. Patricia Grady and incoming Interim Director Dr. Ann Cashion; AACN leaders including Board Chair Dr. Ann Cary, President and CEO Dr. Deborah Trautman, and Chief  Policy Officer Dr. Suzanne Miyamoto – as well as deans and research directors from a cross-section of nursing schools, including those affiliated with an academic health center, public and private institutions, and a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).  

Discussion at the meeting focused on the need to generate new excitement among students to pursue the PhD as well as careers in nursing science and related areas. The group considered how many PhD-prepared nurses are needed to meet the nation’s needs, what the “satisfiers” are that come with doctoral level preparation, how to spark interest in the scholarship of discovery, and the need for science as we shift to population-based care. Concerns were raised about the aging of nurse investigators; the limited availability of research funding, post-docs, and resources needed to mount a PhD program; and regulatory obstacles in some states that discourage students from completing a PhD. Those present discussed the need to promote PhD programs to both future nurse scientists and those with a primary interest in other areas (e.g. policy, leadership, education) as well as how to capture the impact of nursing science on healthcare practice and policy.

Much of the meeting was helping to define the problem, and at the same time several priority areas and action steps did emerge. Participants clearly saw a need for additional funding and resources to support the research enterprise at schools of nursing, a desire for core messages that speak to the need for PhD-prepared nurses and the impact of nursing science, and a forum to showcase nurse researchers and their work to give students a better sense for career paths. In response to the expressed need for more access to data on the current state of the PhD, AACN has developed a new resource on our website to convey the latest statistics and trends related to the research-focused doctorate. This new section, which is found online at, contains the latest data on enrollment and graduations, applications to PhD programs, nurse researcher profiles, a reference list related to the research-focused doctorate, NINR opportunities, and multimedia resources for students considering a PhD.

This conversation was only the first step in AACN’s work to strengthen and champion the PhD. Plans are underway to expand this discussion to all schools and stakeholders within our communities of interest at two upcoming conferences, including the Dialogue with CNOs (held in conjunction with AACN’s Academic Nursing Leadership Conference) in Washington, DC in October and the PhD Pre-Conference held in advance of AACN’s Doctoral Education Conference in San Diego, CA in January 2019. We are looking to have a more robust exchange that will lead to action steps and consensus on where to focus AACN’s response to ensuring that PhD pipeline remains strong and nursing science is elevated.

AACN encourages all member schools to join us in our work to promote the PhD given the great need for faculty, scientists, advocates, mentors, and leaders. As this important work moves forward, we will be sure to alert you as new resources and opportunities to engage in this priority issue are announced.