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About the American Association of Colleges of Nursing
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is the national voice for academic nursing representing more than 850 schools of nursing nationwide. AACN establishes quality standards for nursing education, influences the nursing profession to improve health care, and promotes public support of baccalaureate and graduate nursing education, research, and practice. 



U.S. Nursing Schools Endorse a New Vision for Research-Focused Doctoral Programs in Nursing

Published April 12, 2022

WASHINGTON, DC, April 12, 2022 — The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and its more than 850 member schools of nursing have endorsed a new position statement, titled The Research-Focused Doctoral Program in Nursing: Pathways to Excellence, which promotes quality and innovation in nursing PhD programs (and similar programs focused on nursing science). With online ballots cast March 28-April 11, 2022, deans of the nation’s nursing schools affiliated with AACN voted to endorse this new statement developed to champion excellence in nursing education, stimulate strong interest among students in the PhD, and elevate nursing research.

“This new vision for the research-focused doctorate provides a roadmap for preparing the next generation of nursing scientists needed to advance scholarship, lead research efforts, and build the foundation for nursing practice,” said Dr. Cynthia McCurren, Chair of the AACN Board of Directors. “The consensus-building process that culminated in this statement has stimulated national dialogue about the future of the PhD and how to cultivate interest among students in careers as nurse researchers, faculty, and leaders.”

Research-focused doctoral programs focus on the generation and application of nursing research. These programs prepare graduates to further the scholarship of the discipline by generating new knowledge. A hallmark of doctoral education is a highly individualized program of study that allows graduates to develop expertise in the core knowledge and methods of the discipline and expertise in a selected area of research; as well as to understand the importance of engagement in interdisciplinary collaboration. Currently, 149 research-focused doctorates (PhD, DNS, EdD) are offered at U.S. schools of nursing as well as seven dual PhD/DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) programs.

Prepared by the Research-Focused Doctoral Program Pathways to Excellence Task Force, which was led by Dr. Marion Broome from Duke University School of Nursing, the 2022 position statement builds on the previous Pathways to Excellence document issued in 2010. The newly endorsed statement was developed through a consensus-building process involving hundreds of AACN deans and faculty as well as a wide array of academic, practice, and organizational leaders.

Recommendations in the new statement are made in three areas – Students, Faculty, and Curriculum and Evaluation – and include:

  • Strengthening the recruitment and retention of diverse students in PhD programs; elevating the importance of mentorship, economic support, and counseling for a variety of career paths; and monitoring student progression to support timely program completion.
  • Recruiting faculty with diverse expertise in their areas of research specialty as well as an active program of research to ensure that educators lead by example as they prepare and mentor PhD students.
  • Developing curricula that reflect evolving areas of science and technology, including data science, systems science, implementation science, translational research, and improvement science. 

The position statement also identifies educational pathways to the PhD and career paths for program graduates; resources for faculty support and development; recommendations for accommodating international students; and expectations for dual PhD-DNP and post-doctoral fellowship programs.

“Preparing more nurses to engage in scientific inquiry and dissemination is essential to advancing the nursing profession and bridging the gaps in health care,” said Dr. Deborah Trautman, AACN President and Chief Executive Officer. “AACN is committed to working with our practice partners and other stakeholders to advocate for more resources for PhD programs and support to create a more diverse community of nurse scholars.” 

The Research-Focused Doctoral Program in Nursing: Pathways to Excellence position statement can be accessed here on the AACN website. For a look at the latest data on the PhD in nursing and related resources, click here.