Jun 28, 2021
By Gina Pittman

To all the nurse practitioners out there: pursue your PhD. You can do it, and it’s worth it!

istockphoto.com/WavebreakmediaNPs may be less likely to seek a PhD degree because a vast majority of NPs receive a non-thesis-based master’s degree, making writing a doctoral dissertation seem daunting.

The nurse practitioner (NP) role in Canada has evolved considerably since its establishment in 1973. However, research on the NP role is lacking. I feel this is the right time to encourage NPs to earn a doctoral level of education so they are in a position to generate the research needed to show the vital contribution of this nursing role.

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses (RNs) who complete additional master’s-level education. The scope of practice of a primary health-care NP can be compared to that of a family physician and includes patient assessments, formulating diagnoses, and providing prescribed treatments as necessary. However, there is a considerable lack of research regarding NPs’ practice and prescribing patterns in Canada (Pittman, Morrell, & Ralph, 2020).

Courtesy of Gina Pittman“I feel this is the right time to encourage NPs to earn a doctoral level of education so they are in a position to generate the research needed to show the vital contribution of this nursing role,” Gina Pittman says.

Given the responsibility associated with this profession, NP research is essential to inform educational and political policies related to the position. This shift toward research is timely, given our ever-changing educational platforms and advances in technology.

As an NP educator, I feel it is essential that we encourage NPs in Canada to pursue doctoral-level (PhD) education. NPs may be less likely to seek a PhD degree because a vast majority of NPs receive a non-thesis-based master’s degree, making writing a doctoral dissertation seem daunting.

I know this because that was me a short time ago. I began my journey toward a PhD in nursing four years ago. Coming from this background, I felt less prepared to tackle a doctoral program.

I started talking to master’s thesis students and attending PhD dissertation defences to gain insight into the process. NPs who have doctorate-level education can play a vital role in NP program development and curriculum changes.

I encourage all master’s-prepared RNs to complete doctoral education. However, I write this because in Canada, we lack PhD-prepared NPs who could help narrow the research gap related to our field. If we are to advise policy and make necessary changes in education to enhance the quality of patient care in today’s environment, we need to band together.

I write this as an open letter to all NPs to pursue their PhD. You can do it. Will it be easy? No — but it will definitely be worth it!

I am a PhD student who is willing to collaborate with anyone to share personal experiences as an NP and an aspiring doctoral candidate. I am advocating for you. You can do this; I’m hoping I have given you a little inspiration!

Reference

Pittman, G., Morrell, S., & Ralph, J. (2020). Opioid prescribing safety measures utilized by primary healthcare providers in Canada: A scoping review. Journal of Nursing Regulation, 10(4), 13–21. Retrieved from https://www.journalofnursingregulation.com/article/S2155-8256(20)30009-0/abstract

Gina Pittman, NP, MN, PhD(c), is a graduate student and lecturer in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Windsor. Her dissertation work is aimed at illuminating nurse practitioner practice.

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