Pathways to the PhD in Nursing: An Analysis of Similarities and Differences

Nadine Nehls, Gale Barber, Elizabeth Rice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


New educational pathways are needed to increase the number of doctor of philosophy (PhD)-prepared nurses. To address this need, an early-entry PhD option designed to engage students in PhD coursework and research during the undergraduate nursing major was developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. An evaluation comparing the early-entry option with two more conventional entry points was conducted. Three groups (N = 84) comprised the sample: (a) early-entry students admitted as undergraduates or immediately upon graduation (N = 29), (b) mid-entry students with baccalaureate degrees and at least 1 year of work experience (N = 27), and (c) delayed-entry students with master's degrees and 1 or more years of work experience (N = 28). Qualitative and quantitative data were collected from the 3 groups of students who were admitted from 2002 to 2011. The sources of data were transcriptions of individual interviews and reviews of existing data. Seventy-seven percent of the sample participated in the individual interviews. The database review included all students who matriculated into the PhD program. Common themes among the 3 groups included a need for educational funding, the importance of a faculty mentor, and concern about preparation for the teaching role and the academic work environment. The groups were also comparable in terms of research productivity during doctoral study and postgraduation employment. Differences were found on measures of diversity, program progression, and perceptions of clinical competence. The findings provide needed data for the development and expansion of educational pathways to the PhD in nursing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-172
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Professional Nursing
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Doctoral education
  • Early-entry PhD nursing programs
  • Mentoring
  • PhD nursing education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)


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