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As a retired nurse educator, I’m excited about the trend in nursing to prepare nurses at a younger age for research and, particularly, academic careers.

As we older nurses like to say, “in my day” as a new diploma grad in 1962, I never thought about a full-time career in academia. In fact, in those days, we “knew” we had to put in years of clinical practice, perhaps raise a family, and, as advanced degrees became required to teach, return to school to earn those degrees.

Me in “nurses training” – 1960

In my day in my hospital, it was accepted practice that new nursing grads start out on the night shift, progressing to evening and then day shifts as the current year’s grads started their move down the shifts.

So that’s the course I followed. I worked one year of 11-7s on a medical-surgical unit of twenty-seven beds, with the assistance of one nurse’s aide. The next year, with the advent of the new grads, I “graduated” to the 3-11 shift as charge nurse of my unit and the one down the hall, fifty-five beds in all, with a medication nurse (RN), a treatment nurse (LPN, and a few aides on each end.

In my third year, when the supervisor of both units left, the head nurse on one unit was promoted to that position, and I was asked to assume the head nurse’s role.

I bought into this progression and this solid experience in medical-surgical nursing as an essential foundation to every nursing career. After all, I paid my “hospital dues” and learned every aspect of twenty-four hour care of any inpatient experiencing a myriad of medical diagnoses and a host of surgical interventions. I also bought into the accepted educational path of my era—diploma (1962), taking time out to have a family, and then proceeding with bachelor’s (1977), master’s (1981), and doctoral (1991) degrees, this latter date corresponding with the year my youngest child graduated from college.

I began my career in academia in an associate degree nursing program after I earned the bachelor’s. When it became mandatory in Illinois for nurses to have a master’s to teach, I went back for a master’s. When I moved on to teaching in a baccalaureate program, I went back for a doctorate that, even though not required, I wanted to meet the requirement for the other disciplines of holding the terminal (highest attainable) degree.

Even if I had wanted to earn a doctorate in nursing earlier, the first program offering a PhD in nursing in Illinois wasn’t started until 1975. Until that time, nurses wanting doctorates earned them in education or the social or physical sciences. And it wasn’t until 1979 that a practiced-focused doctoral degree, now a DNP, was offered.

Yet, it wasn’t until 1995 that the first BSN to doctoral program opened. By 2010 that number had jumped to seventy-three, and the number continues to grow.

One example of this type of program is the partnership between the BSN program at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and the PhD program at Michigan State University.

The availability of these BSN to doctoral programs is why I’m excited. I can’t help but wonder how different my career might have been if “in my day” there had been the possibility of earning a doctoral degree in nursing and spending my entire career in academia and/or research.  As it was, I retired in 2000, only nine years after I earned a doctorate.

Today, with the “graying” and retirement of nursing faculty causing qualified applicants to nursing schools to be turned away, it only makes sense to prepare nurses at a younger age for careers in academia.

Thinking of those young people committed to the role of faculty member—committed to the promotion and tenure requirements not only related to their teaching, but also their research, their nursing and university-wide committees, and their valuable service to their communities—makes me go to bed smiling.

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