, , ,

What came to your mind when you read this title? A physician, or a nurse with a doctoral degree?

Chances are your first thought was a physician. With less than one percent of all nurses having doctorates, you may not even know doctoral degrees exist in nursing. You would not be alone.

The first program in the U.S. to offer doctoral education for nurses was Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1924. However, that degree was in education, and those nurses earned an EdD, a doctorate in education. In addition to education, nurses who wanted advanced education earned degrees in closely related fields like physiology, psychology, and sociology.

In 1975, as a front-runner in advanced nursing education, the University of Illinois College Of Nursing (UIC CON) started a research doctoral program, a PhD, for nurses who wanted to earn their terminal (or highest) degree in their own profession (like I did). That year, the CON admitted 9 students into their new PhD program in the science of nursing (Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing Science).

Only Case Western, who started their program in 1972, preceded them, and they were joined by University of Michigan who also started a program in 1975.

Then, in 2005, the UIC CON added a clinical doctoral program, a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice). The DNP got its start as a Nursing Doctorate (ND) in the early 1990’s, with programs established at Case Western Reserve University, the University of Colorado, and Rush University.

You may be saying, so what? Last weekend, at the UIC CONs Alumni Weekend, honoring the forty years of PhD grads, and ten years of DNP grads, Dr. Brigid Lusk (nurse) gave us an overview of “When Nurses Become Doctors,” the history of the evolution of advanced education for nurses.

Lusk emphasized that our primary focus is on patient care. Patients deserve our best. In order to do our best, we need to have a scientific basis for doing what we do. Up until we nurses were conducting our own research, we borrowed theories and research findings from other fields. Now we have our own theories of nursing and research findings that undergird and guide our practice.

Also, with advanced education, we are better equipped to serve in leadership positions in the making of health care policy. For a long time, we nurses were the brunt of stereotypes made popular by the media, and we continue to dispel those myths. Having an evidence-based (i.e. research based) profession not only improves patient care, but also establishes a scientific foundation for our profession, making us equal partners at the leadership tables.

IMG_3452In a future post, I’ll talk more about the weekend’s programs, but for now I want to say thank you to the CON for providing me, a 1991 PhD grad, with a stimulating few days back in scholarly halls. I am excited about what younger generations of nurses are doing. And, as one of my colleagues said, “I’m proud to be a part of this.” And I’m sure the other 400 graduates to date are too.