Chapter 15 – Cogito Ergo Sum

I was worried, having been the oldest in my master’s class, that I surely would be one of the oldest students in the doctoral class. Nurses, historically, had raised children first and earned advanced degrees later. And if they got doctorates, those degrees were often earned in areas such as education, psychology, or physiology, because doctoral programs in nursing were not available.

The University of Illinois started the first PhD program in nursing in the seventies. By 1987, when I was starting, the PhD in nursing was considered the crème de la crème of degrees. The rumor among nurses was, “If you’re younger than fifty, the terminal degree—the doctorate—must be in nursing; if older than fifty, it doesn’t matter.” My sister Kay had gotten her doctorate in counseling psychology, and, even though I’d explored that doctorate and others in psychology, she strongly urged me to get mine in nursing.

And, by 1987, younger nurses were pursuing advanced degrees. Would I feel rusty next to students half my age? I wanted to be able to hold my own among them. I didn’t want them to know, for example, that before I’d taken the math review course, I hadn’t known that an integer is a whole number. I felt dated in the simplest of things.

Also, would I be able to withstand the rigor of the coursework and then the dissertation? As much as I’d wanted to do this and had looked forward to it, suddenly I thought the idea might be preposterous. I’d gotten tired in my teaching life, and I had no assurance that I could sail through a student life, along with a commute, and still have time awake to spend with Marv.

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