The Institute of Medicine’s Report, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health” states nurses should be encouraged to pursue doctoral degrees early in their careers to maximize the potential value of their additional education. I finished my PhD in nursing when I was 30 years old. Several people told me I didn’t have enough clinical nursing experience to continue with my education. Why some nurses feel the need to hold others back from continuing their education is beyond me.

The fact is, some of the most respected contributors to our profession obtained their PhDs early in their careers. Here is only a partial list of these amazing nurses: Jacqueline Fawcett, PhD, RN, FAAN, of the University of Massachusetts, received her PhD 12 years after completing her BSN. She is internationally known for her metatheoretical work in nursing.

• Jean Watson, PHD, RN, AHN-BC, FAAN, earned her PhD 12 years after earning her initial nursing degree. She is the founder of the Watson Caring Science Institute and is an American Academy of Nursing Living Legend.

• Afaf I. Meleis, PhD, RN, FAAN, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, earned her PhD seven years after obtaining her BS in 1961. She is an internationally renowned nurse-researcher and an AAN Living Legend.

• Margaret Newman, PhD, RN, FAAN, obtained her BSN in 1962 and her PhD in 1971. She is the creator of the Theory of Health as Expanding Consciousness and an AAN Living Legend.

Are you thinking about going back to school? Has someone encouraged you to consider it? The Future of Nursing report notes that major changes in the U.S. healthcare system and practice environment will require profound changes in the education of nurses. But the report also notes that the primary goal of nursing education remains the same, which is to educate nurses to meet diverse patient needs, function as leaders and advance science from the associate’s degree to the doctorate degree.

One of the recommendations of the Future of Nursing report was to double the number of nurses with doctoral degrees by 2020, and by 2016 that recommendation had been met mainly due to the creation of the DNP or doctor of nursing practice degree. Knowing this, the IOM’s Assessing Progress on the IOM Report the Future of Nursing updated their recommendations in 2015 stating that more emphasis should be placed on increasing the number of PhD-prepared nurses. The DNP has been regarded as the degree for those who want to get a terminal degree in nursing practice while the PhD has been regarded as the degree for those wanting to do research. But the difference is not that simple. Read More.