Aims and objectives. The development of education options for nurses has been inexorable and it is increasingly the case that senior nurses are considering a doctorate as the logical next step in their educational career. Such individuals need to make important decisions as to whether they should embark on a taught doctorate, professional doctorate or a traditional PhD. Each of these options will necessitate a considerable investment in time and money as well as the sacrifice of quality time and spare time over a significant number of years. A doctorate is not for everyone. Those still reading this text may be asking ‘could this possibly be for me'? This paper will try to help the reader decide which if any option to take.
Background. It is suggested that nurses will now turn to the doctoral degree as their next adventure in academic study. It is argued that this development is not being controlled by management forces and indeed cannot be controlled by them. This last is chiefly because the move towards doctoral education is led by individuals who choose to study for a doctorate simply because they can. The paper considers what choices are available to nurses who wish to pursue a doctoral programme of study. In particular, this paper considers what new developments in doctoral courses are becoming available and what advantage there may be in studying for one of the newer professional doctorates rather than a traditional PhD.
Method. The material here is the result of a review of the literature on recent developments in doctoral education for nurses. The existing provision by UK and other universities was also reviewed, the data being collected by an informal review of universities’ advertising material.
Conclusions. It is inevitable that some nurses who are already qualified to degree and masters degree will take advantage of the doctoral degree opportunities which now newly present themselves. For nurses in practice, the advantages of the professional doctorate is that it is more structured, enables more peer and academic support and is more practice orientated. It is suggested that the move towards doctoral programmes for nurses will present one of the most important evolutionary changes in the practice of nursing.
Relevance to clinical practice. It is suggested that doctoral education for nurses will increase in prevalence and that this process of change is already underway. Doctoral education will provide practitioners with the experience and skills required to conduct research and further develop practice. For individual practitioners, doctoral education will enhance self-confidence in an increasingly technical and complex arena and in a practice discipline that is becoming ever more politically charged. The professional doctorate appears to be particularly suited to senior nurse practitioners. What remains is for us to accept this new challenge and to shape its development for the benefit of the practice of nursing.