Journal of Nursing Education

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Student Career Goal Changes During Doctoral Education in Nursing

Edna S Zebelman, PhD, RN; Steven G Olswang, PhD, JD

Abstract

ABSTRACT

As a relatively new doctoral discipline, nursing appears to be following the research focus of other disciplines in its doctoral programs. One original intent of awarding doctoral degrees in nursing was to prepare faculty. This study sought to determine how many doctoral students in nursing identified the goal of a career as faculty in schools of nursing at the beginning of their doctoral program, and how many would choose faculty positions after being enrolled in a doctoral program for more than one year. The population included 785 doctoral students in nursing from 35 schools in the United States. A cross-sectional study design was used to compare newly enrolled doctoral students with students who had been enrolled for more than one year.

Although first-year and more experienced students have similar career goals upon entering a doctoral program, the career goals of doctoral nursing students do change over time. More experienced students become less interested in faculty positions, especially in nondoctoral schools of nursing, and more interested in positions involving research and consultation. Within specific programs, students in EdD programs became more interested in faculty positions in doctoral universities. Students in DNS programs who changed their goals became more career goal oriented, thus compounding the shortage of doctoral faculty. These changes in career goals warrant examination.

Abstract

ABSTRACT

As a relatively new doctoral discipline, nursing appears to be following the research focus of other disciplines in its doctoral programs. One original intent of awarding doctoral degrees in nursing was to prepare faculty. This study sought to determine how many doctoral students in nursing identified the goal of a career as faculty in schools of nursing at the beginning of their doctoral program, and how many would choose faculty positions after being enrolled in a doctoral program for more than one year. The population included 785 doctoral students in nursing from 35 schools in the United States. A cross-sectional study design was used to compare newly enrolled doctoral students with students who had been enrolled for more than one year.

Although first-year and more experienced students have similar career goals upon entering a doctoral program, the career goals of doctoral nursing students do change over time. More experienced students become less interested in faculty positions, especially in nondoctoral schools of nursing, and more interested in positions involving research and consultation. Within specific programs, students in EdD programs became more interested in faculty positions in doctoral universities. Students in DNS programs who changed their goals became more career goal oriented, thus compounding the shortage of doctoral faculty. These changes in career goals warrant examination.

Literature Review

In all disciplines, doctoral students are socialized to value research activities (Boyer, 1987; Brodie, 1986; Clark, 1985; Dill, 1982; Passmore, 1980; Mauksch, 1980). While some students may have teaching assistant appointments, many receive little or no formal preparation for teaching or for fulfilling the other traditional faculty roles related to university service. Preparing faculty to teach in nursing programs was one original priority for establishing doctoral programs in nursing (Leininger, 1976; Murphy, 1981). However, in their review of doctoral curricula, Beare, Gray, and Ptak (1981) found that most programs did not emphasize the preparation of faculty, but rather focused on nursing theory development, health-care delivery systems, improving nursing practice, and ethical issues in nursing and health care.

Mauksch (1980) criticized the disciplines for presuming that subject matter knowledge gives one the license to teach. This presumption leads to an absence of rewards or encouragement for faculty to develop as competent teachers. The emphasis in graduate training on research and obtaining grants leads to an "environment [which] makes the choice of a teacher role seem second rate, undesirable, and almost tantamount to failure; while it demonstrates the prestige and value of an academic research career" (Mauksch, 1980, p. 51). Many graduate students start out disposed to teaching, but are socialized out of it by graduate school conditions, which seem to belittle teaching (Katz, 1976).

Brodie (1986) criticized nursing doctoral programs for developing negative attitudes towards teaching, especially towards undergraduate teaching while emphasizing research. While the emphasis on research has had positive effects by increasing the prestige of nursing as an academic discipline, and by promoting the ability of nursing faculty to meet university standards for achievement and tenure, the negative effects include a lack of commitment to developing new courses, teaching, and university service. For graduate students, the exclusive emphasis on scholarship and research fails to prepare them for other job expectations in a faculty position.

New faculty who have not had opportunities to develop all competencies necessary for successfully fulfilling the faculty role, may have difficulties adjusting to the demands of the new role. Infante (1986) emphasized that the transition from the nursing role to the nurse educator role requires instruction and practice in educational theories and strategies. Doctoral programs which focus on research may produce faculty more prone to faculty stress (Werner, Bruggemeyer, & Kenner, 1986). Stress among university faculty has been the focus of many studies (Gmelch, Lovrich, & Wilke, 1984; Gmelch, Wilke, & Lovrich, 1986; Melendez & deGuzman, 1983; Seiler & Pearson, 1984-85) and stress among nursing faculty has also been reported (Bauder, 1982a, 1982b; Dick, 1986; Hinds, Burgess, Leon, McCormick, & Svetich, 1985). Teaching and service activities, especially the ambiguity over the criteria used for evaluation, were sources of stress more often than was research (Gmelch, Lovrich, & Wilke, 1984).

Table

TABLE 1DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS OF RESPONDENTS RECEIVING QUESTIONNAIRES VIA NAME ADDRESSED AND BULK MAIL

TABLE 1

DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS OF RESPONDENTS RECEIVING QUESTIONNAIRES VIA NAME ADDRESSED AND BULK MAIL

More recent faculty cohorts were more likely to list research as a reason for choosing a faculty career and the importance of teaching in the faculty role has declined for successive cohorts (Corcoran & Clark, 1984). A university environment where teaching, and variables contributing to teaching excellence, are not discussed and reflected upon may inhibit the development of excellent teachers (Sherman, Armistead, Fowler, Barksdale, & Reif, 1987). If excellence in teaching is neither valued or demonstrated during doctoral education, then doctoral students may decide not to seek faculty positions.

Research Question and Hypotheses

The research question investigated the initial and current career goals of doctoral students in nursing to determine if there were changes in those goals which occurred after students were enrolled in a doctoral program in nursing for more than one year. The hypotheses tested were:

1. There are no differences in career goals between beginning doctoral students and doctoral students who have been enrolled in the program for more than one year.

2. There are no differences in career goals between beginning doctoral students and doctoral students who have been enrolled in the program for more than one year, among students enrolled in professional nursing doctoral programs (DNS, DNSc, or DSN), in doctoral programs in nursing education (EdD), and in programs leading to a research doctorate in nursing (PhD).

Method

A descriptive, cross-sectional study design was used to examine the career goals of doctoral nursing students. Of the 45 doctoral nursing programs listed in Doctoral Programs in Nursing - 1986-1987 (National League for Nursing, 1987), 43 were contacted requesting access to their students for participation in the study. Two schools were not contacted, one because it was used for the pilot study and one because it had recently announced its impending closure. Five schools failed to respond to the request to participate and three declined participation. Thirty-five schools facilitated student participation either by providing names and addresses of students or by distributing questionnaires via campus mail. Mail questionnaires (N =1550) concerning student career goals and attitudes towards the faculty role were distributed during Autumn 1987.

Seven hundred eighty-five questionnaires were returned for a response rate of 50.65%. Some questionnaires (N =244) were distributed with the names and addresses of potential respondents as provided by individual schools. The remaining questionnaires (N =1306) were sent to schools for campus distribution. Questionnaires distributed with names and addresses had a return rate of 70.1% (171 of 244).

Questionnaires dependent on campus distribution systems had a significantly lower return rate of 47.0% (614 of 1306). Comparison of demographic variables (see Table 1) revealed no significant differences between the students who received name addressed questionnaires and those who received questionnaires via campus mail. Survey findings are therefore considered representative of all nursing doctoral students.

Table

TABLE 2COMPARISON OF PRIORITIZED INITIAL AND CURRENT REASONS FOR PURSUING DOCTORAL EDUCATION

TABLE 2

COMPARISON OF PRIORITIZED INITIAL AND CURRENT REASONS FOR PURSUING DOCTORAL EDUCATION

Data Analysis

Data from the questionnaires were analyzed using SPSS/ PC+. The statistical methods used to examine the data included Chi-square analysis for enumerative data, t-tests, and one way analysis of variance.

For the first comparison, the subjects were divided into two groups. Students who had begun doctoral study in 1987 or later (N=233) are referred to as the first-year group. Students who had begun doctoral study in 1986 or earlier (N =544) are referred to as the other group. There were no significant differences between the two groups for the variables of sex, number of years of teaching experience (x=5.16 years for first-year group and x=5.71 years for other group); number of years of nursing experience (x=12.38 years for first-year group and x=11.47 years for other group); the type of expected doctoral degree; and the number of diplomas in nursing, baccalaureate degrees in nursing, and master's degrees in nursing.

The first-year group was more likely than the other group to have an associate degree in nursing and to attend school full time. The other group (x=39.01 years) is significantly older than the first-year group (x= 37.20 years) and more students in the other group have taught in schools of nursing.

There were no significant differences between the two groups in their reasons for pursuing doctoral education. Developing research expertise was the most frequently cited reason for pursuing doctoral education (46.1%), followed by being eligible for a tenured faculty position (18.8%), developing a broad knowledge base in nursing (14.4%), and developing administrative expertise (9.3%). Developing teaching expertise was mentioned by only a few respondents (3.8%) as their most important reason for pursuing a doctorate.

There were no significant differences between the two groups in the criteria they used to select a doctoral program. For both groups, the most important criterion was the location of the school (35.4%); followed by the program suiting their needs in general (16.5%); the program would develop their research skills (12.9%); the presence of faculty who shared their interests (9.3%); and the reputation of the school (8.7%). Criteria of first importance to fewer respondents were the availability of financial aid (5.1%) and that the program would develop administrative (2.6%); teaching (1.7%); or clinical (.9%) skills.

Table

TABLE 3COMPARISON OF MOST IMPORTANT INITIAL AND CURRENT REASONS FOR PURSUING DOCTORAL EDUCATION

TABLE 3

COMPARISON OF MOST IMPORTANT INITIAL AND CURRENT REASONS FOR PURSUING DOCTORAL EDUCATION

In all, 68% of respondents indicated location as either the first, second, or third most important criterion for choosing a school. There were very few differences between the firstyear and the other group on demographic variables. Their reasons for pursuing doctoral education and for choosing a certain program were not significantly different. Therefore a cross-sectional study design was appropriate for this population.

For the second comparison, the students were grouped according to the degree which they were pursuing, i.e., a DNS or similar professional degree, an EdD in nursing or a PhD in nursing. There was no significant difference in age between the DNS (x=38.9 years) and PhD (x=38.1 years) students. The only pair which was significantly different at the .05 level in terms of the age of respondents was the EdDPhD pair. EdD students (x=41.4 years) were significantly older than the PhD students, but not the DNS students.

There were no significant differences among DNS, EdD, and PhD students in the sex of respondents or the students assigned to the first-year and other groups. In the comparison for years of teaching experience, the only pair which demonstrated a significant difference at the .05 level was the DNS-PhD pair in which the DNS students (x=6.38 years) indicated significantly more years of teaching experience than did the PhD students (x=5.17 years).

Results

Initial and Current Reasons for Pursuing a Doctorate. For students in the other group, a comparison was made between what they reported as their initial reasons for pursuing a doctorate and their current reasons. Although there were no significant differences between the first-year group and the other group in their initial reasons for pursuing a doctorate, Table 2 displays significant differences between the initial and current reasons for pursuing a doctorate for students in the other group. Students appear to respond to the environment of the schools and place a greater priority on developing research expertise after one year of study, than they did when they began doctoral study.

When the initial and current most important reasons for pursuing doctoral education were compared for each of the three degree categories (see Table 3), DNS and EdD students did not show a significant difference. PhD students demonstrated a significant difference as more students identified the development of research expertise as their current most important reason for pursuing a doctorate.

Table

TABLE 4COMPARISON OF INITIAL AND CURRENT CAREER GOALS OF THE OTHER GROUP

TABLE 4

COMPARISON OF INITIAL AND CURRENT CAREER GOALS OF THE OTHER GROUP

Career goals. Upon beginning doctoral studies, there were no significant differences between the first-year group and the other group in the types of positions they hoped to obtain upon completion of their doctorate. However, the comparison between the initial career goals and the current career goals of students in the other groups showed a significant difference (see Table 4). While initially 50.7% of students in the other group indicated the career goal of a faculty position in either a doctoral or nondoctoral school, currently only 35.3% would seek a faculty position. Of those who would seek a faculty position, there was a marked preference for positions in doctoral-granting schools of nursing.

One student commented on reasons for not choosing a faculty position:

At the present time I do not plan to enter the educational field because the salaries are low. I need to work at least a year in clinical practice to begin to pay back my student loans. Most of my fellow students have complained that after returning to their institutions (being on educational leave for one year), they have been penalized by other faculty and given more new work to do than they had before. They say the faculty is punishing them because, while the student was in school, the faculty at home had to take up the slack.

Another student qualified the identification of her goal:

I already have a position in a school of nursing, my goal however is to teach at the graduate level (possibly - doctoral level) on the topic of nursing education. My situation and immediate goals are dictated by family obligations, not necessarily my real desire.

Students in each of the three degree programs demonstrated significant changes in their career goals (see Table 5).

Students in DNS programs expressed more interest in educational administration ( + 71.4%); consulting ( + 72.7%); faculty positions in doctoral universities ( +100%); clinical nursing ( + 33.3%); and research positions ( +150%). DNS students expressed less interest in positions as administrators in a practice setting ( - 22.6%) and as faculty in a nondoctoral school of nursing (-36.5%).

EdD students became more likely to choose positions as educational administrators ( + 100%) and faculty in doctoral universities (+800%). There was a decline in interest in positions as administrators in practice settings ( -11.6%); consulting ( - 100%); and faculty in nondoctoral schools of nursing (-57.1%). No EdD students were interested in positions as nurses in clinical settings or as researchers in a research center.

PhD students indicated more interest in positions as consultants ( + 26.7%); doctoral faculty ( + 51.7%); and researchers ( +100%). Fewer indicated current career goals as administrators in practice settings (-26.5%); educational administrators ( - 20.8%); or nondoctoral faculty ( - 51.1%). There was no change in the number of PhD students choosing careers as nurses in clinical settings.

Table

TABLE 5COMPARISON OF INITIAL AND CURRENT CAREER GOALS OF STUDENTS IN DIFFERENT DEGREE PROGRAMS

TABLE 5

COMPARISON OF INITIAL AND CURRENT CAREER GOALS OF STUDENTS IN DIFFERENT DEGREE PROGRAMS

If career choices for students in the three degree programs are compressed to faculty and other types of positions (see Table 6), the initial and current career choices of EdD students showed no change in the numbers of students desiring faculty positions and the changes for DNS students were nonsignificant. There was a significant change for students in PhD programs where fewer students would choose faculty positions after being in school for more than one year.

Discussion

Although students choose to attend doctoral programs in nursing for similar reasons and choose a particular program primarily by location, programs influence the student to identify different reasons for pursuing a doctorate and to choose different career goals after spending at least one year enrolled in the doctoral program.

The first hypothesis of this study was not supported. There are significant differences in career goals between beginning doctoral students and students who have been enrolled in doctoral programs for more than one year. The second hypothesis is also not supported as students in all three types of degree programs demonstrate significant changes in their career goals. While DNS and EdD students do not change their goals from faculty to other types of positions, PhD students do change their goals from faculty positions to other types of positions. This is significant as 69.0% of the respondents to this study were enrolled in PhD programs and 33 of the 45 programs (73.3%) listed in Doctoral Programs in Nursing- 1986-1987 (NLN, 1987) award the PhD rather than the DNS or EdD.

Of primary concern to the nursing profession is the fact that a minority of doctoral students in nursing have the career goal of a faculty position. In addition, of those who would seek a faculty position, most students, especially those from PhD programs, would choose a position in a doctoral setting. Relatively few doctoral students regardless of the degree program, would choose to teach in a nondoctoral school although most nursing education takes place in nondoctoral settings.

Doctoral programs in nursing appear to be supporting Brodie's (1986) contention that the programs emphasize research, while teaching is afforded little attention. If the profession's need for faculty is to be addressed, then doctoral programs in nursing need to address the role of nurse educator in addition to the role of nurse researcher (Anderson, Roth & Palmer, 1985). Obviously, nurses with doctorates should be free to choose a career goal which reflects their interests and expertise. If however, the environment of the graduate school actively or passively deemphasizes teaching functions, and influences students to change their minds about seeking teaching positions, then the need for nursing faculty will become more acute. In addition, nurses with doctorates who take faculty positions as a second or third career choice may have difficulty adjusting to the faculty role, meeting the expectations of the employing institutions, and fulfilling the learning needs of the students whom they will be expected to teach.

Table

TABLE 6COMPARISON OF INITIAL AND CURRENT INTEREST IN FACULTY POSITIONS FOR STUDENTS IN DIFFERENT DEGREE PROGRAMS

TABLE 6

COMPARISON OF INITIAL AND CURRENT INTEREST IN FACULTY POSITIONS FOR STUDENTS IN DIFFERENT DEGREE PROGRAMS

This study's findings also indicate that most students must use location as the first, second, or third most important criterion for choosing a doctoral program. Doctoral programs must recognize the placebound status of many of their students and plan to meet the learning needs of students who may not have the development of research expertise as their primary learning need, or who may not be able to find research-focused positions in their home communities after graduation.

As a relatively new doctoral discipline, nursing has the opportunity to develop doctoral programs which focus not only on research and content expertise, but also provide opportunities for students to prepare for, and appreciate, the other traditional faculty roles of teaching and service. Prior teaching experience does not necessarily prepare one for the teaching functions expected of nurses with doctorates, and nursing doctoral programs need to address this student learning need. Nursing can learn from concerns expressed about research-focused doctoral education in other disciplines, and act decisively to meet the learning needs of today's students while planning to meet the profession's needs for well-prepared faculty for both doctoral and nondoctoral schools and colleges of nursing.

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TABLE 1

DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS OF RESPONDENTS RECEIVING QUESTIONNAIRES VIA NAME ADDRESSED AND BULK MAIL

TABLE 2

COMPARISON OF PRIORITIZED INITIAL AND CURRENT REASONS FOR PURSUING DOCTORAL EDUCATION

TABLE 3

COMPARISON OF MOST IMPORTANT INITIAL AND CURRENT REASONS FOR PURSUING DOCTORAL EDUCATION

TABLE 4

COMPARISON OF INITIAL AND CURRENT CAREER GOALS OF THE OTHER GROUP

TABLE 5

COMPARISON OF INITIAL AND CURRENT CAREER GOALS OF STUDENTS IN DIFFERENT DEGREE PROGRAMS

TABLE 6

COMPARISON OF INITIAL AND CURRENT INTEREST IN FACULTY POSITIONS FOR STUDENTS IN DIFFERENT DEGREE PROGRAMS

10.3928/0148-4834-19890201-04

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