The fundamental purpose underlying all education programs in nursing must be the preparation of those individuals committed to providing high quality care to patients based on sound research. With this goal clearly in mind, we embarked on the newest stage of our educational journey: we began study in a PhD program in nursing. With naive and overly effusive enthusiasm we faced the realities of what we were really doing in a doctoral program. We were not just adding another degree to our curriculum vitae. We were not just trying to become better clinicians in our chosen areas of expertise. We were not just preparing ourselves to conduct research. We were beginning our preparation as scholars. In this article, the constellation of experiences, values, body of knowledge, and theory will be discussed as they were encountered by first-year students in a PhD program in nursing. The concepts of scholarship and socialization are the overriding framework of the discussion. These were recurring themes in nearly every component of the program.
Given the existing environment in health care today, research serves as a method of ensuring high quality care. Nursing research is essential to the fulfillment of nursing's goal of providing excellent patient care. Doctoral education in nursing prepares scientists to conduct and evaluate research, extend the nursing knowledge base, and facilitate the implementation of research findings in nursing practice. As such, doctoral education serves as the foundation of a professional career aimed at advancing scientific inquiry, fostering scholarship, and evolving socialization.
As we soon discovered, in every class discussion and in every contribution that we made to the discussions following meetings, seminars, or guest lectures, we were being pressed, guided, and groomed to use the analytical skills of the scholar. We began to wonder what really formed this illusive entity. We all had strong academic and clinical backgrounds tempered with life experiences. But what was it that we were really supposed to do to become a scholar? We have come to appreciate that a scholar possesses a systematized body of knowledge, the ability to think and evaluate analytically, and to approach endeavors with thoroughness.
Refining analytical thought processes is an underlying goal of our doctoral study. This skill matures through planned experiences in our doctoral curriculum, such as in-depth preparation for class discussions, authorship of a predoctoral fellowship application, and participation in research seminars and faculty development meetings. Mentoring relationships developed through research practica allow doctoral students to experience conceptual thinking from the viewpoint of seasoned scholars. These relationships foster experimentation with new modes of thought and behavior for the neophyte scholar.
Insight and appreciation of the role of nursing theory in research and practice are crucial attributes of the nurse scholar, and have not traditionally been a part of the armamentarium of nurses' abilities; nurses completing doctoral degrees in nonnursing disciplines learned another discipline's theory. This may have hindered the development of nursing theory and limited the utilization of this theory in nursing research and practice (Watson, 1986). As part of our theory construction courses, we traced the history of theory development in science. As we discussed grand nursing theories, we identified the difficulty associated with using them in conducting research. Their contribution to nursing's scientific evolution is immeasurable and contextually valid. However, nursing research currently needs appropriate, conceptually clear theoretical frameworks in order to contribute to the body of nursing knowledge.
Initially, we reacted with shock and indignation at "throwing out" the theories that we had grown comfortable with through our careers to date. We debated and defensively clung to these as hallmarks of nursing science as we knew it. It was ironic that in the course of several months, through further debate and consideration of the development of nursing knowledge, we began to vigorously exclude the grand theories from our current thinking about nursing science evolving through research. As learners, we were willing to disregard grand theories for the purpose of guiding research, because of their globalness. Our overzealous enthusiasm is characteristic of students who recognize the value of newly obtained knowledge and are eager to learn the process of its implementation.
One form of implementation was our critical analyses of published research during class discussions. Particular attention was given to the theoretical underpinnings guiding the design and methodology of the research. As has been contended by nursing authors, few studies appeared to be based on clearly identified theoretical frameworks (Moloney, 1986; Stevenson, 1988). Studies that were found to present theoretical frameworks did not necessarily use them consistently throughout the research process. In addition, the frameworks and their underlying concepts were not clear or cohesive. The state of knowledge development in nursing is at a pretheory level that, we recognize, results from the relatively short length of time in which nursing has involved itself with theory-based research.
Inherent in the expectations associated with doctoral study is the emphasis on critical analysis of a particular topic with accuracy and thoroughness from a scholarly point of view. This assumes a mastery of the historical context, current status, likely future developments, and the impact of the topic on patient care and nursing practice. Inherent implications such as theoretical origin, economic constraints, political and legislative initiatives, and social impact are crucial components of the scholars construction of the topic. A class experience in which we prepared an in-depth analysis of health care topics prompted us to consider an issue from a scholarly point of view. Topics considered included: elder abuse, alternative care delivery systems, upward mobility in nursing through education, Alzheimer's care units, and physician costs versus charge.
Development of a program of research was a recurrent emphasis during our first year of doctoral study Isolated studies do not contribute to the advancement of nursing knowledge. A series of studies building on each other provide knowledge refinement and future research directions. It became clear to us that in order to be successful as nurse scholars, we must carefully select the topic for our doctoral research. This will allow us to launch our career trajectory and develop an area of expertise. The importance of the trajectory to our future as nurse scholars who make significant contributions to their profession was an ever-present message, both overtly and covertly.
Inherent in the career trajectory is the awareness that there is no end to learning and the evolution of the scholar. We fully subscribe to the belief in the value of postdoctoral training to further facilitate our growth as researchers. This message, strongly reinforced in our doctoral program, commits us to lifelong learning in our chosen areas within nursing. In addition to affording us the luxury of devoting time to refining our area of expertise, postdoctoral preparation also magnifies opportunities for our longevity as competitive grant-writers. An introduction to the grant-writing process was possible for us through our preparation of predoctoral fellowship applications. This was an out-ofclass expectation guided by experienced nurse researchers on the faculty. During this process, we began to grapple with narrowing our research interests into researchable problems. We discovered that the clarity and precisión that typify the work of nurse scholars are not inherited abilities. This experience caused us to shed the illusion that we had ever really achieved true precision in writing before. We became committed to the challenge of sharpening our written expressive abilities. Preparation of the fellowship application also crystallized our research ideas so that they became more than hazy, floating concepts. It provided a sense of direction to our beginning research programs and removed the uneasy sensation that our course work was not linked to anything other than the terminal requirements for completion of our degree.
At the same time that our expressive abilities began to sharpen, our perspectives of nursing broadened through the first year of doctoral study. A course on the economics of health care and nursing brought to the fore a perspective unknown for most of us. We examined economic principles and applied them to the health care arena. While learning about supply and demand curves, we discovered that quality of care is not necessarily inherent in economic theory. This provided us with another vantage point from which to view nursing's role in health care.
Another perspective gained through our doctoral curriculum came as we began course work in our cognate minor areas. The areas chosen by our peers were varied and unique to each individual. These included: anthropology, law, sociology, epidemiology, economics, physiology, and education. Cognate minor areas of study consistently entered into our discussions both informally and in class. They also provide opportunities for interdisciplinary research team experience. This broadened our awareness of our own discipline in relation to its larger context. A broad understanding of another discipline affords the scholar a different view of the world. This strengthens one's ability to analyze phenomena and their application to nursing systematically and thoroughly. The role of the cognate minor typifies the state of the art of nursing doctoral education.
It has been apparent from the beginning of our program that we are aspiring to join the cadre of nurse scientists of the fourth generation. Stevenson and Woods (1985) propose that nursing scholars have evolved through three generations and have entered a fourth. The first-generation scholars (1900-1940) were prepared to be academic administrators with mainly EdD degrees. In the second generation (1940-1960), nurses were prepared with PhD degrees in the basic sciences without nursing content. Third-generation nurse scholars attained the PhD in the basic sciences and nursing content was included only as a minor area of study. This fourth generation prepares nurses with a PhD in nursing or a DNS with a cognate minor area of study. This generation of scholars is charged with linking nursing research and theory development.
As with any professional socialization, we have begun to internalize certain values, roles, and attitudes that are accepted in the culture of nursing scholars. We gradually adapt our self-concepts based on the new set of role expectations and behaviors implicit in the culture of the scholar. In this way, we indicate to those observing us that we are approaching professional competence as researchers. The values and attitudes of the group of nurse scholars to which we aspire are steadily reinforced by many factors in our environment. Through such activities as graduate student luncheons featuring noted guest speakers, research interest groups, and nursing research seminar series, we have been exposed to positive role models who exemplify salient values. We are able to absorb, through nearly every pore, the attributes of the nurse scholar.
We have committed ourselves as students to emulate the persona of the scholar. This implies that we redefine our selfimage to the point that we learn to feel and behave as scholars (Leddy & Pepper, 1989). Gradually these values and attitudes will become internalized so that they are automatically or unconsciously manifested by our behavior. The process of value internalization will be enhanced through the novice-expert relationship with our dissertation adviser. In that context, values and behaviors we aspire to will undergo further refinement.
Our student group is another mechanism by which we learn our new role. As we progressed in our development as a group, the formation of a group identity and establishment of norms of behavior occurred. This was rapidly accomplished within a few weeks of beginning our first semester. The volume and pace of the course work precipitated this development. Supportive colleagial relationships allowed us to adjust our attitudes to parallel course expectations. Our diverse backgrounds and interest areas are a particular strong point of our student group. In spite of our differing viewpoints, criticism is delivered and received in a spirit of growth and caring that serves to preserve individual self-esteem. Group members assisted each other in conforming to the new set of accepted norms of behavior expected of doctoral students.
Another opportunity for role preparation has been our positions as research assistants. These have allowed us to be involved in research conducted by other faculty mentors. Through our participation in research teams we have begun to understand what it feels like to be researchers. We have encountered the merits and difficulties associated with conducting and reporting research- It has become clear that rigorous standards are essential to guide research as it perpetuates science. Collaboration with researchers from other disciplines on the team provides diverse viewpoints, a broad range of skills, a richer critique, and a forum for the discussion of ethical dilemmas.
Attendance at professional conferences and meetings provides further exposure to nurse scientists from other settings. The ability to discuss common interest areas allows us to further develop our research. Opportunities to present papers and posters at conferences have resulted in valuable feedback promoting clarification of our ideas. Through discussions with clinical practitioners from throughout the country and from a variety of institutions, we share experiences and research ideas. It is particularly important to maintain a sense of clinical relevance as our research program develops.
The first year of study in our PhD program has both broadened and intensified our knowledge. We have come to expect ourselves to attain better understandings of any given issue or topic within its attendant context and within the larger context of our profession. We have begun to appreciate and to strive for the clarity, thoroughness, and precision of thought and analysis that typify the nurse scholar. We are beginning to recognize who the nurse scholar is, why we want to emulate this person, and how we can become this person.
As members of the fourth generation, we are now beginning, through our doctoral program, to live the vision of scholars who preceded us. To fulfill this vision, we understand that learning is a lifelong process that does not end with achievement of the doctorate or with postdoctoral study, but that it is continually evolving. We recognize the crucial role of research in nursing, but temper this recognition with the knowledge that research must progress in a planned manner dovetailing with existing research lest it fail to strengthen the web of nursing knowledge.
- Leddy, S., & Pepper, J.M. (1989). Conceptual bases of professional nursing. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott.
- Moloney, A. (1986). Professionalization of nursing: Current issues and trends. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott.
- Stevenson J. (1988). Nursing knowledge development: Into era II. Journal of Professional Nursing, 4, 152-162.
- Stevenson, J., & Woods, N.F. (1985). Nursing science and contemporary science: Emerging paradigms. In G.E. Sorensen (Ed.), Setting the agenda for the year 2000: Knowledge development in nursing (pp. 6-20). Kansas City: American Academy of Nursing.
- Watson, J. (1986X Nursings scientific quest. In L.H. Nicoli (Ed.), Perspective on nursing theory (pp. 281-286). Boston: Little, Brown &Co.