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Higher degrees in nursing: traditional research PhD or professional doctorate?

25 July 2019
Volume 28 · Issue 14


Doctoral-level study is increasingly popular for clinicians who wish to advance their clinical, research and academic career pathways. A range of alternatives to the traditional PhD are now well-established. This article aims to outline the different approaches and discuss some advantages and drawbacks of doctoral-level postgraduate study. By comparing the various doctoral programmes, the authors seek to clarify the issues for clinicians who may wish to embark on a future doctorate. Primary clinical or medical degrees are not discussed.

This article explores the differences between traditional philosophy doctorates (PhDs) and professional/vocational doctorate programmes within UK profession-specific health disciplines. These include a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP), Doctorate in Clinical Practice (DClinP), and Doctorate in Pharmacy (DPharm).

Three areas are considered:

The constantly changing environment of academia and the health service has led to changes in the levels of undergraduate nursing teaching, from diplomas to degrees and, more recently, to postgraduate qualifications, including those required for study at doctoral level. The doctoral degree is the highest level of postgraduate study in the world and there is a growing tendency for clinical practitioners in senior roles in the NHS to complete secondary (masters) or tertiary (doctoral degrees). In 2010, medical practitioners formed the second highest occupation for professionals holding a doctorate (11% of the employment share) (Lindley and Machin, 2011), although this information is not broken down into individual health professions, such as nurses or physicians.

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