Emory Report

September 21, 1998

 Volume 51, No. 5

Emory mounts new nursing PhD program under graduate school; first class next year

Nursing at Emory has come a long way since its first class graduated 90 years ago at what was then known as the Wesley Memorial Hospital Training School for Nurses. The neophytes, trained by doctors, were expected to give comfort to the sick--and that meant everything from changing bandages and bedpans to singing and sewing. Even today the stereotype lingers of women in crisp white uniforms and stiff hats, bustling down hospital corridors, bestowing acts of kindness and being helpful to physicians.

While perceptions fade slowly, nursing has changed dramatically. Advanced practice nurses are often called upon to do what primary care physicians did 20 years ago--physical examinations, patient education, birthing and, in states like New York, everything from making house calls and writing prescriptions to providing the full spectrum of care for chronically ill patients. Nurses have become managers of the clinical enterprise with far-reaching oversight. They have assumed increasingly pivotal research roles in such areas as measuring outcomes and managing clinical trials.

Those increasing demands have not gone unnoticed in education circles, especially in the School of Nursing. By fall 1999, six to eight students will begin doctoral work in nursing at Emory under the auspices of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

The doctoral program was approved unanimously this spring by the Executive Council of the graduate school and the academic affairs committee of the Board of Trustees. The School of Nursing will join 64 other doctoral programs across the nation, including three in Georgia. "There's no other school in the area whose curriculum is comparable to the new nursing school degree," Graduate School Dean Donald Stein said. "We'll have plenty of opportunity to train people who'd [ordinarily] have to go quite far to find a similar program."

The doctoral program will include a core curriculum that emphasizes outcomes measurement, ethical decision making and policy issues, said Stein. "We are very excited by the degree's interdisciplinary nature," he added. Students will benefit from the nursing's current research strength in women's health, cardiovascular disease, oncology, pain and sleep as well as "outside" coursework areas such as the biosciences and public health.

Health care flux demands nursing changes

Nursing education has shifted from an emphasis on how things are done to why. Such an analytical approach requires more doctorally prepared nursing faculty--a commodity in short supply and high demand in university, research and clinical areas. Lack of a doctoral program has been a hindrance to recruiting senior research faculty to Emory's nursing school.

"We have developed as far as we can as a master's granting school without a doctoral program," says Lynn Lotas, director of the school's Office of Research Affairs and co-chair of the nursing research strategic planning process. "For us to continue to recruit research faculty and build the research program, we had to have the doctoral program. It's the old chicken and egg dilemma. We know we should be a mature research institution to have a doctoral program, and we need to have a doctoral program to become a mature research institution. Our research program and our doctoral program have to develop together."

When its new PhD program is in place, the nursing school hopes to increase the ranks of doctorally prepared faculty from 41 percent to more than 80 percent over the next five years. And it must increase its research funding levels by 600 percent to reach that of top-tier schools.

It sounds overwhelming but really isn't. The nursing school only needs an additional $1.5 million to reach its goal. A new building with more space dedicated to research and the new PhD program will greatly improve the school's opportunities to make that leap as well.

The school's strategic plan also points out that nursing research is in its infancy, not just at Emory but nationwide. The oldest nursing doctoral programs have been around only for about 25 years. In 1980 there were fewer than 1,000 nursing PhDs in the United States. Interest has accelerated in recent years, and the NIH developed a nursing research institute only a decade ago.

While talk of a nursing PhD at Emory has been ongoing for almost two decades, the University has an advantage in initiating a doctoral program now, said Interim Nursing School Dean Margaret Parsons. "Most doctoral programs were designed in the 1970s when health care was much less turbulent and transitional than it is today. We have a different view now of what's needed in a nursing doctoral program--one that addresses today's issues in a time of unprecedented upheaval and change.

"For example, nurses will contribute vital insight into complex ethical issues such as who gets what care and how technology can be used sensitively and compassionately," she said. "The same is true of health-related outcomes issues." The PhD program is expected to give Emory nursing a recruiting edge and will enrich the nursing curriculum at all levels. If the volume of calls the school received even before the PhD program was approved is any indication, Emory is well positioned to take the cream of the doctoral crop.

-Marlene Goldman

This article first appeared in Momentum magazine and is used with permission.

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