Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Lori Candela

Second Committee Member

Diane Thomason

Third Committee Member

Reimund Serafica

Fourth Committee Member

Matthew Bernacki

Number of Pages



The growing need for nurse scientists and nurse faculty researchers has led to the call to double the number of doctorally prepared nurses by 2020 (Institute of Medicine [IOM], 2010). Nursing has responded with more doctoral degree programs resulting in an increase from 122 DNP graduates in 2007 to 8,184 nurses who hold DNP degrees by 2013. PhD programs have also seen 5,306 graduates between the years 2004 through 2013 (American Association of Colleges of Nursing [AACN], 2014a). One troubling aspect that affects nursing and other doctoral programs is high attrition rates. A recent ten year longitudinal study from the Council of Graduate Schools indicated attrition rates for doctoral students in the United States is 43% (Council of Graduate Schools [CGS], 2009).

The state of the science in relation to nursing doctoral students indicates gaps in the literature. Doctoral students are the least studied student population (Russell, 2015). Research conducted with nursing doctoral students is typically qualitative and exploratory in nature. There is a gap in the empirical evidence concerning the factors which impact nursing doctoral students’ motivation and persistence and consequently, their intent to continue or leave their current programs of study. Doctoral students face many challenges in pursuing their degrees. Nursing doctoral students often have multiple responsibilities and obligations in their lives, creating differing types of stress.

Environmental stressors are defined as the multiple responsibilities and obligations that impact the lives of students in current doctoral nursing programs. The purpose of this study was to examine how the effects of environmental stressors, as mediated by the doctoral nursing students’ motivational beliefs, impact their intent to leave their current program of doctoral study. A literature review was conducted that identified six themes of environmental stressors which impact nursing students in doctoral programs. Constructs from the Expectancy Value Theory of Achievement Choice provided measurement for the motivational constructs which impact students. The 57 question Nursing Doctoral Stressors and Motivation survey tool, which was developed with modified and newly developed questions was used to assess all of these factors. An additional 14 question demographic tool was also utilized for the study.

Participation requests were sent by email to deans/directors of all PhD and DNP programs across the United States, with the request to forward to all currently enrolled students. Eight hundred and seventy seven participants responded to this survey. MPlus analysis software was employed to analyze demographic data and then assess the best fit for the models. Path analysis was utilized as it made it possible to analyze numerous variables simultaneously, investigating models that are more complex and realistic. Analyses were conducted to confirm the internal consistency of the survey tool. Additional analyses indicated that two environmental stressors of Support Issues and Program Stressors significantly predicted students’ intent to leave. Significant mediation effects were seen from the motivational beliefs of intrinsic value, expectancies for success, and effort cost. DNP participants reported both similar and differing significant impacts from motivational beliefs than did participants in PhD programs. Finally, analyses indicated that the impacts of participation costs were greater than the impact of utility costs for students, thus suggesting the greater need for supportive resources in these areas.

It is not possible to remove all stressors from students’ lives during their doctoral studies. But a better understanding of the environmental stressors that affect them offers the potential for nursing programs looking to incorporate adequate resources and support which will help minimize attrition and promote persistence of their doctoral students.


Doctoral Education; Doctoral Student Attrition; Doctoral Student Stress; Motivation; Nursing Education; Path Analysis


Education | Nursing

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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