Award Date

May 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Andrew Reyes

Second Committee Member

Catherine Dingley

Third Committee Member

Paul T. Clements

Fourth Committee Member

Joseph Morgan

Number of Pages



The traditional route of obtaining a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in nursing is vertical: a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), followed by PhD in nursing. An ongoing shortage of PhD- prepared nurses—nurse educators and nurse researchers, in particular, has spurred the creation of more pathways to obtaining a PhD in Nursing. In recent years, there has been a drive to increase the number of nurse scientists with doctoral degrees through innovative pathways. A newer terminal nursing degree, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), has taken root over the past decade to produce nurse leaders who are experts at translating nursing research into practice settings. Academia is now experiencing a different, horizontal route to the PhD in nursing as these DNP nurses return to school for a second doctoral degree, the PhD in nursing. Scant literature exists on the experience of these DNP nurses who obtain a PhD. Understanding the journey of the DNP-to-PhD graduate with a combination of their unique background and the challenges faced is essential as we prepare the next generation of nursing scholars and faculty.This qualitative descriptive phenomenological study explored the lived experience of the DNP graduate who has completed a second terminal degree, the PhD in Nursing. Husserl's descriptive phenomenological approach guided the inquiry. The overarching research question was: What was the lived experience of a DNP graduate completing a PhD in Nursing? A purposive sampling and snowball technique was used to identify and recruit study participants who had experienced this phenomenon and completed the PhD within the last three years. The study consisted of 10 DNP-PhD graduates, 35-65 years of age, with a mean age of 47. There were two males, seven females, and one non-binary participant. Ethnicity varied among the participants. Most participants were employed in an academic setting as faculty, and two as Directors of Advanced Practice tracks. One participant was a full-time clinician, and one participant worked at a technology company. All participants completed the same pathway to PhD, which means that all participants completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), then a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), then a DNP, and finally a PhD in Nursing. Two participants completed an Associate Degree in Nursing prior to registering for a BSN program. Data collection consisted of phone or video interviews conducted in a semi-structured format. The Colaizzi process of data analysis for continuous review was implemented. The interviews were transcribed and examined through a repetitive reading of the collected narratives to discover initial themes. Coding and analysis occurred concurrently with a constant comparison of the concepts and categories. The research revealed that the main essence of the lived experience of the DNP to PhD graduate comprised three phases: The Realization, The Process, and The Substantive Change. The realization was that there was a lack of knowledge and clarity between the two terminal nursing degrees before or soon after entering the DNP program. The bias, marginalization, and lack of career progression was due to not having a PhD. Entering into the second phase, the educational journey is a process of persevering: meeting the challenges, avoiding the barriers, and building on the successes. There were struggles to maintain a work-life balance and feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt; however, there was persistence, determination, and perseverance through the difficult situations. Finally, the third stage of the lived experience brought a transformation with new possibilities for professional advancement and personal insight. Exploring the lived experience of the DNP-to-PhD nurse’s journey provides a foundational framework for understanding the factors affecting the motivation and decision- making processes required to achieve academic success while advancing their careers. As the number of DNP nurses increases, it is likely that more will consider completing PhD. Findings from this study contribute to strategies that can assist future DNP graduates who wish to return as PhD students in successfully maintaining personal and professional life balance. The findings also inform strategies and recommendations for curriculum development and improvement as well as doctoral program administration.


Doctor of Nursing Practice; Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing; Educational assessment; Graduate Student journey; Lived experience; Nursing students


Education | Nursing

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




IN COPYRIGHT. For more information about this rights statement, please visit