The Challenges of Doing a Nursing Ph.D.

If you really love nursing and you want to make a lasting contribution to improving the way it’s done, there’s no better way to go about it than to do a nursing Ph.D. This is a big undertaking, however. You’ll need to be sure that you’ve got what it takes and that this is the right time in your life to take it on. This article looks at what Ph.D. students find most challenging and what you can do to overcome these common problems.

Finding funding

If you don’t have savings, you can conveniently dip into, your Ph.D. journey is likely to begin with finding a source of funding. Some people save money by studying part-time or online, while others are lucky enough to find fully-funded scholarships – easier if you’re not too picky about your area of research. If you’re not in that position, it’s a good idea to check out government grant and loan options, which tend to be significantly cheaper than private funding. If the research you want to do has the potential to be useful in the private sector, for instance, by improving the quality of clinical trials, it’s worth approaching potential corporate sponsors.

Working with your supervisor

Along with finding funding, you will need to find a supervisor. This could be somebody you’ve worked with who has the relevant academic experience or it could be somebody whose research you have admired from afar. You can also try asking around for recommendations. If you have an interesting topic in mind, it’s not usually difficult to find somebody who shares your enthusiasm, but you will need to make sure that the person you choose also has the time and energy to commit to the task, and you’ll need to keep careful track of them once the work starts. Make sure that you don’t find yourself stuck because you reach a stage where you need a lot of help just when your supervisor is on leave. If you have two supervisors to help you with a complex area of research, make sure they can work effectively together.

Managing your time

Although every nurse knows how to deal with long hours, it’s quite possible to go through your entire nursing career working to schedules set by other people, with other people to answer to if you fail to complete a task in time. For many people, doing a PhD in nursing is the first time they have to be entirely self-disciplined, and it can be a difficult adjustment to make. It’s important to make sure you don’t exhaust yourself, but you should also try, if possible, to stay ahead of schedule because you never know when a life event might interfere with your progress. Extensions can be available in emergencies, but they often make the process more expensive – and reputationally, it’s better to avoid them.

Maintaining your energy levels

Getting through a Ph.D. can be exhausting, especially if you’re working at the same time and spending a lot of time on the ward. In order to cope with this, you’ll have to keep your health in optimum condition, which means being disciplined about diet and exercise. You’ll also need to look after your mental health. Make sure that the people in your life understand that this means you’ll have to put yourself first more than usual, and that you’ll need their support. Pace yourself carefully across the duration of your studies and on a daily basis. Don’t be dismissive about sleep, which is essential to keeping your mind sharp.

Writing your thesis

Let’s face it, whatever it was that drew you to nursing in the first place, it probably wasn’t the prospect of sitting down all by yourself to write thousands of words. For many people, this is the most intimidating part of a Ph.D. and, as a result, many delay it for as long as they think they can get away with. Don’t do that to yourself. A thesis doesn’t need to be written in a linear fashion. Making notes, even at an early stage, which can gradually be expanded into paragraphs and pages will make it a lot easier to get through and ensure that you don’t forget about important early insights.

Staying motivated

Studying for a Ph.D. takes quite a bit of time, and during that time, your life and perhaps even aspects of your personality will change. There will be times when you feel overwhelmed and wonder why you ever got yourself into this, or when you just feel bored by it all. When that happens, it can be useful to go back to the beginning and think about the things that make nursing special to you. Think about why you took an interest in research and what it’s really for. For many nurses, it comes back to the patients. When you can remind yourself of the very real improvements you can help to make for people like them, you’ll feel the old excitement again, and you’ll know that the hard work is worth it.

Taking on a Ph.D. is no small thing, but it can change your life in amazing ways. It’s also how we move nursing itself forward to make it even better in the future.

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