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Scientists Wanted!

Pickler, Rita H.

doi: 10.1097/NNR.0000000000000317

Rita H. Pickler, PhD, RN, FAAN, is Editor of Nursing Research and The FloAnn Sours Easton Professor of Child and Adolescent Health and Director, PhD and Master’s in Nursing Science Programs, The Ohio State University College of Nursing, Columbus.

Accepted for publication August 27, 2018.

The editor has no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Corresponding author: Rita H. Pickler, PhD, RN, FAAN, The Ohio State University College of Nursing, 324 Newton Hall, 1585 Neil Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210 (e-mail:

Nursing science needs scientists. The discipline needs more than the occasional or accidental researcher. We need scientists—individuals who are well trained in scientific methods and who are dedicated to advancing scientific achievements in nursing. This is not news.

So where have all the potential nursing scientists gone? Findings from a recent survey reveal several reasons for the apparent decline in the number of nursing scientists (Squires, Kovner, Faridabena, & Chyun, 2014). For example, some potential nursing scientists simply believe they cannot afford a career in science. Potential PhD applicants have reported that the costs of a PhD education needed for a scientific career are too high, particularly on top of costs they have already accrued for their undergraduate and, perhaps, master’s degrees. Other potential applicants are delaying movement to a scientific career in order to obtain clinical experience, a “barrier” to scientific training that the discipline has struggled with for years and been unable to overcome. After all, nursing is a practice-based profession, and ultimately nursing science needs to be supportive of that practice.

Still other potential applicants have stated they were not interested in the scientific focus of their local schools; they just do not see a “research match” with programs that are accessible to them. Moving to a new area and university to study with faculty who are experts in these potential applicants’ areas of interest may be financially and personally difficult, if not impossible. However, the bigger issue may be that we have not made clear the necessary, substantive content of nursing science, thus leaving open the possibility that the discipline’s scientific focus is amenable to individual interpretation. I have also heard potential PhD applicants, and not a few PhD students, express concern about the stressful and busy lives of academic scientists. For younger generations, the desire to work as hard and long with limited, substantial reward and at cost to personal time and interests, such as many nurse scientist have, is simply not appealing.

And, in fact, nursing science is hard work. As a longtime friend and well-established nurse scientist has frequently noted, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” Well, science is not “easy.” The challenges to produce, create, and discover the scientific basis for nursing are many. Although generally the United States is a global leader in science and technology as measured by funds spent, scientists supported, discoveries made, awards received, industries supported, and improved quality of health, the U.S. global share of science and technology activities is waning (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018). On a much smaller scale, what is happening in nursing science is a reflection of the larger phenomenon—less funding for fewer scientists, all of whom face challenges to continue making advances in nursing science.

Here, at Nursing Research, we ponder the future of nursing science and the diminishing numbers of nursing scientists with concern. The International Academy of Nursing Editors recently recognized the Journal for 65 years of continuous publication, a recognition of distinction achieved because of the contributions of many. Certainly, the efforts of those who established the Journal and supported it throughout the years, including readers, subscribers, and publishers, have been important to the Journal’s continued success. However, most importantly, the Journal exists and continues because we have nursing scientists who contribute to the Journal the results of their work, including groundbreaking research findings, evolution of methods, and thoughtful commentaries. Without the contributions of these author-scientists, the Journal could not continue.

More importantly, without scientists, nursing as a scientific discipline is in jeopardy. Without nursing scientists, who will produce the evidence so crucial to safe and effective care? Without nursing scientists, who will be sure that the patient voice is heard and acknowledged in research studies? Without nursing scientists, who will continue the important work done in symptom management, or wellness and self-care, or palliative and end-of-life care?

There are no simple answers to these questions. Certainly, increased funding and support are needed for nursing science training and for nursing scientists engaged in active and important programs of research. So too, raising public awareness of the contributions of nursing science to health outcomes and healthcare delivery would be helpful, not only to garner public support of funding initiatives but also to encourage the interests of young people who want to be scientists. To further that end, greater emphasis needs to be placed on the excitement of discovery and the creativity of science, as well as the potential benefit that exquisitely conducted research, holds for the health of thousands.

Yes, we need nursing scientists—many more than we are currently training. Collectively, we have the potential to turn the tide of diminishing numbers of PhD students (a.k.a. future nursing scientists). In the meantime, here at Nursing Research, we are committed to contributing in the way we can by publishing high-quality science in a timely manner.

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National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2018). The next generation of biomedical and behavioral sciences researchers: Breaking through. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; doi:10.17226/25008.
Squires A., Kovner C., Faridaben F., & Chyun D. (2014). Assessing nursing student intent for PHD study. Nurse Education Today, 34, 1405–1410. doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2013.09.004.

nursing research; nursing science; science careers

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