Why Do People Drop Out of PhD Programs in Nursing?

Why Do People Drop Out of PhD Programs in Nursing?

Embarking on a Ph.D. program in nursing is a significant commitment, requiring years of dedicated study, research, and perseverance. These doctoral programs, designed to shape leaders in nursing research, education, and practice, demand a substantial investment of time and effort. The ultimate goal is to produce scholars capable of driving innovations in the field. However, a notable phenomenon exists— individuals dropping out of Ph.D. programs in nursing.

In addition, understanding the reasons behind this attrition is crucial for aspiring and current doctoral candidates. From financial considerations to career opportunities, marital status, and mental health challenges, a myriad of factors contribute to this trend. This article delves into the nuances of Ph.D. programs in nursing. Additionally, it explores the educational journey, the roles of Ph.D. nurses, and the various factors that can lead individuals to reconsider their doctoral pursuits.

Whether fueled by funding concerns, mismatched expectations, or shifting career goals, the decision to drop out of a Ph.D. program in nursing is multifaceted and deserves careful examination.

What are PhD Programs in Nursing?

Ph.D. programs in nursing provide the highest level of education in the field. However, for those interested in pursuing careers in nursing research, academics, leadership, or advanced clinical practice. These doctoral programs build on previous education and clinical experience to impart advanced expertise on nursing theory, research methods, statistics, and your chosen specialty area (e.g., pediatrics, public health).

The typical Ph.D. in nursing program takes roughly 4-5 years to complete. This involves intensive coursework, comprehensive exams, and a dissertation involving original research. Ultimately, preparing graduates to pioneer innovations in the profession through research and shaping the future of nursing education. However, the goal is to empower nursing scholars capable of serving in faculty, research, clinical, administrative, and policy-making leadership roles.

What Are the Educational Requirements for a Ph.D. Nurse Program?

A Ph.D. in nursing program is also known as a terminal degree. It is the highest level of education for the nursing profession. Before entering a Ph.D. program, nurses must complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and pass the NCLEX-RN exam.

In some cases, if you apply for a Ph.D. in Nursing program, you must also complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. This provides advanced education in nursing practice with courses on pharmacology, pathophysiology, and clinical practice.

What Does a Ph.D. Nurse Do?

A Ph.D. nurse conducts scientific research that advances the nursing profession. In addition, the knowledge that Ph.D. nurses gather and present as a part of their scientific research powers positive change in the quality of patient care and outcomes in nursing. Moreover, as nurse scientists, Ph.D. nurses also teach and mentor nurses at the college/university level. Therefore, working to shape the next generation of nurses.

Roles and Duties of a Ph.D. Nurse

Most Ph.D. nurses pursue Careers in either the research or teaching fields; therefore, their day-to-day duties will vary depending on their chosen career track.

Therefore, for a nurse researcher, typically, duties may include:

  • Identify research questions and design and conduct scientific research in partnership with other scientists from various fields
  • Collect and analyze scientific data and publish reports detailing findings
  • Write proposals and apply for grants to help fund their research
  • Establish and maintain quality assurance programs to ensure the validity of their data findings
  • Train and supervise laboratory staff and other nurses or scientists

For a Ph.D. nurse educator who has chosen to pursue a faculty position, typical duties may include:

  • Plan, prepare and revise curriculum and study materials for nursing courses
  • Deliver lectures to undergraduate and graduate-level nursing students
  • Supervise students’ laboratory and clinical work
  • Grade students’ classwork, laboratory, and clinical performance
  • Mentor and advise students regarding their future work in the nursing industry

Reasons Why People Drop Out of PhD Programs in Nursing

There are several reasons why individuals may drop out of Ph.D. programs in nursing, and these reasons can vary from personal to academic to professional. Here are some common reasons:

  • Kind of funding
  • Job market
  • Lack of interest or passion
  • Marital status
  • Lifestyle mismatch
  • Career Opportunities
  • Advisor Mismatch
  • Burnout and Mental Health

Kind of Funding

Where you get the money to pursue your Ph.D. is one of the most studied variables about doctoral students dropping out. While the details vary from country to country and from one discipline to another, generally, having no funding is associated with the highest dropout rates.

In addition, scholarships or research assistantships seem associated with lower dropouts. While details differ across studies, the more your money sources align with your Ph.D., the better. Conversely, if you are doing your Ph.D. part-time, you might be setting yourself up to have a more challenging time finishing your doctorate.

Job Market

The academic job market is grim. The primary reason for obtaining a Ph.D. in most fields is to enter academia. In addition, some students may slowly realize this during their studies and leave their programs searching for better job opportunities.

However, others may realize they can accomplish their career goals with only a master’s instead of a Ph.D. Therefore, they decline the chance to spend the additional three to five years completing their doctorate.

Lack of Interest or Passion

Some students may discover that their interests and passions lie in different areas than initially anticipated. In addition, they may realize that pursuing a Ph.D. in nursing is not aligned with their long-term career goals or personal aspirations.

Marital Status

Interestingly, married doctoral students are likelier to drop out of a Ph.D. For example, a study in Belgium found that married students were about four times less likely to drop out than unmarried ones. When looking at depression and anxiety, it seems that kind of close social support is very helpful to persist in the long journey of the doctorate.

Lifestyle Mismatch

Most applicants of Ph.D. programs know they have a long, single-minded track of study ahead of them. In addition, one that requires that they live and breathe graduate school for many years. However, most applicants have never experienced a life like this before; therefore, they have nothing to which they can compare.

In addition, expectations and abstract concepts sometimes don’t match reality, so when students enroll, they finally experience what they’ve only been imagining. Moreover, when faced with the inherent imbalance of a graduate student’s life, some decide it’s not for them.

Career Opportunities

In some cases, students may find attractive career opportunities outside of academics or research that align better with their professional goals. In addition, they may decide to pursue these opportunities instead of progressing with their Ph.D. program.

Advisor Mismatch

The relationship between a student and their advisor or supervisor plays a vital role in the success and satisfaction of the doctoral journey. Therefore, a lack of compatibility, miscommunication, or inadequate support from the advisor can lead to dissatisfaction and frustration, potentially prompting students to drop out.

Burnout and Mental Health

The pressure and stress of pursuing a Ph.D. can contribute to burnout and impact mental health. In addition, the long hours, intense research demands, and high expectations can take a toll on individuals, leading them to reevaluate their priorities and decide to leave the program.


In conclusion, the decision to drop out of a Ph.D. program in nursing is complex and multifaceted. Additionally, it is influenced by various factors ranging from financial considerations and career opportunities to marital status and mental health challenges. In addition, pursuing a Ph.D. in nursing demands a substantial commitment of time and effort, encompassing intensive coursework, comprehensive exams, and original research in the form of a dissertation.

Moreover, as we explored the educational journey and roles of Ph.D. nurses, it became evident that the reasons for attrition are diverse, including funding issues, mismatched expectations, and shifting career goals. The significance of understanding these factors extends beyond individual experiences, offering valuable insights for both aspiring and current doctoral candidates.

Whether influenced by lifestyle mismatch, advisor dynamics, or burnout, the decision to leave a Ph.D. program warrants careful examination. This contributes to a broader conversation on how to support and retain future nursing scholars in their pursuit of advancing the profession.  However, if you are looking for the highest quality nursing essays and nursing dissertations, you can place your order here

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