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Physician-Scientist Workforce (PSW) Report 2014

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The Nurse-Scientist Workforce

Size and Composition of the Current Nursing Science Workforce

In 2008, an estimated 28,369 nurses ( <1 percent of all RNs in the U.S.) had a doctoral degree in nursing or a related field. This represents an increase of 64.4 percent since 2000. Of nurses with a doctorate degree, over 22 percent had a primary focus on research.56

A study conducted by the AACN detailed the employment commitment for doctoral program graduates from 2008-2012. Of note, 620 nurses graduated with a “research-focused doctoral degree.” At the time of graduation, they had employment commitments to:

  • Faculty position – n=302 (48.7 percent)
  • Federal or state government agency – n=10 (1.6 percent)
  • Post-doctoral fellowship- n=36 (5.8 percent)
  • Hospital/Ambulatory position – n=76 (12.3 percent)
  • Other positions – 36 (5.8 percent)
  • No employment commitment – 160 (25.8 percent)57

Some schools of nursing offer options for doctoral education. For example, seven offer dual degree options where graduates obtain both a research-focused doctorate and an MBA. Another option offered by 79 schools is targeted to individuals who have a Baccalaureate degree in another field. These students complete their RN to PhD with a goal of “fast tracking” completion of the research-focused degree.58


Nursing is a female-dominated profession with men representing only 6.6 percent of the U.S. nursing workforce. In 2012, 7.9 percent of students in research-focused nursing doctoral programs were men.59


The nursing science research workforce is aging. Most nurse-scientists are research faculty in nursing schools. In 2008, 60 percent of faculty in schools of nursing were 50 years of age or older.60

Figure 4.2 Age Distribution of Registered Nurses Who Work As Faculty61
Source: 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses


56 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (2010). The registered nurse population: Findings from the 2008 national sample survey of registered nurses.

57 Fang, Li, Bednash,2013. Ibid.

58 Ibid.

59 Ibid.

60 HRSA, 2010.

61 Ibid.