Strategies for Recruiting PhD in Nursing Students: Perspectives from a PhD in Nursing Graduate

Submitted by Tanna Woods, PhD, MSN, RN and Mary A. Nies, PhD, RN, FAAN, FAAHB (Advisor)

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Strategies for Recruiting PhD in Nursing Students: Perspectives from a PhD in Nursing Graduate

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Written by:
Tanna Woods, PhD, MSN, RN 

Nightingale College, Assistant Professor
Mary A. Nies, PhD, RN, FAAN, FAAHB (Advisor)
Idaho State University, Professor and Director of Nursing Research

Cultural shift needed

As a nurse who has worked in acute care hospital settings, home health, and long-term care, my colleagues have often questioned the value of further education. It was not until one of the largest employers decided to require a BSN for all new hires and implemented a mandatory date of when all currently employed nurses needed to have their BSN, that the culture started shifting toward bachelor-level entry. This mandatory push is increasing the number of bachelor's prepared nurses, but in the authors' experience it has not changed how many nurses view the value of higher degrees. 

Some nurses don't understand why they would want to pursue a doctorate unless it is advanced practice related. As a PhD graduate who works both in academia and in the hospital setting, I get asked by fellow RNs in the hospital why get a PhD? My hospital colleagues view advanced education as unnecessary. The value of the PhD needs to be marketed to nursing students and clinical nurses to increase interest in nursing science and research. Research is necessary to fill knowledge gaps.

Changing education at all levels

Ideas to recruit nurses for PhD's in nursing include recruiting people early in their studies. Advanced education should be discussed at the beginning of nursing licensure programs where the importance of research and graduate education are highlighted. Emphasizing the value of continuing education and how it can impact careers is an important part of this discussion. 

For clinical nurses who have varying levels of education, it may be of value to create partnerships with hospitals to show hospital nurses what education can do for them. As some of the hospital-based nurses may not have advanced education, it is important that those nurses are part of the conversation on the benefits of education and what career paths it can lead to. 

There also needs to be flexibility in program delivery. Nurses entering graduate school may need more flexible or accessible options, rather than traditional brick and mortar sites only. Technology can be used to allow alternate methods to complete the PhD program and access information. The use of technology allows people in remote settings to gain an education; this is true for all levels of nursing education from RN licensure to PhD studies. In my cohort of PhD students, only one of the four of us lived in the same state as the university. For me personally, as a working nurse and mother, I needed a program that was accessible. That's why a program that utilized online platforms and video-conferencing was essential. 

Innovation in recruitment

Technology and the need to be innovative extends to recruitment as well (Wheeler & Eichelberger, 2017). Important strategies for recruitment include developing an appropriate website, using social media to recruit, having priority information accessible, making it clear what the PhD in nursing will do for their career and engaging in best practices (Fromm, 2018). 

The need for an online presence is key. Programs need to have a web site that is user-friendly, that provides information that is instantly accessible, and that ensures there is more than just application process information available.  Obtaining information should not require students to fill in extra forms. As a prospective student, it was frustrating to give personal information on the web site just to get back minimal information from a university. Providing information on some web sites only led to being added to call lists and thus many unwanted calls with limited information being given. Instead of using that type of approach, Hanover Research (2014) suggests including toolkits with varied information and using them in social media campaigns.

In fact, the use of social media, in general, is a popular recruitment mechanism. This aligns with reports that the upcoming generations want innovative technology and a recruitment process that is effortless, timely, and relevant to the candidate experience (Fromm, 2018). However, it is important that social media be used strategically with clear identification of important components like understanding the target audience, developing a clear content strategy, outlining goals and objectives, and analyzing performance of recruitment via this method.

For Web sites and recruitment materials, important information that should be included is the quality/ranking of the program, cost/affordability, and the pathway to career. This should be in several clear bullet points right up-front under the university offers a PhD program in Nursing, then the web site should describe the quality, cost, and pathway to career available. Important factors that affect willingness of students to apply include strong institutional support structure, length of time expected to complete degree, number of externally funded research faculty, and completion rates. To recruit PhD in Nursing students, this information should be front and foremost on the university web site for students to see and determine if they want to attend this university. It would be good to indicate, "Institutional support" and describe how many graduate teaching assistants, graduate research assistants, and intern positions there are available for new PhD students entering the program. The university web site should also state: Time to completion based on the number of years for the PhD curriculum and the number of completers the university has had each year over the last 5 years. Including this information could help motivate and attract students. 

It is important for nurses to understand what an advanced degree such as a PhD in Nursing can do for their career and the cost benefit ratio. There is also a question of the support and motivation when pursuing advanced education. Nurses have commented that they have not pursued additional education because there are financial barriers, staff shortages, conflicts with release time from work, inflexible work schedules, lack of managerial encouragement, family responsibilities, and unsupportive partners. The PhD program is very rigorous and challenging and thus may not be the career path for everyone. Before considering and applying, you must have the necessary family and work supports in place.

Recruitment and marketing strategies can effectively address the barriers for nurses and nursing students by talking about the need for education and what the PhD can do for their career as well as emphasizing how the PhD program is delivered to alleviate identified barriers. However, it is also crucial for enrollment success to use "best practices" like placing phone calls to admitted students and arranging campus visits for prospective PhD students. One of my most positive recruitment experiences occurred prior to starting my PhD in Nursing program at Idaho State University. I didn't know much about what would happen in my first semester. However, I received a phone call from a faculty member who was willing to talk with me about expectations, research plans, and more. We spoke several times, and this positively impacted my experience. This faculty member ended up being my adviser and a great mentor to help me achieve success in the program and following graduation.


It is imperative to think to the future of nursing science. Nursing needs to interweave talk of advanced education and research into the beginning of licensure programs. Mentoring new nurses to be excited about research is crucial to have increased numbers of PhD-prepared nurses. It is critical to increase nursing science and research to recruit and replace the projected number of nursing scientist educators who will retire in the next 10 years.


  1. Fromm, A. (2018). Preservation education, sharing best practices and finding common ground. 
  2. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 24(1), 117-118.
  3. Hanover Research (2014). Best Practices in Graduate Student Recruitment. 
  4. Wheeler, RM, & Eichelberger LW. (2017). Perspectives of Nurses Pursuing Doctoral Degrees in 
  5. Georgia: Implications for Recruitment. J Nursing Education, 56(8), 466-470.